💲The Toms River Regional School District budget has a $26.5M deficit

💲Changes to the state school funding formula cut funds to Toms River

💲The district risks a state takeover

The Toms River Regional School District Board of Education rejected its budget and announced it will pursue "all legal remedies" to ensure that it receives all funding and resources necessary to provide students with a "thorough and efficient" education in the 2024-25 academic year and avoid bankruptcy.

The proposed budget has a $26.5 million deficit after the state cut funding by $137 million to the district, according to Superintendent Mike Citta. School taxes would have gone up by nearly 10%, cutting 368 staff positions, creating class sizes in the hundreds, eliminating kindergarten classes, and cutting all sports and extracurricular activities.

"We have used all of our surplus and reserves and monetized our assets, rented our facilities and even sold trees to make up a shortfall. Even with all those actions there was no way to make up the $137 million cut with the allowable 2% tax levy increase over a seven year period," Citta said at the special meeting.

Calling the Toms River district the most efficient in the state, Citta said that the money has gone to other districts that have "wastefully" the money on "ridiculous" salary increases and non-essential pet projects. He said county and state education officials who have examined the district's budget have concluded Toms River has a revenue problem not a spending problem.

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Grauduation ceremony in Toms River
Grauduation ceremony in Toms River (Toms River Regional School District)

No extra funding in state budget

The final straw for Citta was when the state budget signed by Gov. Phil Murphy did not address the funding issue for Toms River and other Ocean County districts.

"The state of New Jersey knowingly created this problem for our district and our neighbors in Brick, Jackson, Lakewood, Lacey, Plumstead and Stafford just to name a few. Why? How do you do that 15,000 children that deserve the same opportunities as every child in this great state," Citta said, calling it “legislative child abuse and neglect."

Citta called upon school districts, local and county leadership from the entire county to join their fight for more funding.

"If this country seat fails and falls we all fall," Citta said.

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P. David Correll Sr. courtyard at Toms River High School South
P. David Correll Sr. courtyard at Toms River High School South (Toms River Regional School District)

State blames the district

Board attorney William Burns said that the district hired the Busch Law Group of Metuchen to mount a legal fight.

Burns attacked Acting Education Commissioner Kevin Dehmer for neglecting what he called a "constitutional duty to provide a "thorough and efficient" education for all New Jersey school children.

"Instead of acting responsibly the commissioner is blaming the current crisis on this community, this board, this administration demanding they certify an unconstitutional budget and encouraging the district to burden the residents of this district by placing questions about district programs that impact kids whether educational, curricular, extracurricular or athletic regardless of the constitutional and statutory requirements," Burns said.

He said that the state has threatened to take over the district, close schools and take away certifications of Citta and Business Administrator William Doering when they pushed back on the state.

Citta said that during the budget battle administrators will freeze their salaries and worked under contractual agreements from the 2023-24 academic year.

The 18 schools in the regional school district serve 14,594 students from Toms River, Beachwood, Pine Beach and South Toms River.

State Department of Education spokesman Michael Yaple said the department typically does not comment on matters involving pending litigation.

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