‘Putting our money where our children are’

Jersey City Board of Education adopts $736 million budget

The Jersey City Board of Education unanimously adopted a $736 million budget that includes an increased investment of $53 million of taxpayer dollars into the district.

In a move toward fully funding the school district, the Jersey City Board of Education has adopted a 2020-2021 budget which includes a 39 percent increase in the school tax levy by a total of $53 million.

The board adopted the $736 million district wide budget unanimously on May 11 during a virtual Zoom meeting after taking public comment.

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“We are putting our money where our children are, and it’s really about giving students a world class education and a real chance at the American dream,” said Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker.

The school district faces a loss of more than $175 million in state aid over the next five years due to changes in the state’s school funding formula.

The district, which educates more than 30,000 students in more than 40 schools, lost $27 million in state aid last year alone.

According to Walker, this year the district also faces increased healthcare costs and increased allocations to charter schools.  The newly adopted budget also includes an increase in needed staff such as 107 full-time positions most of which will provide math and language arts support.

According to parents who spoke at the virtual board meeting, last year the district lost 160 teachers, 25 teachers’ aides and assistants; 20 janitorial, security, and food service staff; 15 administrators, supervisors and reading recovery teachers; 22 literacy coaches; and 19 math coaches.

Parents who spoke during the public comment said that as the district prepares to possibly reopen schools, which have been closed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the district needs more staff and resources, not less.

They discussed the need for increased maintenance staff to keep surfaces clean, soap dispensers stocked, and sinks working, as well as additional staff so that classes can ensure social distancing.

“We are facing unprecedented times, but that can not be used as an excuse to abandon the needs of our students,” said resident and parent of two district children Nancy Pokler. “Rather it must be used as a catalyst to motivate us to establish the foundation we need to lift our schools out of crisis and our students to a long overdue success.”

‘This is not a one-year fix’

The adopted budget means the school tax levy will increase from $136 million to $189 million.

According to the district’s Business Administrator Regina Robinson, a homeowner with an average home assessed at $452,000, will see the school tax portion of the tax bill increase by approximately $46 a month or $550 a year.

School board Trustee Mussab Ali said that the board will have to raise taxes by roughly $50 million every year over the next four years.

Raising the levy “is not a one-year fix,” he said. “This is not something that can be solved overnight.”

Trustee Alexander Hamilton said the board needs to explore long-term solutions to district funding.

“I don’t want to see us get into band aid fixes where we wind up finding ourselves in the same position next year,” of asking residents for more funds through increased taxes he said.

“I believe it’s not the board’s responsibility to be concerned about rising taxes because that is the city’s responsibility,” said Trustee Joan Terrell-Paige. “Our responsibility is to the children of this district.”

School taxes make up only one portion of a property owner’s tax bill which also includes municipal and county taxes.

As for the county and municipal portion of a resident’s tax bill, both budgets are still being determined.

Jersey City originally introduced a $613.9 million budget which did not represent a tax increase for residents but that was before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Since then Mayor Steven Fulop has announced that the pandemic would cost the city more than $70 million in a combination of lost revenues and unforeseen spending such as testing, personal protective equipment, and overtime.

The Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders has not yet introduced a budget.

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.