TOMS RIVER – Approximately $850,000 in payments to township families who go to private schools were included in the 2018-2019 budget, officials said. However, the state will pay for almost half of this.
The state mandates that districts provide transportation for students who attend non-public schools. Or, the district can choose to provide aid in lieu of transportation. Districts will provide this aid, $1,000, if it is more cost-efficient than busing the students.
The Toms River School District has budgeted about $850,000 for nonpublic student transportation, said William J. Doering, business administrator for the district. Most – but certainly not all – go to Orthodox Jewish schools in Lakewood.
Toms River also provides transportation for students to Donovan Catholic and St. Joseph Grade School, but there are enough children going to this one campus that they can be on bus routes, he said. The students going to schools in Lakewood are more spread out, making bus routes more difficult (and the $1,000 more efficient than hiring more drivers).
The state pays for a portion of the transportation aide that Toms River gives to families, Doering said. The problem is, the state is using figures from a year ago. For example, the state aid for the 2018-2019 school year is using figures from a Nov. 16, 2017 district report and does not include the many children who were added since then. Additionally, at the end of the school year, the state reimburses districts for a portion of it.
It is estimated that the state will be covering about 43 percent of the cost this school year. It amounts to approximately $365,000 of the $850,000, he said.
Reduction In Overall Funding
While the state continues to fund a portion of the transportation, overall state funding is scheduled to drop significantly in the next few years.
The payments in lieu of aid were already budgeted for 2018-2019, so they won’t be an unforeseen expense, Doering said.
New state regulations redistributed aid between districts based on enrollment figures. Toms River’s public school student enrollment has been going down, so state aid is going down as well.
According to district records, the state aid for the most recent years has been as follows:
- 2009-2010: $71,972,480
- 2010-2011: $62,185,013
- 2011-2012: $66,104,704
- 2012-2013: $67,278,259
- 2013-2014: $67,712,061
- 2014-2015: $68,023,721
- 2015-2016: $68,023,721
- 2016-2017: $68,342,239
- 2017-2018: $68,342,239
Local officials have been urging the state to give them relief. Unless things change, future funding is expected to be:
- 2018-19: $65,984,284
- 2019-20: $64,402,399
- 2020-21: $62,425,042
- 2021-22: $59,656,742
- 2022-23: $56,097,500
- 2023-24: $51,945,051
- 2024-25: $47,199,395
According to this schedule, the aid for 2024-25 would be $21 million, or one third, less than it currently is. If all of the cuts were added together, it would be a loss of $70,685,260 over the course of seven school years.
Petition The State For Full Funding
Meanwhile, residents have promoted a petition demanding the governor and state legislators return the funding and repeal the law that created the issue.
Bridget Maillard, a resident who created the petition, warned that future cuts could include athletics, clubs, and of course teaching staff and paraprofessionals.
“Without these vital programs available to our students, gaining acceptance to a college, the military, or the transitional career is almost impossible. And without these social interactions, the personal development and the reinforcement of life skills will become neglected for our students, making it extremely challenging for our students to stay involved. With that, the concern over drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and vaping becomes even more paramount, especially with Ocean County’s growing opioid epidemic,” she said.
As of press time, more than 8,620 people have signed the petition. To visit the petition, go to change.org/p/new-jersey-governor-save-our-students-help-the-students-of-toms-river-regional-schools-before-it-s-too-late