The board, in effort to curtail a $5.5 million structural budget deficit, voted 5-4 to levy a 3.95 percent property tax. The levy on local taxpayers amounts to $65 million as part of the tentative 2017-2018 school budget, which totals $133,150,503.
The tentative budget will go next to the Hudson County Superintendent of Schools for approval, and the Board of Education will vote to approve the final budget after an April 26 public hearing.
In addition to increasing revenue from property taxes, the board plans to reduce costs by about $4 million, which will amount to dozens of layoffs in the coming months. As many as 85 district employees may be at risk of losing their jobs, according to a rough estimate cited by the board.
The budget means the proposed tax levy on an average Bayonne home assessed at $125,170 would result in a $120 increase in their property tax bill. A $175,000 home would see a $168 increase. The increase comes after the city already increased taxes by 2.27 percent in 2016.
The board flirted with the idea of levying taxes to the full cap of 6.86 percent that would have required fewer layoffs, but that would have required a city-wide referendum.
“The group up here [board trustees] realizes this is the only option we have left,” said Board President Joseph Broderick, emphasizing that the board considered “what the Bayonne taxpayer can actually afford.”
“It’s not something we thought of lightly,” said Broderick. “I promise you that we will not leave any stone unturned that does not make this the education system it should be.”
“When it hits the paper that a property taxes are going up, citizens are not going to be happy,” said Bayonne Teachers Association President Alan D’Angelo, urging the board to save more district jobs by levying the full tax cap of 6.86 percent. “My point is if you’re going to take that hit anyhow, raise it enough so you don’t have to lay off any teachers.”
A reduction in force and spending will inevitably lead to larger class sizes, which Broderick said would be “35, I promise you that.”
“I’m going to hear somewhere down the line that you’re going to have to do more with less. And that’s crap,” said D’Angelo. “We’re not going to do more with less. We can’t do much more than what we’re doing now.”
A forensic audit by the NJ Department of Education, due to commence on March 28, will show how exactly the district’s structural deficit came to be. Right now, the board points to inadequate state funding and irregular local property tax levies over the course of the last decade as culprits on the revenue side of the equation. On spending, most residents, and some trustees, point to investment into the academies as a source of the district’s deficit.