Home Schools Toms River Grapples with $2.4M in ‘Beyond Devastating’ School Aid Cuts

Toms River Grapples with $2.4M in ‘Beyond Devastating’ School Aid Cuts

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Toms River Regional school board members. (Photo: Catherine Galioto)
Toms River Regional school board members. (Photo: Catherine Galioto)

Calling it a “day of reckoning,” state aid cuts proposed for Toms River Regional would each year chop several million dollars out of the school budget for the next seven years, school officials said.

“This will decimate our district, starting now,” said Bill Doering, school business administrator. “The negative impact will only continue to accelerate.”

Doering said that for the 2018-19 school budget to the 2024-25 school year, Toms River Regional is projected to have a $70 million cumulative negative impact due to a loss in state aid. The state figures were announced on Friday and officials said they are still processing how to address the loss, which must be resolved by the end of the month by amending the school district budget.

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Doering said the school board may call a special meeting at 5 p.m. July 24 to act before the state deadline.

The July 18 school board meeting was dominated by comments from school officials, school board members and the public weighing in on what would happen as a result in the lost aid.

Superintendent David Healy said the school district, operating as one of the leanest in the state, faces a “day of reckoning we’ve talked about for the last four years.”

He said options to address the shortfall could include using up the budget surplus, increasing taxes, or cutting programs or other items out of the budget. The board also passed that evening a resolution in support of budget relief due to the district’s continued shortfall of tax revenue since Superstorm Sandy.

“This 2018-19 state aid reduction, and the projected future losses, will unequivocally devastate the school district in terms of school programs, services, staff, class size, taxes, our facilities and our ability to provide a thorough and efficient education to our students,” said the superintendent.

Board Member Mike Horgan, who chairs the board budget committee, said the thought of what the school district would look like in seven years was “terrifying.”

“As a result, we are not in a position to enhance what the school district is doing or maintain what the district is doing but instead will need to cut into the devastation of what this legislation is going to do,” Horgan said.

After the meeting, Doering said the state aid reduction announcement came after most districts have already made their 2018-19 budgets and begun purchasing that year’s textbooks for example, and made its hiring decisions. “You’ve done all that, renewed your insurances … and now you’re going to cut $2.4 million?”

Doering and Healy said the state aid reduction impact would also mean $5 million would likely have to be cut out of the next school budget, 2019-20 school year.

“As you look at the next year and beyond, it only gets worse year after year,” said the business administrator.

He outlined what the impact could be for the coming school budgets: $5 million cut from 2019-20, $2 million from 2020-21, $2.7 million from 2021-22, $3.5 million from 2022-23, $4.2 million from 2023-24, and $4.7 million from 2024-25.

“It’s simply untenable. Our district already runs lean. Cuts of this nature will negatively impact us and set us back decades without much in the way of hope in the way of recovering,” Doering said. “We can’t let this happen, there is too much at stake here.”

Board President Russell Corby pointed out districts such as Rumson were seeing a 23 percent increase in aid. “Something is very, very wrong with this state aid formula,” he said. “These are going to be very, very tough times.”

Board members such as Daniel Leonard said an army of supporters would be needed to create a swell of public outcry and put pressure on legislators to see the dramatic negative impact these cuts would have. Corby agreed and said the board would face tough decisions.

“We’re all in the same boat on this — the board, taxpayers, staff, students,” Corby said.

The aid news comes as the district awaits state approval on whether it can have an October referendum to substantially repair its aging infrastructure. Doering said now the first priority is to address the state aid reduction by the state deadline of August 1.

The July 24 school board meeting, not yet publicly announced, will likely be held 5 p.m. at Toms River High School North auditorium, said Doering. For meeting updates, visit trschools.com.