Toms River 'cataclysmic' state aid cut puts hundreds of school jobs at risk

TOMS RIVER - Faced with the loss of $14.4 million in state education aid, a situation that Superintendent Mike Citta described as "cataclysmic," Toms River Regional's school board voted last night to fight the funding cut.

"The proposed 31.77% reduction is neither feasible nor sustainable; and … if the State of New Jersey does not increase the funding for the Toms River Regional Schools Board of Education for 2023-2024, the district will not be able to provide their students with a thorough and efficient education," read the resolution adopted unanimously by the board.

The board's action came as Citta again expressed guarded optimism that the district's pleas to legislators and the governor's office will result in the restoration of state funding. Toms River Regional is the state's seventh-largest school district, with 14,700 students in 18 schools.

"Our position has been and continues to be that Toms River does not have a spending problem. Toms River has a revenue problem," Citta said. That revenue problem, he added, has been created by a steady reduction in state education funding in the past six years, an amount the board's resolution pegged at $97 million.

The $270-million 2023-2024 budget introduced by the district last night pulls $2.8 million from maintenance reserves, $717,000 from emergency reserves and $7.4 from surplus funds to partially make up for the state aid cut.

The district also included $13,346,822 in "anticipated revenues" to balance the budget; that amount is what Toms River Regional will need to provide a "thorough and efficient education" as required by the state, according to the budget document.

The owner of a Toms River home assessed at $444,360, the township's average, would pay about $154 more in a year in school taxes under the budget; in South Toms River, the average increase would be about $15, while Beachwood would see a $44 decrease.

The district was unable to provide an average tax increase or decrease for homeowners in Pine Beach, which just had a property revaluation. But the tax rate for that town would be about 79 cents per $100 of assessed property value; it would be about 85 cents in Toms River; $1.03 in South Toms River, and $1.14 in Beachwood.

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"The legislators that we have talked to, that are countless, to the local politicians, to the governor’s office, they have been empathetic," Citta said. "… They are working on a resolution that I hope will come soon."

If the cuts contained in Gov. Phil Murphy's budget are not restored, Toms River's state aid would drop from $45.4 million to just under $31 million.

Toms River resident Maria Mitchell told Citta and the board that her first reaction upon learning about the budget numbers was "sadness and despair, wondering how we are going to get to the next step. And then anger quickly came over me."

Mitchell asked Citta what she and other concerned parents and residents should do to help fight the aid cut.

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"I would certainly encourage our community to reach out to our legislators with concern," Citta said, but added that "every one of them" is trying to help the district. Citta stressed again that the district will not cut any "programs for kids" in the 2023-2024 budget.

After years of funding cuts under the state's education aid formula, known as S2, Toms River Regional has lost 186 positions, including more than 140 teaching jobs. Another 90 jobs in the district are being funded with federal COVID funds, which will expire in a year, and incorporating the state aid cut into the 2023-2024 budget would result in another 200 lost positions, Citta has said.

That adds up to 476 positions, a figure that Citta said would make it impossible for the district to operate.

Monmouth and Ocean counties are proposed to lose nearly $46 million in state education funding despite a state budget that increases spending on schools overall. Data from the state Department of Education shows 43 districts in Monmouth and Ocean counties would lose a combined $60.4 million next school year, with Toms River Regional, Asbury Park, Freehold Regional and Jackson school districts taking some of the biggest hits.

Details on the district's budget for 2023-2024 are scheduled to be discussed at the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee meeting set for 6 p.m. March 30 at the Toms River High School North Media Center.

Jean Mikle covers Toms River and several other Ocean County towns, and has been writing about local government and politics at the Jersey Shore for nearly 38 years. She's also passionate about the Shore's storied music scene. Contact her: @jeanmikle,

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Toms River NJ school jobs at risk because of state aid cut, board says