Governor Murphy didn’t work with Toms River on school aid cuts, Ocean County lawmakers say
Many were shocked at the response Governor Phil Murphy gave in the debate on Tuesday night in response to comments made by Gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli with regards to the School Funding Formula when the incumbent said he had "already worked with Toms River" about the districts concerns on massive state aid cuts.
10th District Ocean County lawmakers are now voicing their shock, concern and once again standing up for Toms River Schools urging Governor Murphy and all those in favor of the current S2 formula to revise it.
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The Toms River Regional School District in the now ongoing 2021-22 academic year is hemorrhaging $8-million dollars in state aid cuts due to the School Funding Formula.
When the topic briefly came up on Tuesday night at the Gubernatorial debate there was a jaw dropping moment when Jack Ciattarelli brought up what towns, school districts like Toms River is facing and described how the formula needs to be rectified.
Then Governor Murphy was quickly dismissive of the comments, explaining the state had already worked with Toms River Schools on the matter.
Jack Ciattarelli: "Under Governor Ciattarelli, we'll have a new school funding formula that provides a more flatter, equitable distribution of state aids. I will not leave any student behind, I will not leave any community behind, I will not adversely affect the quality of education but let me tell you something else we're not going to do -- we're not going to send aid that people who own million dollar homes in places like Hoboken and Jersey City and have them pay less less property taxes than a $400,000 homeowner in Toms River, Hillsborough, Parsippany. That's what's going on and he knows it."
Phil Murphy: "Well, I'll tell you something. This election is the difference between continuing to move forward or going backward and you just heard what happened here. You know, the tragedy is the progress we've made in black and brown communities especially urban communities with the school funding we have put to work has worked overwhelmingly but it's a job that is not yet complete. There are huge inequities that this pandemic, among other things, exposed. That flat funding formula -- we already worked with Toms River and Hillsborough."
(You can watch their dialogue here starting at 46:00).
What was said by Governor Murphy is not going over well in Ocean County.
“If ‘working with them’ means gutting Toms River’s State school aid like a fish, then I guess Governor Murphy is telling the truth,” Ocean County 10th District Senator Jim Holzapfel said in a statement. “The Murphy administration slashed aid for Toms River schools by more than 14 percent this year alone. The Governor ripped away more than $8 million in funding, an especially devastating loss for a district that has already seen its annual educational support from Trenton reduced by more than $17 million – 25 percent – under Murphy. Schools have had no choice but to make draconian cuts, and property taxpayers are forced to dig deeper every single year to make up for the shortfall. It’s an insult to every parent and property owner in the district for the Governor to hold Toms River up as a school aid victory. It is a disaster.”
Senator Holzapfel points to the disheartening numbers over the last four years under Governor Murphy as annual State aid to Toms River Schools has been cut from $66,975,394 to $49,724,966.
Toms River is just one of the many towns in Ocean and Monmouth County who've seen significant cuts in school aid from the state including Brick Township who has suffered a loss of almost 20 percent in state aid in 2021 and a 37.9 percent cut overall during the Murphy administration.
“These fiscal assaults on our schools and taxpayers are happening while Murphy is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on hand-picked pet projects in his election year budget,” Ocean County 10th District Assemblyman Greg McGuckin said in a statement. “The Governor stripped away money from Ocean County school children to build a new museum in Jersey City for $24 million and to dredge a marina in Woodbridge. What he has done to our schools is appalling.”
Lawmakers in Ocean County's 10th District have fought for school funding transparency for years, along with many others, and went so far as to introduce legislation in 2019 to try and require the State Department of Education to reveal to school districts the data and software algorithms used to calculate school aid.
Transparency has been one of the flaws since S2 inception.
“There is no accountability, no transparency in the process. Murphy’s school funding has been anything but fair, and the Administration refuses to tell us how they come up with the numbers,” Ocean County 10th District Assemblyman John Catalano said in a statement. “New Jersey taxpayers deserve to know what’s behind the calculations and how the data is being manipulated. Something this important cannot be a State secret.”
The 10th District fight for fairness is far from over.
The team has sponsored legislation, S-2438 and A-452, that would force Governor Murphy to detail why he is cutting aid to Ocean County schools and others across New Jersey.