Nov. 15, 2018-- Toms River Regional Schools’ fight to restore $70 million in lost state aid has been ongoing, multi-faceted, and has accelerated over the past several months. One component of that fight is a parent-led petition hosted on Change.org called Save Our Students!, which has surpassed 10,000 signatures.
The petition was founded by TRRS parent Bridget Maillard, who last week appeared on WOBM to discuss the issue. “Knowing all of the opportunities I had available to me when I went to school, I felt very strongly that when you have a district this size operating at the second lowest cost per student in the state … to experience this type of loss of funding and lost opportunity and poor educational conditions for our students, it was at the top of my list to start this grassroots campaign,” she said. “This is not okay to do to us-- we're so large and so efficient, and the impacts are so severe not only on our students, but on our town.”
As the online petition boasts 10,368 signatures and counting, hard copies have also been circulating throughout town. Greenbriar Woodlands, a 55-and-over community in Toms River, for example, has five full pages of signatures it’s preparing to submit early next month. The new stated goal for the petition, which will ultimately land on desks at the governor’s office, is 15,000 signatures, although Maillard and others are hoping for many more than that as efforts to raise awareness increase.
Meanwhile, Toms River Regional Schools, along with districts like Middletown, Brick, and Jackson, learned this week that their emergency appeals to recoup state aid lost for this current school year-- in TRRS’ case, $2.4 million-- were denied by the state.
Earlier this month, Toms River Regional Schools Superintendent David Healy called a special meeting for all school Parent Teacher Organizations (PTOs) at Cedar Grove Elementary School, where he, along with Business Administrator William Doering and School Board President Russell Corby, spoke extensively about the cuts, their projected impact, and what schools and PTOs can do to raise awareness and affect change.
Efforts on the district’s behalf to combat cuts to state aid and, more broadly, revise the flawed funding formula that begat the current situation have been tireless. It began with a June 2017 emergency press conference and rally on the steps of High School South and advanced to multiple trips to Trenton on the part of district leaders; a “State of the District” video address; the formulation of a coalition of affected districts; official letters to parents and the community; and countless meetings with legislators and local and state leaders, including an October testimonial at the NJASA Conference during which Healy and his colleagues met briefly with Senator Steve Sweeney, the curator of the S2 bill that the Save Our Students! petition opposes.
At its October public school board meeting, the Toms River School Board unanimously approved plans to join other districts in a lawsuit against the state, arguing that not only is the funding formula used to disperse state aid inherently flawed, but that the cuts imposed on districts like Toms River prevent it from providing a “thorough and efficient education” as required by law. The lawsuit against the NJ Department of Education, through adopted resolutions, has the backing of Toms River Township as well as Beachwood, South Toms River, and Pine Beach.
At that school board meeting, hundreds of teachers and staff members wore red in support, and the Toms River Education Association, led by President Scott Campbell, publicly expressed support of the district in this fight. The TREA joined organizations such as the Greater Toms River Chamber of Commerce, which publicly announced that it “stands side by the side” with the district through an official statement released in August.
Although attention to and support of the district’s financial plight have increased exponentially of late, district leaders have been working for the better part of four years to combat what they foresaw as an untenable fiscal trend, including the elements of the funding formula that require drastic adjustments to attain a fair and equitable distribution of state aid. In that time, Superintendent Healy, Doering, and the board have become recognized as statewide leaders in the fight, and have rallied and subsequently led a large coalition of school districts, communities, community organizations, and parent advocacy groups.
And they don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Toms River Regional Schools has committed its full support to the cause, and has vowed it will not cease the fight until its state aid is restored in full. The district continues to strongly encourage its school community and Toms River at large to remain engaged, either by signing the petition, writing state legislators, through social media, and/or through any of the avenues the district develops moving forward.