The Bayonne Board of Education voted to approve a corrective action plan to fix a $2.2 million budget deficit that was discovered last month, but some local teachers and residents were not too forgiving about the situation.
“Whereas the board, on December 11, 2014, adopted a resolution that formally withdrew and transferred it’s local shared support funds for ROD (regular operating districts) grant projects from the capital reserve to the capital projects fund to support an appropriation of the following projects,” Bayonne BOE Secretary Dr. Gary Maita.
“Whereas, in order to meet obligations regarding the 2016-17 budget operations, the district determined a need to repurpose the local share portion of the remaining $3,670,067.73.”
Last week, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) and Assemblyman Nick Chiaravalloti (D-31) called on the Office of the State Auditor to investigate the matter, which the district has attributed to overspending and a bookkeeping error – among other things.
Mayor Jimmy Davis also recently slammed the district for “mismanagement at this level,” a chord that hit home for some local teachers in attendance last night.
“I understand there’s a local portion and a state portion, and my question is, if we use $3.7 million of the local portion, are we forfeiting the 60 percent that the state had given us?,” Dr. Andrea Ressetar, a Bayonne teacher, asked the board.
“But Dr. Ressetar, we didn’t spend it, so we’re not owed it,” interjected Bayonne School Business Administrator Leo Smith, Jr. “We have to spend our portion in order for the state to give back to us.”
“I understand that, and my point is this: that if you used it for what it was supposed to be used for, you would’ve been getting an additional $5.5 million from the state.”
Ressetar further argued that using $3.7 million of funding in the short term would cost the district $5.5 million in the long term.
Cheryl Jablonsky, another local teacher, called the $3.7 million plan an “extremely expensive band-aid” solution that could’ve been avoided if local spending was taken more seriously.
“Along the same lines as Dr. Ressetar, I am very concerned about this extremely expensive band aid that is being proposed. It seems to me like it’s not even fully understood what has caused this deficit.”
Jablonsky also said it is long past due for the district to curb “out of control spending,” later asking the board if anyone will be held accountable for their actions here.
Bayonne BOE President Joe Broderick attempted to quell some concerns, but got into very few concerns to the chagrin of the crowd of about 50 people on hand.
“The ROD grant money is being voted on, because what we consider, we did look at this, a necessity. We didn’t just say ‘let’s do something.’ Like I said earlier, we’re well aware of that situation and how valuable this money could be in other areas,” he said.
Referring to the situation as an “extremely high budget crisis,” Broderick further stating that “everything will be looked at” and he couldn’t say who would or wouldn’t be held accountable for the budget shortfall.
Joe Wyatt, another of a handful of teachers who took the podium last night, ripped the district for allowing an accounting error of this magnitude.
“The 800-pound gorilla in here is not the underfunding, it’s the fact that the accounting system doesn’t work,” Wyatt exclaimed.
“We’ve had double entry accounting for like a thousand years, I can’t remember whether it was the Babylonians or somebody invented double entry accounting so that you can control your business.”
Wyatt called for bold decisions when it comes to cutting wasteful positions to save money, specifically noting that the district could free up $600,000 by cutting the 14 assistant principal positions throughout the schools.
An unedited 10-minute video from the meeting, which we posted live on our Facebook page, can also be viewed below.