New Jersey will return the funding it announced it was cutting earlier this year from the Toms River Regional school system, officials announced Wednesday.
The return of $1.9 million in state funding for the district comes after months of lobbying by district officials and local and state legislators. The restored funding will be applied to the 2017-18 school budget, meaning the district will not have to dip into its surplus account, which would have fallen to a dangerously low level had it been utilized to cover the shortfall.
Last spring, the state proposed taking about $3.3 million in funding away from the Toms River school district under a deal hatched by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto. Gov. Chris Christie agreed as part of the budget wrangling that shut down state government over the Memorial Day holiday. Sweeney and Prieto targeted Brick, Toms River and other districts that receive so-called “transitional aid,” which is aid provided to districts the state determines has too low of a tax rate to support its schools.
The state eventually halved their proposed cuts in aid, but Toms River – as well as neighboring Brick – appealed to have the full amount of funding restored, with their arguments focusing on the fact that the township’s tax base has yet to fully recover from Superstorm Sandy.
“This is a prime example of what a community can do when it works hand in hand from the grassroots up to the Statehouse,” said Board of Education President Ben Giovine. “Under Superintendent David Healy’s leadership, we refused to give up, especially given it was our students’ futures at stake. We sincerely hope our community will never have to relive this experience.”
Toms River school officials enacted plans to rally in Trenton the day after a press conference with local legislators to oppose the funding cuts, but were ultimately denied a permit to park its buses. Nevertheless, district leaders including Healy, Doering, and Giovine joined Assembly members Wolfe and McGuckin, state Sen. Jennifer Beck and others were in Trenton that day, June 22, to meet with state representatives and voice their concerns. Those conversations continued throughout the ensuing weeks, and resulted in the state reducing the proposed cuts from $3.3 million to $1.4 million.
The remainder of the funding was returned Wednesday after additional months of lobbying.
“It’s difficult for me to overstate just how much time, effort, dedication, and resolve went into the process of restoring this funding for our taxpayers and, most important of all, our children,” said Healy. “I have to commend our Business Administrator, Mr. Doering, for his unparalleled expertise and countless hours in compiling volumes of support documentation, and of course Board of Education President Ben Giovine and the entire board for their backing and confidence in our leadership team.”