Members of the Jersey City Board of Education administration, as well as three trustees, discussed their budgeting process at their first Town Hall hosted at Henry Snyder High School last night.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Acting School Business Administrator Dr. Dennis Frohnapfel explained that while they could not start working on a preliminary 2024-2025 budget until state funding figures are released, he indicated that collecting the annual $65 million from the city’s payroll tax hasn’t happen to date, as well as that charter school funding has gotten more expensive.
“Salaries are usually the biggest part of the budget, no matter what, especially in the charter schools. What we try to do is, as we go through the year, we do have excess surplus that we had from last year that we put aside for the ’24-’25 budget,” he explained.
“And we have been very cognizant of our spending processes this school year, as I did last school year … I anticipate that I will have a good amount of money unexpended from last year to put into this year with the excess surplus. It’s gonna depend on the state aid.”
The first public speaker of the evening, Erika Baez, who unsuccessfully ran for a board of education seat in 2021, took umbrage with the fact that the meeting was held at the same time as the city council meeting.
“To hold the meeting the same day that the city council is meeting to discuss the Pershing Field [ice] rink, we know a lot of our parents are over there at that meeting. Saying that you invited city council members to this Town Hall – how are they supposed to attend when they have to tend to their own duties as council members?” she asked.
“So I feel that we continue to take missteps when it comes to communication. I hate to say this, because I know all of you work really hard to what you do and give a lot of your own time, but it almost seems performative.”
The council meeting aside, Baez also opined that the meeting should’ve been promoted with more notice.
Reiterating what she said on Tuesday, BOE President Natalia Ioffe said the board last year committed to doing at least quarterly Town Halls in 2024 and they’re a work in progress, which will be tweaked based on resident feedback.
Former Board of Education Trustee Lorenzo Richardson then asked how the district is “incorporating for savings and shortfalls” related to the long-term facility plan and the difficulties collecting the full amount allocated for the payroll tax.
“We are formulating how we are going to get an accounting of the payroll tax and a strategy about how we’re going to get that information from the City of Jersey City, which we might have to get a little more creative in making sure we get those numbers,” Frohnapfel replied.
“As far as the other budget is concerned, we’ve taken a look at what we’ve used the ESSER funds, and anything that’s supported by ESSER funds, either will not be available or will go into the general fund. That will be on a case by case basis.”
Brigid D’Souza, who has a created a following primarily discussing school funding and budgeting under the name Civic Parent, asked if it was accurate that the charter school funding had gone up from $129 million to $170 million in one year, to which Frohnapfel said it was.
She also asked for a more comprehensive budget to be posted online this year, noting that the user friendly budget last year did not listed all the charter schools being funded. Frohnapfel replied that the upcoming budget will include all the names, as well as the total number of students: 6,791.
D’Souza also wanted to see enrollment numbers that take into account weighted enrollment, something the New Jersey Department of Education does not do, later questioning that the Schools Development Authority would cover any of the $45 million earmarked for facility repairs.
“They just allocated $75 million, we were very fortunate to get $3.9, a little less than four million dollars, we’re going to put in, definitely to the capital reserve and that’s what we’re going to do to make some repairs going forward.”
The final speaker of the evening was Hudson County Commissioner Bill O’Dea (D-2), a declared Jersey City mayoral candidate who has been endorsed by the Jersey City Education Association (JCEA), said the payroll tax legislation is flawed in several ways.
“If an individual builds a $50 million building, they’re supposed to pay a payroll tax on all the people who worked on the building who do not live in Jersey City. I drive by construction sites and I see, and these are especially non-union construction sites, I see the vans and where they come from,” noted O’Dea.
“They’re not Jersey City residents, yet, to my knowledge, I’ve not seen any system in place that even requires how that payroll is reviewed on the city side. Here’s the inherent flaw in it: In a normal situation, if somebody was going to build a $50 million building, say it’s 50 percent labor and 50 percent materials, $25 million dollars. If only 20 percent of the people are city employees, you’ve got $20 million dollars to assess on payroll tax.”
He postulated that the city could audit such projects, costing the BOE millions of dollars a year, further suggesting spending say $15,000 to conduct an audit to collect $200,000 in taxes. He also claimed that many developers are unaware the payroll tax even exists.
He also said that in terms of state funding, all of Jersey City’s state legislators must be held accountable for not attempting to remedy this situation and the matter needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
“The State of New Jersey critiqued Jersey City for giving, I’ll just use a bad example, a LeFrak [project] a tax abatement, well that tax abatement involves an office building. That office building now generates an exponential amount of money for the State of New Jersey that would never have been generated if that project not been done.”
Trustees Dejon Morris and Alpa Patel, as well as Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Norma Fernandez, were also in attendance.