While schools may be closed and have shifted to virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, local Boards of Education continue to prepare school districts for the next school year.
On April 28, the Bayonne Board of Education held a public hearing for the 2020 to 2021 calendar budget.
Ten people were present at the meeting, including some board members, Board Secretary Gary Maita, Superintendent of Schools John Niesz, School Business Administrator Dan Castles, Assistant School Business Administrator Thomas Fugu, and Board Counsel Phil Lamperallo.
President Maria Valado, Vice President Christopher Munoz, Jan Patrick Egan, Jodi Casias, and Ava Finnerty attended the meeting in person.
Trustees Joseph Broderick, Denis Wilbeck, Lisa Burke, and Michael Alonso attended virtually.
The meeting was streamed live on the board’s YouTube page at 5 p.m. on April 29.
Can you hear me now?
The livestream was riddled with glitches,ending after only a few seconds, leaving viewers confused before a new link was provided.
In one instance, Broderick took several minutes to respond.
The scene was reminiscent of a scene from the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
Maita repeatedly asked “Trustee Broderick?” channeling the famous “Bueller?” line when the teacher takes attendance. The actor who played Ferris Bueller, Matthew Broderick, shares a last name with the unrelated trustee.
Trustee Burke could not hear Castles, resulting in another comical and quotable moment.
“Can you hear me now Trustee Burke?” Castles asked as staff worked to fix the audio of the microphone near Castles.
Castles removed his mask to speak more clearly into the microphone for members attending virtually.
Apparently, some of the trustees were buffering on their computers and could not understand Castles.
When the problem was resolved, Castles explained the funds that make up the budget.
Pre-pandemic budget figures
The board has adopted its budget, but it may have to be overhauled. According to Castles, the budget was built on figures given to the board prior to the pandemic, at the end of February.
Castles said the board would get the opportunity to amend the budget if the state aid figures change. Until then, the board has been given permission by the Department of Education to adopt the budget with state figures given in February, according to Castles.
The budget, which comprises funds totaling $164,300,621, primarily consists of the general fund, which funds day-to-day operations, and the special revenue funds such as grants and other awards, according to Castles.
The operating budget for 2020 to 2021 represents a ten-million-dollar increase from the previous year, including a seven-million-dollar increase in state aid. The budget also uses excess funds from the previous year’s budget totaling two million dollars.
The budget consists of $146,744,541 from the General Fund and $17,556,080 from Special Revenue.
Among the grants included in the special revenue fund are a 12-million-dollar preschool grant, a three-million-dollar grant for funding Title I through Title IV programs aimed to provide students with a well-rounded education, and approximately two million dollars in special education funds.
The budget calls for a local tax levy totaling $69,754,376. This represent a one percent increase of $700,000 from the previous budget.
Reliance on state aid
According to Castles, the budget primarily consists of state aide. Nearly 50 percent of the budget comes from state aide while 45 percent come from the tax levy on local taxpayers.
These numbers represent a shift from budget reliance on a local tax levy to reliance on state aide, Castles said. Most of the budget will go toward salaries and benefits, with the rest paying off dues, fees, and contracts, among other things.
The budget includes funds for an increase in staff, including teachers, guidance counselors, and vice principals. Castles said the district is hiring personnel where necessary, and trying to fix the problem rather than provide a temporary solution.
“It may seem like were going on a massive spending spree, but that’s not the case,” Castles said.
He compared the board’s budget to other municipalities across Hudson County to show that the city was on the low end of spending.
Gene Woods, President of the Bayonne Education Association, questioned the number of hires, asking if the district hired only three teachers as more students are transferring into the district.
Castles noted the budget accounted for approximately 15 new personnel and will expand as the district grows.
Niesz added that the district was not going to add additional staff until summer, when state aid figures may be more accurate.
Vocal opposition versus the silent majority
The board voted 5-4 to adopt the budget.
Alonso said that the state needs to start paying its fair share. According to him, taxpayers have been paying their fair share, yet state funding is only at 60 percent of what it should be.
That was the only audible part of Alonso’s explanation before he voted no.
Broderick echoed Alonso, arguing that times are different since the board first voted on the budget in March.
Finnerty, a critic of the budget, said she was struck by listening to Gov. Murphy speak at a press conference the day before, saying that his harrowing words regarding the financial future of education brought back bad memories of the financial stress the board experienced five years ago.
Wilbeck was the fourth board member to join the opposition, while trustees who voted to adopt the budget had little to say.
Burke, Casias, Egan, Valado and Munoz voted in favor of the budget.
Munoz called the budget “fair,” noting that it adds more teachers, support staff, and addresses administrative needs.
No phone-in or email questions were submitted, according to Maita.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.