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flawed formula

Flawed formula

Toms River Regional Schools Superintendent David Healy is flanked by School Board President Ben Giovine (left) and Business Administrator William Doering during a June 21 press conference in which the district and other Ocean County leaders vehemently opposed the state’s proposed “fair funding plan.”

On eve of planned rally, state officials deny district a permit

Toms River, NJ - June 22, 2017 - Late last week, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto announced a plan that will cut $3.3 million from Toms River Regional Schools, effective immediately and for each year beyond. Wednesday, led by Superintendent David Healy, Toms River Regional Schools hosted a press conference on the steps of High School South to respond to the reallocation plan that would cause irreparable damage to the district and all of Ocean County.

“If fairness is the objective of this plan,” Healy said while surrounded by a host of community leaders, “in terms of the Toms River School District, this is anything but fair.”

Healy, along with district representatives William Doering, business administrator, and School Board President Ben Giovine took umbrage with the flawed funding formula behind the reallocation. They also highlighted the fact that the state’s proposed plan ignores the dire financial straits of a district still recovering from Superstorm Sandy, and that has endured significant decreases in state aid going on eight years.

“Toms River was devastated by Superstorm Sandy in October of 2012,” Healy said. “Out of over $2.2 billion in lost ratables-- 50% of all NJ losses-- the township still has approximately $600 million yet to come back on the tax roles, with recovery several years away.”

State aid to Toms River Regional Schools was reduced by nearly $10 million two years prior to Sandy, Healy noted, and those cuts have remained in place even as district expenses have increased each year and the impact of the storm has made matters significantly worse. All told, the district is operating at $31 million under adequacy, meaning it spends $31 million less than the state’s cost formula determines it should. Meanwhile, Toms River Schools has one of the lowest costs per pupil and administrative costs per pupil in the state for districts with more than 3,500 students.

“How and where are we supposed to absorb a $3.3 million, 11th hour state aid reduction?” said Doering.

Brick Mayor John Ducey and Brick Township Public Schools Superintendent Tom Gialanella also attended the press conference. Brick schools stand to lose $2.2 million if the plan passes, and Ducey argued that the “fair funding” plan is anything but, with Brick yet to recoup some $341 million in ratables lost during Sandy.

“It’s not fair that a small group of people are paying more in taxes to make up for $341 million in ratables,” Ducey said, and “... that a smaller group of people are now being punished under this... formula.”

The state’s funding plan was announced after school districts had passed their annual budgets through their school boards and had them approved by the Department of Education.

“To take away vital funding in the 11th hour is just as egregious as it is cruel,” said Giovine.

Toms River Regional Schools has been vocal and proactive in its opposition to a funding formula it perceives as unjust and flawed. Representatives from the district have visited Trenton multiple times over the past several years to lobby for reform of the state’s funding formula, apparently to no avail.

“We pointed out multiple critical flaws that needed to be finally addressed,” said Doering, who cited decades old property evaluation data and off-the-books ratables that skew the wealth calculation, plus a lack of consideration for a district’s costs per pupil as evidence.

Assemblyman Greg McGuckin referenced a modified Clinton-era phrase to simplify the issue at hand. “It’s the funding formula, stupid,” he quipped.

Although it shifts some $46 million across the state’s public school districts, the funding plan also proposes an additional $100 million in the education budget, making it all the more inconceivable that districts like Toms River would endure cuts. Senator James Holzapfel and Assemblyman David Wolfe alleged that political motives are at play.

“This was a plan that was designed by two people-- Senate President Sweeney and Speaker Prieto,” said Holzapfel, who noted that the overwhelming majority of the proposed plan’s additional $100 million is being doled out to democratic districts.

School district representatives, however, just want the problem fixed, and want to be part of the solution.

“Let me be very clear in saying that we want to be partners in the discussion regarding the funding formula,” said Healy.

“We call upon our legislative leaders to work in a bipartisan manner to fund a formula that is fair to all of the diverse districts that make up our great state,” said Giovine, who called on the governor to veto the plan, should it get to his desk.

The district had planned to deploy up to 100 buses filled with students, parents, administrators, and community members to Trenton Thursday in order to rally against the proposed budget cuts, but was denied a permit Wednesday by state officials. New Jersey legislators including those in attendance at the district’s press conference will proceed with a rally and 10 a.m. press conference of their own at the State House Annex June 22.

More information about today’s rally can be found at SenateNJ.