Toms River School Board Passes Measure Preventing Budgets From Requiring Public Vote
There is a good chance residents of Toms River will not be voting on a school budget for at least four more years.
On Thursday the Toms River Regional School Board approved a measure which would push all school election to November and more importantly allow for budgets that fall within the two percent cap to be passed without voter approval. The legislation takes effect for four years.
At a special meeting held in the auditorium of the Toms River South High School dozens of residents came out to voice their opinion on the measure. While there were varying opinions on the topic of November based elections, the issue of a school budget able to be passed without a vote drew ire from many in the crowd.
Resident Stephan Caldwell spoke in front of the school board saying “we have very few rights to vote on in this township, and this is one of them that we can help control, and you want to take it away from us. That’s not fair.”
Several people stated how Tom River residents were already deceived once by former Superintendent Michael Ritacco, and they don’t endorse anything that further vanquishes oversight.
“Mr Rittaco wanted us to trust him on the board and look what happened. I want my rights” says resident Denise Fitzgerald.
The lone person speaking in favor of the measure was former school board candidate Mary Anne Bageac, who said that while people’s desire to vote for school budgets was noble, it didn’t ultimately do much good.
“The concept of being able to vote on the budget feels good, but the reality is you vote on a budget, it doesn’t get passed it gets bounced to the township council who make an arbitrary decision as to what’s going to be cut.”
The heated discussion amongst the audience was further fueled by dissention amongst members of the board. Though the measure passed 6-3 it was not without it’s resistance. Board member Loreen Torrone attempted to table the measure however was unable to get enough votes for it top pass.
She says that “[the legislation] is being rushed through, we don’t even have a chance to look at the law.”
She mentioned asking board attorney Thomas Monohan about an issue relating to the duration of the board and him responding that he isn’t sure. She says that there is still to much unknown about the legislation.
Adding that the issue also affect’s people’s wallet’s at one of the worst times.
It’s a financial issue because the public should have a right to vote, and in Toms River traditionally they do support the budget. I have a lot of trust in the people of Toms River that they would do the right thing and if we need the money they would pass it.”
Torrone, as well as board members Benjamin Giovine and Alexander Pavliv spoke out against the measure. All other members of the board voted in favor of it.
School Board President Edward Gearity was the moderator during the public comments portion of the evening and bore the brunt of criticism. He says “I know they feel we were taking something from them, but I didn’t really feel that way. We do have one of the lowest per pupil costs in the state of New Jersey and one of the lowest administrative costs, so we must be doing something right.”
Adding that “we do have a budget meeting and we do have board meetings every month, they are invited to give their opinion of whatever is being spent or done in this district.”
Toms River Regional School District has had a stellar record with budget approvals, with only one out of the past seventeen budgets not being approved by the public.
Because of that Gearity believes that the residents should have faith that the board would continue creating budgets with little to no increase from the previous years. However he warned that by rejecting the measure, bringing the issue to a vote every year could become costly.
He says “if for some reason we were the only school left in Ocean County that didn’t pass it, we would be the only one paying for that election in April. Now it’s spread amongst all of the school districts that have elections… If we were the only ones left we would e paying well in excess of a hundred thousand dollars just to have the election all to ourselves”
Statewide, 257 out 587 that have voted on the plan have passed it.