The Jersey City Board of Education voted 8-1 to approve a $736 million budget for the 2020-2021 school year at an emergency meeting on Friday evening.
“This year, we have an increase allocation to our charter schools of over $13 million while at the same time, the cost of operating a service organization continues to increase in salaries for teachers, nurses, custodial, security, medical benefits, the maintenance of old school buildings and the cost of operating,” said Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker.
He called on the board to approve the $736 million budget, which is up more than $66 million from last year.
While some, particularly Mayor Steven Fulop, have spoke out against a budget tax levy upwards of $50 million, he stressed that the amount he’s really asking for is just $11 million.
“So the ask is $50 million, but you need to know that $30 million plus is based upon a deficit that we carried over. So in all reality the only thing that I’m asking for this administration is basically $11 million to reinvest in our students going forward,” Walker said at the meeting.
Several parents called into the meeting, which again didn’t have an audience due to the coronavirus pandemic, and they were largely in favor of the board passing the budget.
“In order to be prepared, they need to be funded. If they are not funded, they are not prepared,” said Nancy Pokler a district parent and member of Jersey City together.
In a statement, another member of JCT – as well as a parent of two children at Public School No. 3 – Brigid D’Souza – called the budget “courageous and responsible.”
“The initial, proposed budget from Superintendent Walker is both courageous and reasonable,” she said.
“It takes seriously the needs of Jersey City’s students and particularly its students who have the most needs— all of which has come more to the surface in the current health crisis. We hope the board does the right thing tonight and passes it, so they can begin more detailed discussions over the next two months.”
Fulop said on Thursday that the school board’s proposed budget would create a “significant hit” to the municipal budget and was irresponsible in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak where some people “can’t pay their rent and mortgage.
About a month ago, Fulop, along with Ward D Councilman Michael Yun, introduced a $250 school funding plan over the next three years.
Despite those concerns from City Hall, Trustee Mussab Ali indicated that while the school tax levy would go up 47 percent, that would be less than $50 per month in the average Jersey City household – as far as school taxes go.
In other words, the tax increase means the owner of an average home assessed at $452,000 would see their school taxes increase by $688 next year. The municipal and county budget also impose their own respective tax levies.
In the end, Trustee Alexander Hamilton was the only dissenting vote, initially asking for a 60-day postponement on the budget vote due to the COVID-19 crisis – though no one seconded his motion.
That is probably largely due to the fact that the deadline for the preliminary budget is tonight, but Hamilton didn’t seem to show any concern over that fact.
“I don’t care about the county and the state right now. They can come arrest me.”