OCEAN COUNTY – Members of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners took aim at Governor Phil Murphy and his administration for the increased deep cuts in state aid funding sustained by many school districts in the county.
While districts throughout the state have taken some deep cuts since the S-2 State Aid Funding formula started in 2018, districts such as Toms River, Jackson, Brick, Lakewood and Manchester have seen millions of dollars cut over the last five years. This year, Toms River and Jackson saw deeper cuts that were unexpected when Murphy put forward the state’s budget.
During a recent meeting of the Board of Commissioners, members unanimously passed a resolution criticizing the cuts to districts in Ocean County and the state as a whole by the New Jersey Department of Education for the 2023-24 school year.
The resolution raised questions about the fairness and transparency of the state formula that determines how much aid each district receives. It also noted that 16 districts will see state aid cuts, including drastic cuts to Toms River and Jackson, which will lose $14.4 million and $6.3 million respectively.
It was noted in the resolution that the cuts would negatively impact both the education of students and the amount of money local taxpayers will be asked to pay to fund education in the coming year and that the school districts may be forced to cut important educational and extracurricular programs due to lack of funds.
The state is enjoying a $10 billion budget surplus at the current time and most schools in urban counties and the state’s largest cities are benefitting from increased state aid. 10th District Senator James Holzapfel and Assemblymen Gregory McGuckin and John Catalano are asking Governor Murphy to fund all the state’s public school districts fairly and equitably.
Copies of the of the resolution were sent to Governor Murphy’s office as well as the 9th, 10th, 12th and 30th Legislative District offices and the 16 impacted school districts.
Director of the Board of Commissioners Joseph Vicari spoke to Jersey Shore Online.com prior to the start of the meeting noting his prior years as a teacher, principal and superintendent. He served in Brick and Toms River for many years and later Berkeley Township.
Vicari said, “we did so many good things in Berkeley, full day kindergarten programs and in Brick where I started in 1969, we did a lot,” Vicari said. He had been a middle school teacher teaching history and English and later a supervisor and a principal of an elementary school. He served as superintendent of the Berkeley School District
Vicari feared that such progress in programs might now be reversed. He noted that while other school superintendents were unable to make the meeting, “they all speak with the same voice about this subject.”
Brick School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Farrell provided that voice during the meeting having compiled a white paper report that he said shows the current state aid formula is inadequate and flawed. It is called “The Paradox of the Current State of School Funding in New Jersey.”
“I want to thank the Board of Commissioners for this resolution and your support in urging the governor and the state to relook at the state funding formula. Each year around this time we wait for the state budget and legislators determine what our funding priorities should be. Inevitably there are winners and losers unfortunately especially in education and many of the losers are right here in Ocean County,” Dr. Farrell said.
He added, “There are five districts right here in Ocean County, Toms River, Jackson, Brick, Lacey and Stafford K-8 that look to now cut over 400 positions in our schools due to the continuation of the perfect storm fiscally. The state aid has affected us absorbing an exorbitant rate to what we can replenish annually and put back.”
“These are dire times and Ocean County School districts are bleeding budgetarily. They are simply running out of funds. I hope that is time for all of us in Ocean County to come together and advocate for many efficient and effective school districts right here,” Farrell said.
He said he presented his white paper report to local legislators and local media and “details how the state should pay for the local fair share for each community.” Farrell called the current funding formula a complicated and unfair process and inequitable for many school districts “down this way.”
Vicari said Farrell’s information was shared with each commissioner. “These cuts will not only be devastating to Brick but all the districts included. The test grades for these districts are high, they aren’t failing. The students are graduating. They are doing a good job in not only providing a quality education. People move to Ocean County because of educational programs of our schools. We have excellent school systems. I worked in Brick for many years. I have faith in the system. The state has a $10 billion surplus and with the stroke of a pen, the governor of New Jersey could make a difference and make a change.”
The director said, “we want fairness. Why should someone who lives in north Jersey gets two or three times as much. It’s just not fair and it’s not reasonable. We want equity stated by the New Jersey State Constitution.”