The Bayonne Board of Education budget hearing is slated for April 28.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the board previously met to handle the most important items on its agenda, primarily the introduction of the budget for the 2020/2021 school year.
The meeting, held March 24 at the Anna J. Herbert Board Meeting Room, was open to the public, and Board Secretary Gary Maita told the Bayonne Community News that those in attendance would be tested for a fever at the door. If the person showed signs of a fever, he or she was not permitted to attend.
The same process will be in place for any resident wishing to attend the budget hearing in April.
However, it is likely many residents will watch the meeting online from home. The livestream appeared to show only three members of the public at the March 24 meeting.
Most of the board attended via phone. President Maria Valado attended in person. Trustee Michael Alonso was absent.
The board voted to introduce a tentative budget totaling $164,300,621
The budget consists of $146,744,541 from the General Fund and $17,556,080 from Special Revenue. The budget calls for a 1 percent tax levy, marking a tax increase of $69,754,376.
Public comments were sent ahead of the meeting, and at at the start of the livestream, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. They were read into the record by the Board Secretary at the end of the meeting.
Online streaming of the meeting is part of the social-distancing measures put in place to stop the further spread of COVID-19.
Residents could attend the meeting and give comments in person, although New Jersey residents were ordered by Gov. Phil Murphy to stay at home.
In a submitted written comment, Bayonne resident Charles Ryan questioned the budget contingency funds, considering the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Members of the board said in the current budget funds have been made available for home instructions, additional help, and any other costs incurred by the pandemic.
Gene Woods, Bayonne Education Association President, spoke on the budget in person at the meeting.
Woods questioned the 1 percent tax levy proposed in the tentative budget.
Woods wanted to know why the city was not raising the tax levy to the 2 percent permitted by state law to better support the school district.
According to Woods, the schools are crumbling, and enrollment is increasing. Even with the hiring of new staff members to support the increased enrollment, the district is still short of necessary staff, including teachers, counselors, nurses, and school psychologists.
Woods argued that $6 million from a 1 percent increase to the tax levy could help schools hire more staff and fix buildings.
In response, the board explained there is only a 1 percent tax levy because of the $2.5 million in surplus that is being used in the budget.
The board said it was going to look at increasing the tax levy in the future. It noted that with a $20 million increase in the budget, the board is comfortable with a 1 percent tax levy.
Woods also asked when the district would receive promised Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) funds from the city for tax abatements given to developers on Avenue E and across Bayonne.
The board said it is working with the city to redo local agreements, including the agreement between the district and the city.
After introduction, the budget heads to the County Superintendent of Schools for further approval.
The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on April 28 in the Anna J. Herbert Board Meeting Room at the Bayonne Board of Education at 669 Avenue A.
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