TOMS RIVER – Don’t stop fighting.
That was the message a number of parents had for local residents upset about the state’s plan to reduce school funding for the Toms River School District.
They spoke in a hallway at Toms River North, before the Board of Education met for its monthly meeting on a cold Wednesday night.
The funding cuts will compromise the district’s extracurricular activities to the point where drug addiction problems could even increase and district students may find it harder to get in college, some speakers said.
“Toms River needs the arts now more than ever,” said parent Melissa Morrison, a candidate in this year’s election. “How can any Toms River student compete with other students?”
Morrison said she sent out 250 emails to politicians and local officials over the weekend for help with the school funding issue. She got one answer.
Bill S-2, proposed by Senate President Stephen Sweeney and signed by Gov. Phil Murphy, will reduce state aid by more than $70 million over the next several years.
In 2018-2019, 68 certificated positions were eliminated along with 55 assistant coaching positions and across the board supply cuts. Over the course of four more years of state aid cuts, the total loss will be over $90 million, according to trschools.com.
The impact on staff and programs will be catastrophic and could include the elimination of over 400 positions, expanding class sizes to 30-40 students; a return to half day or the elimination of kindergarten; and getting rid of non-mandated programs and services like athletics, band, musicals, robotics, courtesy busing, and more, the website states.
“Other districts may have fat to cut to weather a fiscal storm, but TRRSD has always operated lean. No combination of cuts, savings, or other actions can make up for this loss,” according to the website.
Morrison has a 5-year-old daughter in the Beachwood Elementary School and an adult daughter who went through the Toms River school system.
Rachel Remelgado’s son, a senior, and her daughter, a sophomore, are both students at North and are involved in a number of extracurricular activities.
She and her husband moved to Toms River in 2012 from Union County.
“We chose this town because of the great school system, affordable taxes and location,” she said.
But all that may change, if the funding cuts go through.
“College scholarships or acceptances can’t be offered without a student’s ability to list high school accomplishments, awards or extracurricular activities,” Remelgado said. “Our kids will not be able to compete when it comes to college education.”
And Ocean County has one of the highest incidences of substance abuse in the state, she said.
“What do you think will happen when there aren’t any after-school activities to engage and occupy our kids’ time?” she said. “Please stand up and get involved.”
Former South Toms River Mayor Oscar Levant Cradle Sr., a graduate of the Toms River school system, said either state officials don’t understand the impact of the proposed cuts or “they just don’t care.”
“I cannot understand what they are doing to our school system,” he said. “This is not just a Republican thing or a Democratic thing. It’s about all of our children.”
Scott Campanile, president of the Toms River Educational Association, said district residents cannot handle the coming tax increases.
“It’s sad,” he said. “I would like to have seen more parents here.”
Parents are still waiting for the state’s funding formula on the proposed budget cuts, the speakers said.
Students and parents who attended a Dec. 10 rally in Trenton near the statehouse courthouse were not treated civilly by elected officials who watched the rally, Remelgado said.
“I was appalled by the callous behavior of our state ‘leaders’ as they snapped pictures, videotaped, pointed and appeared to be laughing at our kids, while others dropped their blinds all from the windows above us in their ivory tower,” she said. “At no time during this event did a representative of the governor come out and acknowledge the students. They were left to feel insignificant and dismissed.”