As Gov. Phil Murphy proposed a $38.6 billion state spending plan inside, thousands gathered outside the statehouse in Trenton on Tuesday to protest the shifting of funding away from about 70 school districts statewide – including Brick and Toms River, which were among the hardest hit.
Brick could see a permanent $23 million cut over seven years and Toms River may have to deal with an $18 million cut – which will then be permanently removed from the budget – along with mandatory tax increases to the 2 percent maximum allowed under the state’s cap law. But even with the property tax hikes, officials from both districts say there will still be a funding gap that could cost hundreds of jobs, the removal of extracurricular programs like sports and the band, and an increase in class sizes above 30 pupils per room.
“Hey Hey, Ho Ho!” hundreds of Toms River Regional students shouted. “School cuts have got to go!”
Another chant demanded the state “bet on children, not on horses,” referring to $100 million in public subsidies proposed by Murphy to be spent on the horse-racing industry.
Other chants called for the state legislature to “save our future” and a few angled toward a recall of Murphy, who hatched the school funding deal last year in a last-minute agreement with state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester).
In Murphy’s budget address, he promoted the new formula which slashed the Brick and Toms River budgets.
“The work to modernize our formula to meet the on-the-ground needs of districts today, led by Senate President Sweeney, is ensuring that school funding dollars are more efficiently and effectively following our children,” the governor said.
Will the protest have an impact? Officials are hopeful.
Gerard Dalton, Brick Township’s superintendent, said he and colleagues, including TRRS superintendent David Healy, had been invited to a meeting with state officials after the budget address Tuesday.
“I believe the message was heard,” he told Shorebeat. “Both Mr. Healy and myself have had some conversations with people from the governor’s office, and we may be staying today to continue those conversations as others go back on buses.”
Brick Township’s school board will next meet on March 14; Toms River Regional’s board will meet March 20.