TOMS RIVER – When Mike Citta took over as Toms River Regional’s new superintendent this week, there was one big issue he didn’t have to face: laying off staff.
For the first time in several years, the district’s budget did not include staffing cuts.
Toms River Regional’s state aid dropped to $45,400,653 for the 2022-2023 school year, down nearly 9% from the $49.7 million the district received for the current school year.
But school board Vice President Alex Mizenko has said the state aid cut was less than the $8 million in funding the district expected to lose. He described the state aid cut as “still devastating, just not as devastating as we expected.”
An influx of federal COVID-19 aid helped the district avoid staff cuts as well.
Interim Superintendent Stephen Genco said last month that while federal grant funds will help the district avoid massive cuts next school year, he is worried about what will happen in the 2024-2025 school year.
Field to be dedicated:Bill Frank gets well-deserved honor with Toms River East baseball field dedication
Field of Dreams opens:‘Is this heaven?’ Field of Dreams now open in Toms River for children with disabilities
“We are very, very concerned about the 2024-25 school year,” Genco said. “That is when the federal grants run out.”
Toms River and other Jersey Shore districts have long objected to the state’s latest school funding formula, which has shifted money from districts with declining enrollment, like Toms River Regional, to faster-growing districts. School leaders have long contended that the formula unfairly penalizes efficient districts — like Toms River Regional — that have per pupil costs below the state average.
The state aid cuts have led Toms River Regional to repeatedly reduce staff; two years ago, the district cut 37 jobs. That followed 77 job cuts the year before. Last year, Toms River Regional slashed 70 positions.
Citta, Genco and Business Administrator William Doering are expected to meet Tuesday with county representatives to discuss the ongoing school funding issue.
“Hopefully somebody will get this in their mind that we can’t continue functioning this way,” Genco said. Genco, who left the interim superintendent’s position on April 30, has been hired by the board as an “educational leadership consultant” from May 1 to Dec. 31.
Genco will assist Citta as he takes over as district superintendent, and will be paid $600 a day on days he works more than four hours, and $300 a day for days he works four hours or less.
The board adopted the 2022-2023 school budget late last month, with only Ashley Lamb voting against the spending plan. Lamb said she voted no because the state’s S2 school spending law forces districts like Toms River Regional to continue raising property taxes.
The budget asks for $179,028,457 from taxpayers, up $3,296,909, or 2%. Under the provisions of S2, the state aid funding formula, districts like Toms River Regional that the state says do not bring in enough property tax dollars, are required to raise the tax levy by 2% each year.
Toms River property owners, who pay about 91% of the tax levy that supports the regional district, would have a school tax rate of about 81 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation under the budget introduced by the board.
The township just underwent a property revaluation, which makes year-to-year tax comparisons difficult, but a home assessed at Toms River’s new average, $442,643, would pay annual school taxes of $3,589. Toms River property owners paid about $3,427 in school taxes under the 2021-2022 budget, when the average home was assessed at $276,854.
The tax impact in the other three towns:
- In Beachwood, the owner of a home assessed at $206,100, the borough average, would pay $2,386 in annual school taxes, up about 3.6%, or $83 a year.
- In Pine Beach, the owner of a home assessed at $270,800, the borough average, would pay $3,263 in school taxes, up 1.2%, or about $39 a year.
- South Toms River property owners with homes assessed at $168,076, the borough average, would pay $1,719 in school taxes, up 0.1%, or about $1.50 a year.
School board President Jennifer Howe encouraged residents to continue putting pressure on Trenton to increase school funding.
“We encourage everyone to keep calling and tell everyone that our kids deserve a fair chance like other kids,” she said.
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 37 years. A finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in public service, she’s also passionate about the Shore’s storied music scene. Contact her: @jeanmikle, [email protected]
Source: Asbury Park