TOMS RIVER – A small group of raises were passed by the Toms River Board of Education at a recent meeting. The district had been criticized for giving administrative staff raises while cutting positions.
The raises were for business administrator William Doering, and assistant superintendents Marc Natanagara, Debra McKenna, and James Ricotta Jr. Added together, the raises amounted to $21,000.
Critics have said that these raises are not appropriate at the time that the district is cutting 31 employees. Another 46 are retiring and are not being replaced. In addition to these full-time jobs, the district will also be cutting 55 assistant coaching positions and 10 percent from accounts for supplies and textbooks.
These cuts are in reaction to legislation that has changed the way state aid is given to schools. The law, S-2, will cut approximately $83 million in state aid over the next six years to Toms River, 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. Other districts that were considered underfunded received more aid.
Superintendent David Healy said that these four administrators have been on the front lines of fighting Trenton on these cuts.
Additionally, their work has saved taxpayers millions, he said. They worked on assembling a $147 million referendum, pushing to get approved, and for forming a plan to create $17.8 million in school improvements that tax dollars won’t have to pay for. They’ve also found $4 million in alternate revenue.
“As with every person in the district that received an increase, our assistant superintendents and business administrator received one as well,” he said, referring to the mostly contractual raises that other staff get. “Everybody in this district works hard. Everyone in this district is deserving of an increase.”
With these increases, Toms River still has one of the lowest administrative costs per pupil in the state, he said.
These increases were part of the 2019-2020 budget that was already approved by the Board of Education, Healy said. The vote just made it official. The $21,000 would not be in addition to the budget.
The motion to give the raises passed. Only board members Ginny Rhine and Anna Polozzo voted “no.”
“I appreciate the hard work our administrators are doing on behalf of the district. However, I think approving a raise right now, given the current budget situation, sends the wrong message about our priorities to Trenton and to the public,” said Rhine, one of the Toms River representatives on the Board of Education.
“I very much appreciate the efforts of business administrator Doering and assistant superintendents McKenna, Natanagara and Ricotta,” said Polozzo, who represents South Toms River. “I respect them greatly and value them as an integral part of the administration. I chose to vote no on raises at this time solely due to our current funding situation. I didn’t feel it was appropriate to give these four raises while we cut instructional staff. It was not an easy decision and it disappoints me that the state has put us in this position due to S-2, where we have to lay off teachers each year for the foreseeable future. I hope that the Toms River Regional Schools community will continue to remind our elected representatives in Trenton that all children deserve adequately funded public schools and that adequacy is a goal that we cannot legally attain for our children under current law. Our community needs real school funding reform.”
A petition urging the governor to return the aid currently has more than 16,000 signatures, in a district with 16,000 students. It can be found here.