Toms River Faces Deep Cuts in Schools Without Additional Financial Help, Say Officials

By David Cruz

Superstorm Sandy struck over three years ago. But in places like Toms River, the impact of that event is still being felt — physically as families continue to rebuild, but also economically, as federal funds that helped underwrite some of the losses here are in danger of running out.

“Let me tell you how bad it was first of all, all right. The state of New Jersey along the coast lost $4 billion in ratables, $2 billion were in Toms River. We had 10,000 homes impacted by the storm,” said Mayor Tom Kelaher. “Totally destroyed, partially destroyed, flooded, a combination of all of those.”

The state and the feds have been instrumental in getting the town back on its feet, said the mayor. Over the last three years, they helped Toms River close the gap between what it lost in its tax base and what it has to pay out for cops, city services and, especially, 18 schools. Unfortunately, that spigot is about to close.

Officials here say the state and the feds have actually been pretty helpful but that if they don’t come through with one more year of financial assistance, things could get pretty bad.

“There’s nothing for them to fall back on,” said Sen. James Holzapfel. “If they don’t get assistance, it’s going to be teachers. It’s not going to be, you know, we cut out after school classes, or whatever. It’s going to be major cuts into the system.”

Almost anywhere you look in Toms River these days, you’ll see work proceeding on homes near the water. The mayor says the city has gotten about $1.2 billion of its ratable base back, but that still leaves about $800 million, which they estimate would mean they need about $7 million in assistance, and last week the school board passed a resolution asking for at least another year of help. Holzapfel says he’d like to think the state will do its best to nudge the feds into just one more year of help.

“Toms River is saying, we don’t need this forever; we just need it next year to make it possible for us to continue to go, so when the ratables are back, you’re not going to see us again,” promised Holzapfel.

In a state with a $34 billion budget, $7 million doesn’t seem like much, but money’s tight around Trenton these days and one town’s minor financial ask — when multiplied by over 500 towns — soon starts to turn into real money, and supply never meets demand, leaving some towns — and their school districts — potentially out in the cold.