Toms River school officials say they are in a holding pattern, waiting for guidance from the state Department of Education over how to handle a significant cut in funding to the district that was included as part of the state’s 2017 budget.
In a deal hatched between state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson), so-called adjustment aid, which Toms River Regional received from the state under a previous funding formula, was to have been cut by nearly $3.3 million. The final proposal by the state’s Democratic legislature, which was signed into law by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, calls for a reduction of $1,366,845 in funding instead of the larger cut. The total amount of aid cut was 2 percent.
Adjustment aid, also known as “hold harmless aid,” is funding to districts that, under the formula, do not have a high enough property tax rate. The funding was meant to bridge the gap between what taxpayers were charged and what the state formula assumed they should be charged. That aid was cut in the Sweeney-Prieto deal, which redistributed the money to other school districts that were deemed to be underfunded. Newark and Elizabeth will both receive $5.1 million in additional funding, and Atlantic City will see $4.2 million more. The budget also called for publicly-funded preschool to be expanded in some districts across the state.
William Doering, business administrator for the Toms River Regional school district, also said his office was waiting for direction from the state agency on how to proceed.
Toms River Regional Board of Education President Ben Giovine also said officials have reached out to both the state as well as the Ocean County executive superintendent of schools for guidance.
In neighboring Brick, the funding cut was still significant, to the tune of $720,507, but less than the nearly $2.2 million originally proposed.
“At this time we are awaiting word from the [Department of Education] on the exact amount of the cuts,” said interim Brick schools superintendent Dennis Filippone. “Once we have that number we will decide how to address the situation.”
Both the Brick and Toms River districts are ensconced in the same dilemma: the 2017-18 school year budget, as well as the tax rate to go with it, have already been set. The districts may have to adopt new budgets, officials said, and figure out how to account for the cut in funding.