The Toms River Regional school district, facing a historic budget crisis thanks to a combination in state funding cuts plus the expected financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, will lay off 240 employees. Meanwhile, another 333 employees will work remotely to start off the school year.
The Board of Education unanimously – but with a collective sense of regret – voted in favor of providing 60 days’ notice to all of the affected employees, all of whom are non-instructional staff. The layoffs will include 90 bus drivers, 50 cafeteria workers, 70 cafeteria and playground aides, 25 bus attendants and several mechanics.
“Reading this resolution and working with the board and legal counsel and the affected collective bargaining presidents was arguably, in my career, the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do,” said Superintendent David Healy. “It’s unfortunate, and I’m so sorry for everyone who is affected. Hopefully we will be able to restore our positions shortly and this nightmare we’re all living will end soon.”
The layoffs will be determined by seniority, as will rehiring when it occurs. Employees will continue to be compensated for 60 days, then the layoff will come into affect. But if the school district is able to reopen for at least some level of in-person classes before that point, some jobs may be saved.
“Unfortunately, this is a required action considering the state that we’re in with Covid and also the significant millions and millions of cuts in our state aid,” said Healy, emphasizing the more than $5 million in state funding being cut from the district this year.
“I second your comments about how repulsive it is to be forced into this situation,” said Board President Anna Polozzo. “I think the entire board is really suffering with this, at this time. The affected employees are extremely valuable to our children – the daily interactions that they provide are priceless.”
Officials said there were several factors that went into the decision to issue the reduction-in-force notices to the 240 employees. Funding was the main driver, but also the fact that they employees would not be working since school is not beginning with in-person classes.
“Using public funds to pay public employees that are not performing work violates public policy and is unequitable to employees who are required to perform work,” the resolution read.
In all, 333 employees chose not to physically return to work for the 2020-21 school year, forcing the district to abandon its plan for a hybrid in-person and virtual start to the school year.
Healy said 179 employees cited child care issues as the reason why they would not return to the workplace and 151 employees cited medical reasons. Some employees cited both.
“These were not just rubber-stamped,” Healy assured. “They were reviewed on a case-by-case basis, often time telephone calls were made and in most cases we required documentation.”
Teachers, this week, will undergo three days of training for all-remote learning and most will teach live from their classrooms using videoconferencing software, with the goal of providing a set schedule for students to follow.
“The great majority of our staff are very excited that they are able to work out of their classrooms, in the place where they feel most comfortable in terms of an educational, structural environment,” Healy said.