Land Sale Questions, Rumors Addressed At Toms River Meeting
Land Sale Questions, Rumors Addressed At Toms River Meeting

Land Sale Questions, Rumors Addressed At Toms River Meeting

TOMS RIVER, NJ — Toms River Township and Toms River Regional School District officials answered questions and dispelled rumors about the planned land deal between the township and the school district.

The sale of 17 acres of land at Silver Bay Elementary School is anticipated to be completed in about a month, Toms River business administrator Louis Amoruso said.

The deal, which will generate $4.15 million for the Toms River Regional School District and fill its 2023-24 budget hole, has received approval from the Ocean County executive superintendent of schools and the state Department of Education, Toms River Schools Superintendent Michael Citta said.

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One of the biggest concerns and rumors in the community is about whether the property will remain undeveloped. Overdevelopment has been a hot-button issue in Toms River over the last 10 years, and having a 17-acre parcel under discussion has stirred up those concerns.

Amoruso said the land will remain open space “in perpetuity” after the township purchases it.

Find out what's happening in Toms Riverwith free, real-time updates from Patch.

That’s because of the state laws governing open space purchases. Land purchased using open space funds — as Toms River is doing with this purchase — cannot simply be turned over and sold for any use.

If the township were to consider selling it, there are a number of hoops they would have to jump through, including getting permission from the state Department of Environmental Protection, Amoruso said, citing NJSA 40:12-15.9.

Amoruso also said the property was better protected from being turned into a development as a result of the township purchasing it for open space, because the school district could have sold it to anyone.

Citta was quick to say that selling the property to a developer was never a consideration, and said the district is locked into the deal with the township.

“This isn’t because we’re looking to make more money,” Citta said. “This school board does not want to see any more building.”

“We’re not going to look anywhere else,” he said.

The other issue is what the school district will do next year. Citta said the district is facing a $26 million shortfall from the get-go on the budget process for the 2024-25 school year. That’s something a land sale won’t fix.

Citta estimated the district has about 10 acres unused, but that acreage is spread over various sites in the district, which has 18 schools and more than 25 properties. One thing that isn’t happening: the sale of any schools.

“We’re not selling a school. We’re not selling a school. We’re not selling a school,” he repeated several times, to drive the point home. Rumors that the district was going to sell a school have been persistent dating back to at least 2017, in spite of multiple statements from the district to the contrary.

Citta said it needs all of its schools, because the changing demographics of the district’s student population have altered how it uses its space. While the overall student enrollment is down from its peak of 17,000, the district has seen a significant increase in special needs students and in students for whom English is a second language. Special education classes, for example, have class sizes limited to fewer than 10 students, by state law.

Addressing the $26 million deficit is being worked on now, Citta said.

“We will do whatever we need to do within the law,” he said. District officials are trying to work with officials from other districts to convince state legislators to address issues with S2, which is supposed to be in effect for one more year, Citta said.

“We were supposed to lose $19 million when S2 was first passed,” Citta said, adding he thinks the current state of cuts was an unforeseen consequence of the law. He suggested the districts fighting for the formula to be addressed should consider hiring lobbyists to help convince legislators to consider legislation to look at it again.

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