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TOMS RIVER – By using surplus funds and maintenance monies to make up for a state aid cut, Toms River Regional will be able to avoid slashing staff, raising taxes or cutting programs this year, Superintendent David M. Healy said Tuesday.
Shortly after the Board of Education agreed to use $1,157,955 in additional surplus funds and $1.2-million in maintenance money to make up for the $2.3-million aid cut, Healy warned that next year is likely to be quite different.
"This is a Band-Aid," Healy said. "This is getting us through this school year." He said balancing the budget by using surplus and maintenance funds will allow the district to avoid "draconian" cuts in jobs and programs in the upcoming school year.
The changes made by the school board Tuesday night will not impact the school tax rate for 2018-2019. Under the $243.5-million budget the board adopted in April, school taxes increased about 2 cents per $100 of assessed property value in Toms River and Beachwood and about 4 cents in Pine Beach, and declined by 0.17 cents in South Toms River.
Toms River Regional could face a $5 million aid deficit for the 2019-2020 school year, Healy said, which could require the district to cut positions, eliminate programs and consider slashing courtesy busing. Taxes could also rise.
In response to a question by former school board member Robert Onofrietti Jr., school board President Russell K. Corby said the district is considering taking legal action in an attempt to recoup state school aid.
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"Part of our conversation tonight, has been which avenue to attempt a legal challenge, a constitutional challenge," Corby said.
Under the new state budget, school aid was reduced for many of the largest districts in the Shore area, including Toms River Regional, Brick, Freehold Regional and Middletown. But other districts, like Long Branch, Freehold, Red Bank Regional and Rumson, will receive more school dollars.
Toms River Regional, which received $69 million in state aid last school year, will see its aid package reduced by $19.7 million by the end of seven years, according to estimates by the Newark-based Education Law Center, an advocate for educational justice
To learn more about how school districts are funded in New Jersey, watch the video above this story.
School aid figures released by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration show a $991,110 cut in aid for Toms River Regional for the 2018-2019 school year.
But Toms River Regional Business Administrator William Doering said the aid cut is actually much larger: $2,357,955.
The discrepancy is because of state aid that was restored to the district after an initial $3.3 million aid cut in the 2017-2018 school year, Doering said.
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All of that state aid eventually was restored to Toms River Regional, but it was not included in the district’s aid allocation this year, he said.
The district received notice of the new state aid figures on July 13 and was facing a July 31 deadline to modify its budget to include the aid reduction.
Echoing comments they made last week, Healy and other school board members urged residents of Toms River, Pine Beach, South Toms River and Beachwood to lobby legislators and Gov. Phil Murphy to restore aid to the regional district.
Healy said a communication from the district will be sent to parents shortly, telling them how they can get involved.
"We have come to a time when there are no easy answers left," school board President Russell K. Corby said. In addition to agreeing to use surplus and maintenance funds to balance the budget, the school board also adopted a resolution asking New Jersey to restore the state aid cut.
The district has also been lobbying for legislation introduced by state Sen. James W. Holzapfel and Assemblymen Gregory P. McGuckin and David Wolfe, all R-Ocean, that would protect towns impacted by 2012’s superstorm Sandy from facing large cuts in school aid.
Their bill would block reductions in school aid until the value of the taxable property within the district returns to pre-Sandy levels. Toms River, where more than 10,000 homes were either damaged or destroyed by Sandy, had the most property damage of any town in the state.
The township’s ratable base is still about $600 million less than it was before Sandy struck.
Scott Campbell, president of the Toms River Education Association, the district’s teachers union, said he knows, "it’s important for me to rally the membership to support Mr. Healy and his administrative staff" and the school board in lobbying for more aid.
"They’ve come for us," Campbell said. "There is no one else who is going to save us except ourselves."
Jean Mikle: 732-643-4050, @jeanmikle, firstname.lastname@example.org