Toms River Regional school board members unanimously approved a resolution at a board meeting Wednesday night to jointly file a request under the state’s Open Public Records Act to obtain the details of the state funding formula that is in the process of de-funding the district by $18 million and threatening jobs, academic and co-curricular programs district-wide.
The formula’s restructuring of school funding across the state, was the result of a deal hatched by state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Gov. Phil Murphy to avoid a government shutdown in 2018. While the bill implementing the formula, known as S-2, was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Murphy, the state has refused to allow it to be released to the public. Sweeney himself, at a meeting of the Ocean County Mayors’ Association earlier this month, conceded he has not seen the formula himself, rather, his staff cobbled together what they believe to be a copy of the formula.
Brick Mayor John Ducey, whose district is facing a $23 million cut and has already closed on elementary school and shed dozens of jobs while threatening to eliminate many Advanced Placement classes, said Sweeney promised a copy of his staff’s version of the formula would be sent to his office, however as of several days ago nothing had arrived.
The state has repeatedly denied OPRA requests from school districts, attorneys, school board members, reporters and members of the public to disclose the formula. The stated reason is that the formula is “proprietary.”
“Every effort is being made to get through to 2020-21 budget, as too much damage is being done to our district,” said board member Michael Horgan, who chairs the body’s Budget and Finance Committee.
School district officials recently met with Sweeney’s office, Horgan said.
The resolution adopted by the board Wednesday night also stated that Toms River would be willing to join a lawsuit along with 90 other districts seeking access to the formula. Brick Township has already committed funds to the same action.
Toms River Regional’s resolution did not specify a potential cost of litigation, but said the district supported it and would join it.
The resolution promised to join “possible future related litigation against The State of New Jersey concerning the calculation and allocation of state aid.”
Morgan called the formula “hidden data” and said the lawsuit would be a “direct effort” to obtain it.