Toms River residents will pay more toward their school system this year under a budget unveiled at a citizens’ advisory meeting Wednesday night.
The district’s $241,428,030 spending plan rose about $6 million from last year’s $235,349,564 operating budget. The budget, plus debt service, will be supported by an increase in the tax levy of $6,920,406, to $157,529,467 – or 3.6 percent.
For the owner of a home valued at $267,501, the Toms River average, school taxes will rise to $3,004 this year, compared to $2899 last year – an extra $105.65.
The budget includes a total of 17 staff cuts, including one administrator, eight teachers, two secretaries, three facilities workers, one technology department employee and two security guards, according to a presentation given by Superintendent David Healy at the Wednesday night meeting.
Healy is aiming to have the cuts be accomplished through attrition wherever possible.
“We anticipiate that most, if not all, of these positions will be eliminated through attrition,” said Healy. “My goal has always been to avoid putting people on the street.”
Board President Ben Giovine said if not for a slow-down in Sandy recovery or a lack of state aid, there likely would be no reason taxes would have to be increased this year. The ratable base has come to something of a standstill, according to Township Administrator Paul Shives. Recently, Giovine said both the school district and municipal government should lobby harder for more state aid to support the school district, especially as other towns are receiving bailouts.
Benefits costs will rise, overall, by $2,614,295 despite the elimination of the 17 positions, primarily driven by higher employee health insurance costs to the tune of 4.9 percent. Overall, $55,578,418 will be spent on benefits programs, which also include increasing pension contribution costs. Recently, the district tweaked its employee benefits contributions under a new contract between the board and the Toms River Education Association. Business Administration Bill Doering said the health benefits increase was partially offset by some decreases in utilities and general administration costs.
The district has decided to cut its operations and maintenance budget by 3.3 percent, and some of the health benefits increases have been tempered by decreases in utilities and administrative spending, said Doering.
This year’s budget retains three proposed career academies in the district, including a performing and visual arts program at High School North, a Business program at High School South covering finance, entrepreneurship and real estate, and a STEAM program focusing on biomedicine, engineering and environmental stability, at High School East.
Despite the proposed tax increase, the situation could have been worse had the district not been as conservative as it was with surplus accounts and spending in recent years.
“Had we not done everything we did the save funding, we would be on the front page of every paper with massive layoffs,” said Giovine.