The second joint meeting of the Jersey City Board of Education and the city council saw Board President Mussab Ali and Mayor Steven Fulop take center stage to vocalize their concerns regarding school funding within the district.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
Board of Education President Mussab Ali said early on at the roughly hour-long session that the district will have $250 million cut over the next three years before Mayor Steven Fulop gave his two cents on the matter.
“I think we all share in a common goal recognizing that fixing the school problem here in Jersey City is crucial to the future of our city, and educating the next generation, and making sure we stay a vibrant and attractive city for future generations,” Fulop began.
“We have said all along we are willing to help the Board of Education with funds: A) if it’s a clear program … and B) if somebody thinks, anybody here… that there is a place that we should be cutting in the municipal budget, we’re happy to explore it. There hasn’t been one concrete example on where that money should come from and that is a big problem because the board of education and the city are both independent and taxing entities.”
The BOE budget assumed $86 million would be derived from the tax in their 2021-2022 budget, though only $65 million has been certified to date.
“It’s important to discuss a major flaw when everybody says audit these companies or get more people to pay. The city and the board of education were given no tools in order to enforce the legislation,” Fulop said.
“For all intents and purposes, the city payroll tax is an optional tax for people to pay because there’s no mechanism for the city or for the board of education to audit and do an accounting of how many employees actually work at an individual business, which is a major problem … You’re accepting basically a voluntary statement from an employer if they choose to pay.”
He also suggested that the state should collect the one percent payroll tax since they more tools at their disposal to keep track of businesses and make collections when necessary.
“New revenue sources outside of traditional homeowner taxes, I think, are very important to us. Three that we discussed immediately was, ya know, the payroll tax, a commercial occupancy tax, or a vacancy tax – as well as a cannabis recreational tax,” Ali later said.
The school board president continued that if state aid were cut over a longer time period, it would be easier for the school district to cope with. Ali said the city’s relationship with the New Jersey School Development Authority (NJSDA) also needs to be addressed.
“We’ve seen that the city has approved tons of housing units all over the city, but at the same time as an SDA district, we do not have the ability to bond, and we do not have the ability to build new schools,” Ali said.
He noted the SDA had underfunded Jersey City’s school by almost $1 billion, which led to them being named in an ongoing lawsuit over school funding initiated by the district.
“We need some sort of reform on the SDA,” Ali said, referencing a scandal two years ago where the agency had hired people connected to the head of the agency, who was also the the vice chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee at the time.
“As a city that continues to grow, and we anticipate it increases enrollment in our schools, we cannot sustain that with the amount of funding, ya know, coming in from the SDA currently,” Ali said.
He also invited legislators to help them work with the state, to which Council President Joyce Waterman responded that Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-31) was listening.
Ali later stated said the school district’s deficit was the most important issue in the city, more than affordable housing.
” … You’re either going to end up with a town that’s going to accelerate gentrification through a massive, massive increase in taxes or you’re going to have a school system that dramatically suffers and isn’t able to provide a quality education to our children: there is no easy way out.”
Ali is said to be mulling a mayoral bid, but he has not yet declared himself as a candidate, nor has he filed any paperwork indicating he will be exploring a run.
Additionally, the board of education and city council members were assigned to committees for operations, legislation, and finance, which are meeting to address their respective issues.
Those committees are assigned as follows: