TOMS RIVER – The Toms River Board of Education introduced a tentative budget and sent it to the Ocean County superintendent for approval, while huge state aid reductions might cause dozens if not hundreds of staff cuts.
The total 2019-2020 budget would be $242,260,946, a reduction of $852,674 from the current year’s budget of $243,113,620. Taxpayers would be responsible for $164,516,502 of this, an increase of $3,208,458 from this year’s $161,308,044.
The budget would have the following effects on each town in the district:
- Toms River: The tax rate would be $1.16 per $100 of assessed valuation, an increase of 2.11 cents. For the average home, assessed at $273,900, the homeowner’s taxes would increase by $57.82 per year, from $3,136.68 to $3,194.50.
- South Toms River: The tax rate would be 97 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, an increase of 1.75 cents. For the average home, assessed at $165,200, the homeowner’s taxes would increase by $28.89 per year, from $1,579.48 to $1,608.37.
- Beachwood: The tax rate would be $1.06 per $100 of assessed valuation, an increase of 1.48 cents. For the average home, assessed at $204,100, the homeowner’s taxes would increase by $30.18 per year, from $2,136.10 to $2,166.28.
- Pine Beach: The tax rate would be $1.10 per $100 of assessed valuation, an increase of1.49 cents. For the average home, assessed at $269,400, the homeowner’s taxes would increase by $40.07 per year, from $2,939.07 to $2,979.14.
This budget comes as the district is dealing with the fallout from S2, a bill that will cut approximately $83 million in state aid over the next six years, including $2.8 million in the 2019-2020 budget. Senate President Steve Sweeney has said that districts like Toms River were overfunded, and with declining enrollment, they don’t need as much aid.
District leaders had a march on Trenton, attended State Assembly Budget Committee hearings, and spoke at the Ocean County Freeholders meeting to discuss their issues.
“I remain more optimistic than ever,” Superintendent David Healy said at a Board of Education meeting. “They don’t want the bad press and there are 80 Assembly seats up in November.”
Healy assured a speaker at the board meeting that the district is doing everything they can to save jobs. There are approximately 80 cuts that might be made, but the district hasn’t made a decision yet.
There are several reasons they are arguing that the funding formula is flawed. Among them are:
- A town’s property wealth doesn’t include payments in lieu of taxes. These PILOTs give developers a break on taxes in order to encourage development. This was something that Toms River school officials said that the state knew about since a report in 2010 but has never been addressed.
- More than 30 municipalities have not had revaluations in decades to ensure that property owners are paying the appropriate amount in taxes.
- Toms River has the second lowest cost per pupil for a district of this size in the state.
- The student needs factor into cost. In the last decade, the district has had 250 more special education students and 1,500 more students on free or reduced lunch (making up 30 percent of the student population).
- The district is still down approximately $500 million in ratables from Superstorm Sandy.
- The Department of Education denied an Open Public Records Act request on how the allocations were made because the computer program was “proprietary.”
“The $6.5 billion in equalization aid is approximately 17 percent of the state’s entire budget, and this lack of transparency is deeply unsettling, especially since the property rate, or multiplier, in the formula rose 49.2 percent from 2008-09 to 2018-19 while the income rate only increased 1.6 percent. Something is clearly not making sense,” Healy said in remarks in Trenton.
The district is urging lawmakers for a joint legislative committee to be immediately convened, with an aggressive timeline, to solve these problems.
“We’ve relayed the facts presented today through correspondence with numerous state legislators no fewer than ten times, from January 2016 through February 2018, with not one response or so much as a receipt confirmation. So you’ll forgive me if I remain skeptical that a testimony based on facts and logic will finally spark the change we’re seeking,” he said.
“What is your mission then, if it leaves in its wake tens of thousands of vulnerable students, for whom achievement, security, and well-being is compromised? I sit on the precipice of eliminating over 400 staff positions in the next six years – 80 next year alone – with sweeping cuts to core services and programs, and drastically increased class sizes. Our district will be unrecognizable if not inoperable.”
There are approximately 2,700 full and part-time employees in the district.
At a recent Township Council meeting, officials gave their support for the district as well.
Councilman Maurice Hill said that there are inner city districts that get more state aid than the entire Toms River schools budget. Their per pupil cost is twice those in Toms River.
The only fair way to fund schools, he said, was for every pupil to get the exact amount, not “a phony formula.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney was quoted in NJSpotlight: “I get offended when I hear these districts talk about ‘it’s unfair.’ What was unfair was when they were overfunded for the last nine years and they’re buying iPads for all their kids and other school districts are sharing books.”
Mayor Thomas Kelaher said those iPads were required for PARCC testing (the standardized test Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which is electronic), which amounts to an unfunded mandate.