Toms River school administrators had hoped for more state aid to help combat a looming ratable base decrease following Superstorm Sandy. The $433,802 aid increase for 2013-14 announced Thursday came as a disappointment.
"It certainly was not what we were hoping for," said Business Administrator William Doering during a public budget meeting Thursday, the second of two this week. The district will receive a total of $67,712,061 in aid, a 0.6 percent increase over the current amount, according to the state.
"It's not helping matters," he said.
The state Department of Education boasted that the 2013-14 aid package is the largest ever released by the state. Nearly $9 billion will go to public schools, an increase of about $97.3 million from the 2012-13 school year.
While state aid remains flat for four districts in Ocean County, many will see an increase in aid this year, including Barnegat, Berkeley Township and Toms River. The districts throughout Ocean County received an overall $2,511,392 increase over the current year. The districts receiving an increase will average a gain of $75 per pupil.
"Throughout my time in office I have continuously argued that in order to grow New Jersey's economy we must invest in education, and my proposed budget is a reflection of my commitment to our educational system and communities across the state," said Gov. Chris Christie in a statement. "However, even as we continue to fund education at the highest levels in state history, we must remain willing to reflect on how we are spending our money and work towards solutions that make every dollar we invest count."
In the $208 million 2013-14 Toms River schools budget, $141,838,236 is to be raised by local property taxes, an increase of 1.9 percent over the 2012-13 spending plan. The ratables breakdown among Toms River, Beachwood, Pine Beach and South Toms River is not expected until mid-April.
Toms River administrators have said that, because the district is $34 million below its adequacy level -- the amount of money the projected to run a school system of its size -- they should be considered for more state aid. But that money isn't coming.
"I'm trying to see the glass half full here," Doering said.
Administrators were hopeful for more aid money, and on Wednesday during a budget meeting said that the district should not have to consider taking any 2 percent cap waivers.
But Doering on Thursday recommended that a $230,000 cap waiver should be used, as the district will put $1.5 million of its fund balance surplus toward revenue. Taking the waiver will allow the surplus to remain slightly above $2 million, a figure with which administrators are more comfortable.
Board members Ginny Rhine and Loreen Torrone expressed concerns with the waiver, given that residents no longer votes on school budgets. But, others on the board, including President Ben Giovine, agreed with Doering's recommendation not to take too much from the surplus.
The district is expecting $4.3 million in restitution from the Michael Ritacco case; if not all of that can be paid, insurance is expected to cover $2 million, according to officials. Though unclear when it will be paid, having that money incoming made the decision to use some surplus funds easier to handle, according to Doering.
The board will present the budget during a March 5 meeting at High School North before submitting it to the county superintendent by March 7. The final public hearing and board vote on adoption is set for March 21, again at High School North.
On Wednesday, education officials met to discuss the budget's expenditures. Doering said then that next year's spending plan is a "maintenance budget," in that it keeps staffing and program levels stable.
Board members said that they will likely hold more budget meetings throughout the year in preparation of the next cycle and may consider investigating various proposals, such as privatizing transportation, to reduce costs. Members of the public would be invited to any such meetings, according to the board.
ttt 2012-13 2013-14 Total Aid $67,278,259 $67,712,061 Equalized Aid $40,027,322 $39,889,745 Transportation Aid $4,563,261 $4,586,531 Special Education Categorical Aid $9,037,318 $9,141,043 Security Aid $1,785,892 $1,820,980 Under Adequacy Aid $0 $433,801 Adjustment Aid $11,864,466 $11,839,961 One Year Change $1,173,555 (1.8 percent) $433,802 (0.6 percent)
To see the breakdown of state aid by district, click here.