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Toms River Adds NJEA Support to Funding Cut Arsenal, Will Deliver 30,000 Letters to Legislators

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Toms River, Brick and students from 70 other districts across New Jersey attend a rally in Trenton over school funding cuts, March 5, 2019. (Photo: Daniel Nee)
Toms River, Brick and students from 70 other districts across New Jersey attend a rally in Trenton over school funding cuts, March 5, 2019. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Toms River, largely leading a coalition of 74 school districts that will see – in some cases – massive school funding cuts under a deal hatched by state officials, has found a partner in the New Jersey Education Association as it continues to fight against the cuts.

Meanwhile, district officials and a busload of students will deliver a staggering 30,000 handwritten letters to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Hearing scheduled for April 30. The tens of thousands of letters will be delivered in sacks made and decorated by TRRS students.

“The delivery of an anticipated 30,000 literal statements of our position will collectively represent a broader, powerful, symbolic statement that we hope resonates with New Jersey’s decision makers, and convinces them to stop all state aid cuts and rethink the flawed funding formula on which S2 is based,” said Michael Kenny, TRRS spokesman, referencing the name of the bill that implements the funding cuts and mandates maximum property tax increases over seven years.

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David M. Healy, the district superintendent, has been engaging personally with legislative leaders and other state officials nonstop and recently was able to help bring the powerful state teachers’ union – which had generally been silent on S-2 – into the fold, upping the stakes for elected officials who are supported by the union.

A letter sent to Gov. Phil Murphy (D), Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) and signed – among others – by NJEA President Marie Blistan, said the state “failed to live up to the promise” to fully fund public schools under the 2008 School Funding Reform Act.

“As a result, a significant investment of new resources is needed to restore fairness and support all public-school students as our constitution demands,” the letter stated.

In Toms River and Brick, two of the districts hardest-hit by the cuts, hundreds of school staff could face layoffs. Brick could shed more than 50 positions this year alone and Toms River may slash up to 80 jobs – and there are six more years of larger cuts ahead before the total cut becomes permanent.

Underfunded school districts statewide should continue to receive more state tax dollars, but not at the expense of other districts, the letter’s signatories stated.

“We are concerned that the process of fixing this longstanding problem threatens to harm some students even as it provides urgently needed support to others,” the letter said.

Back at home, Toms River Regional school officials are hopeful the groundswell of public outcry, as well as the bloc of school districts and union organizations, will be able to sway legislators into restoring funding.

“I’m as confident as Mr. Healy is that we will accomplish something with this,” said Scott Campbell, president of the Toms River Regional Education Association. “One of the strongholds of Toms River has always been one of the finest school systems you could ever imagine. Now we have political infighting that wants to destroy the great school system we built.”

Campbell said that if funding is not restored, there could be major economic consequences in Ocean County, including a lack of a highly-skilled workforce.

Healy said his last meeting on the issue took place last week, when he was joined by 75 district and state agency leaders in Trenton to work on the funding crisis. Healy, sporting a Support Our Students (“SOS”) coalition t-shirt at a school board meeting Wednesday night, specifically praised the role of students in organizing a March rally in Trenton and their tenacity in reorganizing again to deliver letters and engage with legislators.

“Too often in education decisions are made that are adult centered while losing sight of why we are all in this business,” said Healy. ” I think this historic child-centered union speaks volumes and certainly has brought the focus back on children, all children, our children, where it belongs.”

The full letter, provided by the NJEA News Service, appears below.

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April 17, 2019

New Jersey is undertaking a difficult but vitally important transition to fully funding all our state’s public schools. This effort must succeed so that every student in every community has access to the educational resources necessary to learn, grow and thrive.

Since the 2008 passage of the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), New Jersey has had a court-approved and constitutionally sound public-school funding law that is designed to ensure that happens.

Since SFRA’s passage, however, the state has consistently failed to live up to the promise it made to students and communities when that formula was adopted. As a result, a significant investment of new resources is needed to restore fairness and support all public-school students as our constitution demands.

For the last two years, the Murphy administration and the legislature have worked together to move New Jersey toward full funding of the formula. As educators and advocates for students, we applaud both the increased investment and the intention behind it. This coalition appreciates the addition of formula aid proposed in this year’s budget, which will benefit the majority of the state’s school districts. This is a critical part of the effort to adjust aid allocations for growth and changes in economic factors after nearly a decade of flat funding. It is long overdue and will help persistently under-funded school districts. These funding increases are sacred and must be untouched. However, we are concerned that the process of fixing this longstanding problem threatens to harm some students even as it provides urgently needed support to others. We are joining together to seek a fair, sustainable path forward. In doing so, we pledge not to pit student against student or community against community, but rather to work together for full, fair funding that treats every student as a precious resource worthy of our best effort and investment.

We urge Gov. Murphy and legislative leaders to take decisive action this year to ensure that no student is denied any educational opportunity while this important transition to fully funding the formula takes place. That is likely to require an even greater investment of resources immediately, but we can think of no higher priority for our state than the education of its children.

We also urge the governor and legislators to begin working together now with public education stakeholders to ensure that future funding allocations continue to meet the needs of every student in every community. That must be a thorough, transparent and student-centered process. It should include a review of SFRA to ensure that our decade-old law continues to meet the needs of students and that all communities are able, with the state’s financial assistance, to adequately educate their children. We acknowledge that achieving that may require revision of the current law and greater state investment in public education.

As advocates for students and public education, we stand ready to share with leadership that process so that the interests of all the students we represent will be served and our state will be positioned for a bright, prosperous future.

Michael Harris
Superintendent
Southampton Schools

Marie Blistan
President
New Jersey Education Association

Dr. Danielle Farrie
Director of Research
Education Law Center

Dr. Richard Bozza
Executive Director
New Jersey Association of School Administrators

John Donahue
Executive Director
New Jersey Association of School Business Officials

Rose Acerra
President
New Jersey Parent Teacher Association

Heather Moran
President – Board of Directors
New Jersey Public Schools Association

Susan Maniglia
President
Salem County – NJEA

Deborah Bradley, Esq.
Director of Government Relations
New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association

Daniel Sinclair
President
New Jersey School Boards Association

Melanie Schulz
Director of Government Relations
New Jersey Association of School Administrators

Michael Vranchack
Director of Governmental Relations
New Jersey School Boards Association

Dr. Lawrence Feinsod
Executive Director
New Jersey School Boards Association

Chris Onorato
Executive Committee
Gloucester County – NJEA

Scott Campbell
President
Toms River Education Association – NJEA

Joe Santonacita
Co-Vice President
Freehold Regional Education Association – NJEA