After over 4 hours, Jersey City BOE tables $8.4M budget amendment

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After over four hours, the Jersey City Board of Education tabled a roughly $8.4 million budget amendment largely due to the fact that they could not come to an agreement on the city taking over the middle school intramural sports programs.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

The board was voting on an $8,375,598 budget amendment to balance out state aid cuts that were approved earlier this month when the state Legislature okayed a new school funding formula.

However, the Jersey City Public School District was refunded $5,574,355 for being overcharged for over 400 charter school students that live outside the district.

As a result, the most contentious issue last night centered around reducing an intramural athletics budget of $358,000.

The city planned on doing that by integrating the intramural middle school athletic programs into their existing schedule, but several trustees were not initially supportive of that idea.

“We got rid of our sports, at Hudson County Schools of Technology, where Amy [DeGise] and I teach, and Marilyn [Roman] works … it was immediate, it was palpable how that affected our students,” said Trustee Gerald Lyons.

“My involvement in athletics at Ferris [High School], I didn’t make all-county, but I was part of the team and these guys helped me to succeed throughout high school,” added Trustee Angel Valentin.

“It gave me a balance: working with academics and allowing me to have an outlet, as they say, and to be able to have an opportunity to explore my talents,” chimed in Trustee Lorenzo Richardson.

Eventually, a frustrated Mayor Steven Fulop, who penned a letter to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marcia Lyles earlier in the day on how the city would help the BOE save around $2.65 million, took the podium to say he felt the intentions of the city were being misconstrued.

“The reality of the situation is none of you have offered an alternative solution: none of you. And you guys point to high school sports, which isn’t even on the table of being cuts: it’s not even in discussion. Lincoln, and when I went to Ferris, and Dickinson: it’s not even in the conversation,” exclaimed Fulop.

“We’re talking about intramural middle school sports that the city is saying we will work with you to complete going forward … And this entire conversation has been so bastardized because of politics, it’s offensive.”

Fulop was also firm in his position that the only reason to vote no was “a personal animus against people, politics, the superintendent, [or] towards me,” stressing again no sports were being cut.

Shortly after Fulop left the meeting, Lyons expressed that this had nothing to do with politics and he simply did not know exactly what he would be voting on.

Jersey City Recreation Director Kevin Williamson, after taking many questions from both the public and the board, explained that while he understood the frustration in the room, he couldn’t provide information he hadn’t been given.

“I have to be able to find the resources to do that. I will then be able to manage that program. But you guys still have not told me what you have and yo have the mechanism in which to tell me how many kids,” Williamson explained.

“I don’t know if anybody in the board of ed, no disrespect, how many kids do you have in the program? If you ask me, if you ask my guy, we can tell you how many people are in the recreation program.”

Williamson further stated that parents and teachers at the meeting who presented him with numbers ranging from 400 students all the way to 3,500 were not helpful to the situation.

Kristen Zadroga Hart, a longtime teacher and operative for the Jersey City Education Association – also the achieving through education, athletics and mentoring program (A-TEAM) coordinator – was one of several meeting attendees who spoke against handing over the intramural programs to the rec department.

“I am not here to disparage the recreation department or any programs they currently offer,” began Hart.

“I am simply here to defend the integrity of the A-TEAM program as I know there is no feasible way an outside entity can come in and provide the same care and passion demonstrated by our district teachers.”

After many more lengthy discussions by the board, they decided to table the budget amendment in hopes of keeping the middle school intramural sports programs run by the BOE.

The motion to table passed by a vote of 6-0(2), with Trustee Vidya Gangadin and Vice President Sudhan Thomas abstaining. Trustee Luis Felipe Fernandez was absent.

The BOE has scheduled an emergency meeting at 6:30 p.m. in hopes of trying to rectify the budget amendment.

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