March 14, 2019-- Last week Toms River Regional Schools marched on Trenton. Its protest, however, is not over.
Far from it.
Today Superintendent David Healy announced that he and Business Administrator William Doering have registered to testify at four upcoming state budget hearings. The administrators will be supported by district students, staff, board members, and parents who plan to make their voices heard and presence felt during hearings scheduled for March 20 (Trenton), 21 (Newark), 27 (Trenton), and 28 (Carneys Point).
Leaders from districts that comprise the Support Our Students (SOS) coalition will also be testifying at the hearings, and plan to be joined by several hundred of their students.
Toms River School Board President Joseph Nardini issued an open public letter today encouraging parents, community leaders, and all stakeholders to register to testify and/or attend one or more of the budget hearings.
[Update 3/16/19: If you’re unable to attend one of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee meetings March 21 or 28, but would like to provide written testimony that will be become a part of the permanent record, here are instructions as to how: https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/BudgetReg_DB/HearingForm.asp?Committee=SBAB. The district encourages those who plan to attend and those who may not have the opportunity to attend or an interest in providing oral testimony to flood the legislature with their written testimony.]
At stake is millions of dollars in lost state aid that has been reallocated as a result of State Bill S2. Toms River Regional Schools, for example, is set to lose $83+ million cumulatively over the next six years; it will lose $2.78 million in 2019-2020, compounding the already $2.4 million in losses from 2018-19, which could result in some 80 positions cut-- along with programs and services-- despite being one of the most fiscally-efficient districts in the state while operating at $30 million under adequacy.
What districts like TRRS and its SOS cohorts contend is that the state aid cuts in S2 are the result of a critically-flawed funding formula.
“Mr. Doering and I have provided testimony and attended many meetings with multiple local and state legislators and department of education officials for many years hoping that logic and reason would prevail,” said Healy. “We have offered our expertise as partners in finding a long-term solution and not a quick fix. Unfortunately and to our disappointment, it has all fallen on deaf ears. The voices of thousands of impacted students and a visible public campaign to stop state aid cuts is our indefinite mission, and one that we believe will resonate with those entrusted to protect the interests of all children.”
During his March 2018 budget address, Governor Phil Murphy acknowledged that the state’s funding formula, last revised in 2008, needed to be modernized, something New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet echoed himself later that month during his confirmation hearing. And while Murphy had initially promised that no district would incur losses in his budget, that idea was preempted by S2, which redirects funding from so-called “overfunded” districts to “underfunded” ones based on the same outdated and flawed formula.
“Make no mistake, this is about children, our children, plain and simple, and the adults in charge cannot lose sight of this." -Superintendent David Healy
The result has been nothing short of a public outcry led by Toms River, Brick, Cape May County schools, and districts representing more than 300,000 New Jersey students. The March 5 rally on Trenton received significant media coverage and caught the attention of the governor’s office, resulting in meaningful dialogue, although no concrete solutions have yet resulted.
"The basis of our firm opposition is a critically-flawed funding formula," said Healy. "Yet as we continue to battle that reality—armed with clear-cut facts and feasible recommendations for a solution—we’re greeted seemingly every day with news about arbitrary allocations of additional funding and tremendous amounts, totaling in the tens of millions, being dispersed for non-mandated programs such as preschool. Knowledge of these off-the-radar adjustments and allocations which do not technically exist under the umbrella of “state aid” is extremely disheartening for a district set to lose $83 million cumulatively for mandated K-12 programs. It also suggests something is amiss with the entire structure of state education funding in New Jersey."
Healy, Doering, and others will continue their call for an immediate stop to any further state aid cuts-- a request they’ve maintained for nearly a year-- until a bipartisan committee comprised of district, NJDOE, and state officials is convened to examine and revise the state funding formula, ensuring fair funding for all NJ students moving forward.
“The governor, Senate President Sweeney, and Assembly Speaker Coughlin have an opportunity to work with experienced and well-intentioned stakeholders to find a meaningful solution to a problem that has and will continue to plague NJ each year indefinitely,” said Healy. “Make no mistake, this is about children, our children, plain and simple, and the adults in charge cannot lose sight of this. This current funding formula is not in the best interest of all New Jersey students-- how could it be, with our and other districts set to be decimated?-- and we will continue fighting for our students.
“Until our voices are heard by the state’s decision makers, and until we see real, meaningful and equitable solutions that will be transparently presented on an annual basis, we must continue to advocate for our children and the preservation of their educational well being, now and in the future. Anything less would be irresponsible leadership.”
Healy and Doering’s testimony at the hearings will be reaffirmed by, among others, the testimonials of student representatives from each level of instruction-- elementary, intermediate, and high school-- and Toms River Board of Education members.
“Our board unquestionably supports our superintendent's efforts and that of Business Administrator Bill Doering to advocate for our children and the preservation of our great school district,” said Nardini. “As evidenced by the significant outpouring of support displayed by our students, teachers, and parents at the March 5th rally, I think it is safe to say that our school community both appreciates and supports their efforts as well. We trust that our lawmakers will hear our cries, dig deep into their conscience and make the right decision for all children, including those from Toms River.”
On the hearing dates, the district, along with SOS, will continue a social media campaign to raise awareness on the issue of state aid cuts and their impact. With hashtags that include #WeAreTRschools, #SOS, and #StopStateAidCuts, the campaign proved very successful during the March 5 rally on Trenton, with those hashtags among the top-trending topics on Twitter that day in New Jersey.
Role of Superintendent (as defined by the New Jersey Department of Education): Working closely with the Department of Education, legislators and taxpayers, a superintendent must advocate for increased funding and must manage the needs of the district, within the confines of state allocations (and those confines have become increasingly restrictive in terms of being able to provide a thorough and efficient education). Overseeing personnel matters is an essential duty of a superintendent. In the event of an emergency, a superintendent is called upon to make decisions and to serve as the face of the district. … A great superintendent will be guided by what is best for all students.