Northern Ocean County’s state legislators are pitching what they call a “painless” proposal to Gov. Phil Murphy, in an attempt to avoid devastating funding cuts for schools districts including Brick and Toms River.
Sen. James Holzapfel and Assemblymen Gregory P. McGuckin and John Catalano (all R-Ocean) called on Murphy to restore funding to the beleaguered districts out of what Murphy called a “rainy day fund” in his budget address last week. The rainy day fund would consist of $300 million which can be spent in a discretionary fashion.
In his proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget, Murphy designated $50 million for stabilization aid for schools compared to the $300 million in the rainy day fund.
“Almost 200 districts are facing draconian reductions totaling $158 million,” said McGuckin. “The Governor, right now, can stop the bleeding and ensure the efficient education of our State’s children and future leaders. This fix will buy time for the Governor and the Legislature to allow the fair share issue to be analyzed, and to once and for all solve the obvious and known flaws in the school aid formula.”
Brick is poised to receive one of the state’s highest cuts in education funding – $23 million over seven years, while Toms River will lose about $18 million. The state, through a formula which Trenton has refused to release to the public, determined the two towns’ taxes are too low and residents should be paying more toward their schools. The state, under bill S-2 – a deal hatched by Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) – to avoid a government shutdown two years ago, has already ordered maximum 2 percent property tax increases for seven years. Meanwhile, school officials have warned of higher class sizes, the elimination of some programs and the potential for school closures. In Brick, Herbertsville Elementary School will be closed after June and repurposed into a pre-school.
Under the Fiscal Year 2021 K-12 Formula Aid plan released last week by the New Jersey Department of Education, six school districts in the tenth legislative district, which covers northern and some of central Ocean County, will have their resources decreased. Toms River Regional District will lose more than $5.3 million (8 percent) of their state aid, and Brick Township aid will drop $4.2 million (13 percent).
The $237,600 funding gap for Seaside Heights Borough Schools represents a 22.3 percent loss.
“The taxpayers and schools in Ocean County have been getting the short end of the stick for too long,” said Catalano. “Under Murphy’s budget, this will be one more in a series of unfair budgets that will lead to compromises in the classrooms and higher property tax bills. We have identified an option that does not take any money from other school districts or programs and applies it to teaching our children.”