Hoboken’s school board voted 6-3 last week to approve a $69.7 million budget with a 3.6 percent increase in tax levy after a public hearing on Tuesday, May 3.
Less than a dozen members of the public attended the meeting, most arriving well into School Business Administrator William Moffitt’s slideshow to outline the district’s spending.
For the average residential property in Hoboken, which currently has an assessed value of $519,000, the surge will reflect an additional $51 on their tax bills on the school budget side. Moffitt later confirmed that in total the averaged assessed property owner’s tab (in regard to the school budget portion) will go from $1,894 in 2015 to $1,945 in 2016.
Residents pay a total tax amount that goes to the schools, county, and city.
The current 2014-2015 budget is $67.9 million. This latest increase signifies a jump of 16 percent since 2012.
Of the full 2016-17 school budget, $55 million will cover the district’s operational expenses, a 2.96 increase from last year’s $53.47 million.
The political banter at this past budget hearing may be a precursor for what’s to come in November as the seats of three members (Evans, Gold, and Sobolov) are up.
Before 2012, the public could vote on the school budget each April. However, as long as the increase stays within a state-mandated cap of 2 percent, a public vote is not held. The state can make exceptions if the school population is growing, and in Hoboken it is, allowing the increase to surpass the cap by 1.65 percent without requiring a public vote.
A school tax increase was necessary, according to school officials, because nine new teachers were hired, payments to charter schools were higher, new educational programs began, special educations costs grew, and state aid was relatively flat.
The school budget is a part of the total taxes paid by property owners (the other major ones being municipal and county taxes). The City Council adopted a $111 million budget at Wednesday’s municipal meeting (see cover story) and the county is expected to adopt their proposed $529 million budget in late May or June.
Do more with less, or worth the funds?
“Every year we get a three-and-a-half, four percent [increase]….so let’s try to do more with what we have instead of looking at a blank check and saying ‘What could we buy this year?’” said resident and former school board candidate Brian Murray during the public comments portion of the meeting.
Superintendent of Schools Christine Johnson did not respond to emails or calls by press time to defend the additional spending. However at the meeting, Moffitt expounded upon some of the district’s goals.
“We have looked at several different opportunities [for improvement, as well as] concerns [like] some of the aging facilities,” Moffitt said.
The volunteer board plans to provide resource centers for students that need special education, support overall technology upgrades, purchase new Chrome Book laptops, expand the security systems, and introduce new programs.
As far as facilities, appropriations of which are defined as equipment that exceeds the $2,000 mark, some of the larger projects consist of the following: $33,388 for heating, ventilating and air conditioning revamps at Connors School and Hoboken High School; $135,000 to fix the pool ceiling at the high school; $62,500 to renovate an interior stairwell at Wallace School; $100,000 for general sidewalk repairs; $50,000 for computer equipment, and $200,000 for the district-wide lease purchase principal.
As for state aid, which has remained stagnant in recent years, the Hoboken district is receiving an additional $25,960 (or 0.24 percent increase) from last year’s $10,656,560 to the 2016-2017’s $10,682,520.
The district foresees dispersing $9.2 million to the city’s three charter schools in the next school year (Hoboken Dual Language Charter School-HoLa, Hoboken Charter School, and the Elysian Charter School). That amounts to a 7.28 percent or $629,605 increase over the current year. The district is required to provide 90 percent of the funding under the current state formula for each charter school student living in Hoboken.
“The main factor in this significant growth is a new kindergarten class entering the Hoboken Dual Language Charter School as the school expands to include a new eighth grade next year,” reads an excerpt from a worksheet distributed by Moffitt at the meeting.
School administrators estimate charter school enrollment will increase from 726 students to 772, an increase of 46, in the coming year. HoLa makes up 44 of that estimated increase, as it is expanding next year to seventh grade. The school board has been fighting in court to prevent HoLa from growing its student body, a move that has spurred some controversy.
On Tuesday, school board trustee Leon Gold, who has supported the lawsuit against the charter school’s expansion in the past, underscored that $548,000 of the budget is going to HoLa due to their expansion.
“I just want people to be aware [that the expansion] is costing Hoboken taxpayers,” he said during the meeting.
The six affirmative voting members have at some point in past elections all run under the Kids First banner: Gold, Board President Thomas Kluepfel, Board VP Jennifer Evans, Irene Sobolov, Sharyn Angley, and Monica Stromwall. However, they maintain they have an independent vote.
Prior to Gold’s comment regarding HoLa’s expansion and its impact on the budget, newly-elected trustee John Madigan said the board could have made cuts elsewhere earlier in the year.
Biancamano similarly said that while the public doesn’t vote on the budget, they should, because it’s their money on the line.
Those other districts
“We represent Hoboken public school system, so if you want to support the private school districts, fine, that’s your prerogative, but to say I want to support this at the expense of the very students you’re supposed to represent is mindboggling,” said Gold following Madigan’s comments about cutting expenditures.
“No one said to take anything away from the children of the Hoboken public schools and give it to the charter schools,” Madigan responded.
Both Gold and Sobolov pointed out that all school board members are invited to attend finance committee meetings. After the meeting, Gold said Madigan was in fact asked to join it.
“I was offered the finance position but they meet at 10:30 a.m. once a month. I have a full-time job,” Madigan told the Reporter a day following the meeting. “If they moved the meetings to nights I can do it.”
Biancamano also noted the time conflicts, while Montgomery upon voting said she’s “voting no to encourage progress without an increase.”
The political banter at this past budget hearing may be a precursor for what’s to come in November as the seats of three members (Evans, Gold, and Sobolov) are up for re-election.
Steven Rodas can be reached at email@example.com.