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‘A Slap in the Face:’ Toms River School Officials React to State’s ‘Offensive’ Funding Offer

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)

The state’s offer of emergency school funding for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, one-fifth of what the district requested amidst a seven-year defunding of the district from Trenton, is a “slap in the face,” officials said Monday, excoriating the state in a lengthy press release a day before students and staff are poised to march on Trenton.

The district learned over the weekend that the state was offering $854,634 in emergency funding, “less than one fifth of what is needed to survive into next year.”

“This is nothing short of a slap in the face to our district, our students, our families, and our community,” the district said in a statement. “What is clear, and disconcerting, is that the NJDOE either does not understand how to manage a school budget, or they do not care.”

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Through a deal hatched between state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Gov. Phil Murphy, Toms River schools will face nearly $20 million in cuts to its funding over seven years, and taxpayers may be forced by law to absorb property tax increases aimed at closing the gap. In recent weeks, Trenton has been considering allowing district that have their school funding slashed to “fix” the crisis by allowing them to raise local property taxes in an unlimited fashion – an option that has raised the ire of local officials even higher.

Officials said Toms River Regional’s request of $4,473,821 from the state was the minimum amount needed to continue operating as it is next school year. Otherwise, district leaders have warned of deep cuts to staffing, the elimination of full-day kindergarten and the elimination of some sports programs, as well as higher class sizes.

The $854,634 offered by the state was termed “shut up money” by the district in its statement, but was followed by bold text which read: “But we will not shut up.”

“Because other districts that applied were awarded $0 in emergency aid, this response to our emergency aid application could be falsely construed as ‘good news,'” the statement explained. “Our district is $5.2 million short for 2020- 2021 because of S2; our application for emergency aid was the result of a literal emergency. The state’s lukewarm reply is the beginning of the end for all-day kindergarten, sports, extracurriculars, critical staff positions, and so much more.”

“S-2” in the statement refers to the bill that was proposed by Sweeney and signed into law by Murphy.

“The state’s letter is an offensive response to our plea, which itself is the result of an ill-advised bill that is based on a secret formula that includes $6.5 billion in taxpayer money, all of which has been cultivated by an agency whose sole responsibility is to protect the educational well being of ALL children,” the statement said.

The “secret” formula refers to the fact that the state has denied local school districts’ requests to actually view the formula that led to funding cuts. Trenton has denied those requests with the explanation that the formula is “proprietary.” The matter is now heading to court, while local legislators have penned a bill forcing the state to release the formula. The bill, sponsored by the Shore area’s Republican legislators, has not yet been considered for a vote in the Democrat-controlled Assembly or Senate.

“More than 15,000 Toms River students stand to lose as a result of these questionable decisions,” the statement said as it closed. “This is the reason we all need to be in Trenton tomorrow.”

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