Scores of residents turned out for last night’s six hour Jersey City Board of Education meeting, with Jersey City Together leading the charge to call for significant budget fixes, with a separate group voicing concerns about the LGBTQ curriculum being taught in the district.
By Mike Montemarano/ Hudson County View
During her time at the podium, Jill Josephson, a parent of a student attending Public School No. 56, listed a number of demands that advocacy group Jersey City Together says need to be met this year.
“$50 million, that’s what we need, and we’re going in the wrong direction,” she began.
“We need $17 million to re-create the over 200 positions that were lost in recent years which includes over 160 teachers, janitorial staff, academic coaches, reading recovery specialists, administrators, counselors and crisis intervention teachers, teachers, teacher aides, and teacher assistants including special education teachers, and district level facilities personnel including janitorial and security staff.”
Josephson also asked for one million dollars for a pilot program to place social workers and psychologists at the schools most heavily impacted by gun violence, two to four million dollars to hire more staff, and another two to five million to develop Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker’s curriculum.
“We need $25 [to] $30 million to cover the budget’s inflationary costs, salary increases, and maintaining the needed two percent fund reserve.”
The student to staff ratio was one of the most common talking points pertaining to the cuts.
“The impacts have been seen in our school alone, P.S. 23,” another parent, Lily Rivera, said. “We’ve gone from a one-to-25 supervision ratio to one-to-50, and that’s a recipe for disaster.”
Jessica Taub also echoed sentiments about the student-staff ratio.
“There are upwards of 30 kids in each class which causes stress for our teachers. We have not had a guidance counselor all year. Our one guidance counselor, who manages 400 students, has been on sick leave as is her right, but we have no guidance counselor this year.”
Mariah Carley, a parent of a pre-school student, said that the facilities in Public School No. 39 have been defunct since the first day of school.
“The bathroom was broken on the first day of school, and teachers had to shuttle kids out to the main bathroom where only one sink was working for an entire floor of students,” Carley stated.
“Sometimes, the school can’t afford water, and they have sent letters home asking parents to send their children to school with water, a basic necessity, because they can’t provide it.”
Over the past decade, Jersey City’s public school district has gone from being nearly fully-funded to being funded roughly $125 million less than what state school funding formula guidelines recommend.
The JCBOE is set to begin losing state funding as a result of amendments made to the New Jersey School Funding Reform Act.
In a complaint against the state and the Schools Development Authority, which challenges the constitutionality of the School Funding Reform Act, the JCBOE alleges that it is set to lose $795 million in state funding by the 2024-2025 scholastic year.
On Monday, Mayor Steven Fulop announced that this year’s municipal budget, to be introduced by the city council on Feb. 13, will see no tax hikes as the city tries to work with the BOE to help “dig them out of this large deficit.”
Nevertheless, he urged the district officials to make some “tough choices” ahead of May 14.
Trustees Marilyn Roman and Alexander Hamilton concurred with members of the public, stating that the “money is ours.”
“We’re very forward in our thinking, and this is a multifaceted issue,” Roman noted. “We aren’t begging for their money. We are entitled to that money. That money is ours, and our children deserve it.”
“We need to have an adult conversation with the city about what we’re going to do, and what they’re going to give because those dollars are there, and our children need them, period,” Hamilton said.
“We are not a poor district, we just have people in certain positions who are making poor decisions,” Trustee Joan Terrell-Paige chimed in.
Furthermore, BOE President Lorenzo Richardson proposed joint public meetings between city and school officials to fully and transparently hash out school funding issues, following critiques over meetings that were held privately by certain board trustees, PTO members, and city officials.
“I have the intention of convening a joint school board and city council meeting that will be fully open to the public to discuss funding,” Richardson said.
” …. I have no problem raising taxes as the final … the final … let me say that one more time, the final option if there’s no other option left. We need to exhaust all other options before we raise taxes,” Richardson continued.
Richardson went on to state that the expected $175 million state funding shortfall could turn out to be a generous estimate.n
“I’ve heard a number of numbers out there,” Richardson continued. “When I went down to Trenton, I heard $182 million from those in the state. We need to find out what the real number is at the end of the day, which isn’t coming out until the governor strikes the budget.”
Additionally, a group of at least 100 residents and members of local mosques and churches turned out last night to protest Jersey City’s compliance with the mandated, statewide LGBTQ history curriculum Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed into law one year ago.
The measure requires schools to include instruction and materials that “accurately portray political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”
Back in July, a Republican candidate for county sheriff was kicked off the GOP line for the general election after asking questions deemed about the LGBTQ curriculum that were perceived as “homophobic.”
Father Thomas Nashed, of the St. George and St. Shenouda Orthodox Church, was one of many who alleged that the state law infringes upon the First Amendment.
He asked the board trustees not to implement the new lesson plans.
“Just to be clear, we are not against any individuals. We believe that everyone is free to choose how to live their life, and what to teach their children in their own homes[…] at the same time we expect everyone to respect our freedom, our rights, our values, and our faith,” Nashed said.
“By implementing this curriculum, you are breaking the first amendment as it will be forcing our children to learn something that is against our values, freedom, and faith. The schools have a duty to educate our children, not sexualize them, or force our kids to have a sexual education that labels everything to a sexual orientation. That will strip away their innocence.
Trustee Mussab Ali emphasized that the board trustees have no policy-making power over the new curriculum, which he argued is based in historical contributions.
“Just to be clear, the sorts of things this curriculum would talk about are people like Allen Turing, the father of the modern-day computer, or the stonewall riots,” Ali said. “The purpose of this bill really is to promote tolerance and respect.”
“75 years after prisoners were freed from Auschwitz, I found it very difficult to sit here and listen to so many people come and speak out against the LGBTQ community,” Trustee Gerald Lyons, who is openly gay, said.
“I hope that many of those who spoke tonight will conduct more research into this state law, as many of your comments indicated a need for more research.”
Richardson said that he hopes to make public information available on the specifics of the curriculum, as soon as the board receives educational guidelines from the state regarding what exactly the district is expected to teach in regard to LGBTQ history.
Mike Montemarano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.