Down nearly $10 million in state funding since 2010 and still suffering from a tax base reduced due to damage from Superstorm Sandy, Toms River Regional school officials are pleading with their state counterparts to step in to help avoid a budget crisis this year.
The regional school district has lost $9.6 million in state aid since the state’s formula was changed in 2010, and has relief on essential service grants to bridge the gap of Sandy-related ratable base declines since 2012. Storm relief programs have now ended, leaving the district struggling to balance tax rates while doing what it can to stem potential layoffs. Meanwhile, negotiations continue with the Toms River Education Association, the district’s teachers union.
Members of the Board of Education recently passed a resolution calling on the state Senate and Assembly to hold hearings in Toms River to discuss the state’s funding formula, which sends the majority of $13 billion in aid to 31 low-income districts, leaving the remaining 500-plus districts with about 40 percent of the funding. Gov. Chris Christie has called for an overhaul of the system, which traces its roots to the landmark Abbott decision, saying the state should send an equal amount of aid to each student statewide, regardless of where they are from.
“There is currently legislative hearings going on over the funding formula,” said board member Russell Corby. “We always seem to get overlooked, whether it’s about education or a lot of other issues – but particularly education. They hold these meetings in a distant part of the state.”
Toms River is the second largest suburban district in the state and at $15,587 last year, spent less per-pupil than the state average. Last year, the loss of disaster aid programs coupled with rising costs led to the board to adopt a budget that raised taxes about 3.4 percent and shed 15 jobs.
Superintendent David M. Healy said all of the job losses were through attrition and layoffs were needed. This year, he said, the district will also do its best to avoid any teacher layoffs.
Board President Ben Giovine said it was a “slap in the face” to see bailouts in Atlantic City after casino failures and Lakewood following its ongoing transportation debacle, but no help provided to Toms River, which has kept its costs in check and is still suffering lingering effects from the storm.
“We’re disappointed that the state of New Jersey, in some respects, haven’t done what they needed to do,” said Giovine.
The resolution calling on the state to hold funding hearings in Toms River was sent to Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, local legislators in Ocean County as well as Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.