Jersey City officials from the Board of Education and City Council held a joint meeting to discuss the Jersey City Public School District’s mounting funding crisis.
“I think it’s a historic event for us to be coming together during this funding crisis, and it shows the recognition that our city leaders have in terms of this funding crisis and the fact that we’re going to be working collaboratively to solve this,” said Jersey City Board of Education President Mussab Ali.
New Jersey has cut about $71 million in state aid this year from the Jersey City Public School District due to the state’s school funding formula, which was changed in 2018.
In three more years the district will have lost an estimated $391 million since the funding formula change was first implemented, according to Ali.
To help bridge the gap, Jersey City Board of Education trustees approved the adoption of the preliminary 2021-2022 $814.1 million budget funded in part by shrinking state aid, federal aid, the payroll tax, and a roughly 47 percent increase in the local school tax levy.
The levy would increase by about $85 million. This means that the owner of a home with an average assessed property value of about $461,925 would pay an estimated $993 in school taxes for the year under the preliminary budget.
But trustees and council members said taxpayers can’t be expected to make up for the state aid cuts.
“The residents of this city, in our opinion, cannot afford to have a tax levy increased, you know, $85 million this year, another $100 million we’re looking at next year,” said Ali who noted that New Jersey has cut aid to the district, do in part, to the city’s continuous development with ratables rising from $20 billion to more than $40 billion over the last few years, which impacts the funding formula.
‘Not hurting homeowners’
He added that the school district receives only 27 percent of property taxes in Jersey City while other school districts in the state average 52 percent.
“Jersey City, as a city, can afford to put more money in, but the question is how are we going to do it sustainably and in a way that doesn’t hurt homeowners,” Ali said.
Councilman James Solomon raised the idea of potential taxes the city could explore implementing on products like cigarettes and alcohol, noting that while the city created the payroll tax to help fund the district’s schools, “we don’t know what the future of the commercial waterfront is going to be” due to the pandemic and the future of remote work.
Councilman Yousef Saleh said the city should begin looking at taxing recreational marijuana, which could also be used to help fund the district.
Councilman Richard Boggiano said that many people are already moving out of Jersey City and New Jersey due in part to high taxes.
Trustee Gerald Lyons said that while that is true, others are moving to the city from New York City “and one of the biggest concerns they have is the school district.”
Everyone seemed to agree that they needed to work together to not only find local sources of revenue but also get help from the state.
“You can’t come to our area to get votes and meanwhile hurt a majority Black and brown district of students,” said Saleh, noting that it’s an election year.
The council members and school board trustees will now form subcommittees and host another public meeting in May, which has yet to be officially scheduled.
To watch a recording of the meeting go to https://tinyurl.com/m35huyur