Senate President addresses school funding, immunization in Ocean County
They are two of the most debated issue in the state of New Jersey right now, the S2 legislation or school funding formula and a bill that seeks to remove religious exemptions from vaccination requirements.
When word broke to the public that the special guest speaker of the Ocean County Mayor's Association's monthly meeting was going to be Senate President Steve Sweeney, who is and has pushed for both pieces of legislation, was going to be in Toms River groups of parents and children were outside the Grove Restaurant on Hooper Avenue Tuesday morning to greet him.
Sweeney came in through the back door of the restaurant for security reasons.
The two issues affecting Ocean County towns the most at the moment are the two aforementioned bills among other items Sweeney addressed inside the restaurant with mayors and administrators.
Sweeney explained to us prior to the meeting inside his reasoning for backing the two bills but outside we heard the opposition.
To date Sweeney said the school funding formula has worked out exactly how he thought it would.
He said school districts like Toms River, who are set to lose millions, is apart of it because they don't have the students to warrant additional funding like they had been able to in the past.
"Toms River has 1,600 less kids then when we started the school funding formula so how do you justify keeping that money if the kids aren't there," Sweeney said. "If they had the 1,600 kids, by all means, but their school buildings are underutilized. They're at like 82-percent capacity where they were at 95-percent capacity in 2009. Why should school districts that don't have the children keep the funding for the children they don't have."
Toms River Schools are potentially in trouble with state aid cuts because Sweeney says they have a surplus of funds and they've had nine-years of overfunding.
"They've been hiring more staff when they should have been attritioning staff," Sweeney said. "If you don't have the children, you should be shrinking your school district through attrition. When we finish phasing this school funding formula out, they'll (Toms River) have been overfunded for 16-years. We're bringing them to 100-percent funding, we're not underfunding them, we're bringing them down to 100-percent funding."
Sweeney said the school funding formula is based on weighted social and economic issues.
"When we did the legislation to give 40-districts the ability to increase their taxes up to the money that was being lost, it was the 40-districts that weren't funding where they were supposed to be from the beginning," Sweeney said. "These aren't just made up numbers. We have them and we can show them."
In Brick, Herbertsville Elementary School is getting ready to close its doors due to a lack of funding in the township district.
"We're early into the year with budget cuts and they're already closing schools. It's not a Herbertsville problem, it's a district problem. They're closing Herbertsville to help with this budget cut but Brick is losing $22-million dollars, it only costs $1.8-million to run Herbertsville, that's a spit in the ocean," Melissa Munnings, a Brick mom and member of the Herbertsville Stars, said. "We're hoping to get attention for people to stand up. Your job as a parent is to stand up for your kids."
Meanwhile, a bill that would toughen exemptions for immunization requirements including religious exemptions may soon be posted for a vote.
The bill itself is causing concern among parents and communities but Senate President Sweeney says this bill is the right thing to do.
"Why is it that every single medical group in this state and this nation support vaccinations? The argument against it is not based on science. I believe in vaccinations. 95-percent of kids get vaccinated but we're under that level now and we have to worry about public health," Sweeney said. "I have a right to do what's responsible to make sure this state stays healthy."
Kevin Barry, the president of the civil group First Freedom, says parents know their children better than anyone and they should make the decision on whether to vaccinate their kids or not.
"It's literally a fascist policy to have the state decided how to treat someone rather than the invidious," Barry said.
The immunization bill is awaiting additional votes and support before it can be posted again.