Toms River Uses “Band-Aid” To Fix Budget Hole, Readies For Next Year

Photo by Chris Lundy

TOMS RIVER – School officials said they will use surplus and maintenance reserve funds to patch a $2,357,955 hole in state aid this year, but warned they won’t be able to do the same next year.

The issue stems from the amount of aid that the state is giving Toms River. The state gives various aid to districts throughout New Jersey. After a budget struggle in Trenton, many local districts saw their aid get lowered. Additionally, aid would continue to be reduced even more for six years.

The philosophy behind the cuts is that funding should be tied to enrollment. Districts with declining enrollment, such as Toms River, received less aid.

Scott Campbell, the president of the Toms River Education Association, pledges to work toward fighting Trenton’s funding changes. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

To combat this, the Toms River school district is pulling $1,157,955 from their surplus, and $1.2 million from maintenance reserve. According to district records, the district has already taken $1.8 million from surplus and $1.4 million from the maintenance reserve for the 2018-9 school year.

However, in taking money from reserves, it means that there will be even less available for emergencies and maintenance in the future, officials said. It means that the 2019-20 school year would see a $5 million hole in reserves.

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Toms River found itself in a similar predicament last year, and was able to recoup funding that was lost. School officials are hoping for a repeat performance.

During a special meeting, the Board of Education approved the district’s plan to take funding from surplus and maintenance. It also submitted an application to the New Jersey Department of Education for restoration of the aid in full.

“We are in a circumstance not of our making,” Board President Russell Corby said. He criticized the funding formula being used as one that was created during “the first year of the great recession.”

In the near future, residents could see a tax increase of $1,200 a year on the average home, he warned.

Former Board of Education member Robert Onofrietti suggests suing the state. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

What’s At Stake

A parent in the audience, Anna Pollozzo, asked what to expect in September.

“As a parent, I want to know if my kid is going to be in a class with 40 kids next year,” she asked.

Corby explained that taking money from surplus and maintenance will prevent any educational changes for the 2018-9 year.

Business administrator William Doering said that the district was too far into planning the next year to make any changes. Contracts have been signed. Supplies and 15 new buses were ordered.

“We are creating a hole we can not fill next year,” he said. “We are in serious trouble as a district, and it’s just the beginning.”

Superintendent David Healy warned that there could be some “draconian and necessary” changes in future years. Items like staffing, late buses, courtesy buses, and athletics would be threatened.

“This is a Band-Aid,” he said of using surplus. “I don’t want this to be interpreted as ‘Hey, we made it through another year.’ Next year, we have to pay $5 million just to make up for it.”

Additionally, since the funding change is cumulative, each year will provide the district with less and less aid, he said.

Strategy To Fight Back

Several residents in the audience offered suggestions on how to fight back.

Scott Vaughn, the president of the Toms River Education Association, said that everyone needs to be organized as a united front.

“Everybody is a stakeholder, no matter what your title is,” he said.

Parent Jennifer Howe asks how parents can help. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

Former Board of Education member Robert Onofrietti asked if anyone considered filing suit against the state.

“That’s the only way they’ll listen to us,” he said.

Corby said it is being discussed.

Parent Jennifer Howe asked how parents can help.

Healy said there will be a message sent out to parents letting them know.