TOMS RIVER – The school district losing millions of dollars of aid, is everyone’s problem, members of the governing body said.
The Board of Education oversees the school district and the Township Council governs municipal matters. However, in the face of the school district losing more than $90 million in state aid, some council members have made suggestions on how to help.
The aid cuts have to be a focus of this council, Councilman Terrance Turnbach said.
“We have to look at our own government” for savings, he said. He supports cuts in the municipal taxes in order to give relief to residents who will be impacted by increases in the school taxes.
He also proposed having a council liaison to the Board of Education, to have more communication between the two bodies.
Another proposal would be to create an education foundation. He said residents and businesses would be able to donate money in order to fund such things as afterschool programs or sports. It would be a nonprofit, so donations would be tax deductible.
Board of Education member Michele Williams was in the audience at the Township Council meeting where these ideas were proposed. She spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. She thanked him for those ideas and said she would bring the council members’ comments back to the board.
A coalition would be a wonderful idea, she said, also wanting to include Toms River Regional School District’s sending towns: South Toms River, Beachwood and Pine Beach.
Councilwoman Laurie Huryk said the town can work on shared services to cut costs, and provide more arts and recreation to assist schools to continue programs.
“They aren’t extras; they really facilitate learning,” she said of extracurricular activities. School officials had warned that they may be cut in the future.
“If we don’t have strong schools, we don’t have well-rounded children to flourish and be part of the community,” Council President Maria Maruca said.
The law that started this issue is called S-2. It was sponsored by State Senate President Stephen Sweeney and signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy. It redistricted state aid away from districts that were losing enrollment and which were considered – by the state – not to be paying their fair share of local taxes.
School districts are not allowed to raise taxes more than 2 percent. So, a hole that couldn’t be filled was created between the cuts and the ability to tax.
Sweeney proposed a law that would allow school districts to tax more than 2 percent to make up for S-2, but Murphy vetoed it.
For Toms River schools (which include South Toms River, Beachwood and Pine Beach), S-2 will cut more than $90 million in state aid over the next six years, including $2.8 million in the 2019-2020 budget.
Cuts have already started. The 2019-2020 school district budget includes cuts of 77 positions.