Last night’s Jersey City Board of Education meeting saw robust discussion around three main topics: the upcoming LGBTQ curriculum, state Department of Education funding cuts, and what’s next for the A. Harry Moore School.
By Mike Montemarano/ Hudson County View
This news of the DOE slashing $55 million this year, $13 million more than expected, comes in the midst of a budget crisis sparked by massive changes to the state’s school funding formula.
Projected figures for next year indicate that Jersey City’s school district will have lost $120 million in funding.
“This means that we need to expect $86,010,956 from city payroll tax collections,” Jersey City BOE President Lorenzo Richardson said. “It is apparent that a property tax increase will likely be necessary to support the school budget.”
“Let’s not kid ourselves: our schools have been given insufficient funds. There is insufficient funding coming from both this state and this city, and so we will fight to cash this check for the educational resources Jersey City students need and deserve.”
Several members of Jersey City Together, an organization comprised mostly of Jersey City parents, had previously called for the to raise a school levy to generate at least $50 million in the upcoming budget.
Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker, as well as several board trustees, said that they perceive raising the school levy with bank cap allowances in the upcoming 2020-21 budget as being “absolutely necessary.”
The school district is able to utilize reserved funds made available through previous yearly budgets in which they did not raise property tax levies by more than two percent – specifically in years prior to 2010, when a law allowing schools to utilize banked caps was passed.
“We have money already available through a bank cap without the imposed two percent limit, and we have the next two years to find ways to withdraw that money,” Walker said.
“After the next two years, the tax increases we are able to propose will be fixed. We’re asking the city and the mayor’s office to certify $86 million for us based on the payroll tax, and we are also asking, based on our school tax levy, for an increase in $50 million to fund our programs. The dollar amount is very important, but what’s equally important is receiving what’s required to help our students meet the standards of NJSLA.”
Trustee Mussab Ali described the impact that the state’s school funding formula change brings about as “extremely dangerous,” and “unconstitutional,” and further emphasized the importance of the Jersey City BOE continuing to challenge the formula in court.
“The gravity of this situation doesn’t escape me. We have to increase our school levy by about $100 million every single year,” Ali said.
“This budget won’t be for the kids in our school system today, because they won’t be able to afford to live in this city. That’s extremely dangerous, and we have to keep fighting against S2 and its unconstitutionality.”
During an interview at his campaign kickoff, Mayor Steven Fulop said it was disappointing that Jersey City continues to get shortchanged by the state.
“I’m disappointed that the governor and Trenton continue to hurt Jersey City. Everybody likes to look at the towers Downtown, but they fail to acknowledge the fact that we have some communities that are very, very economically challenged,” he said.
“And when they make cuts like this, they have to realize that it’s very severe, very aggressive, and very unfair to do to children that are some of the most vulnerable in urban areas.”
Another noteworthy development came when Walker announced that A. Harry Moore School, an NJCU-run special needs school serving nearly 80 children, is slated to reopen in September 2020, following announcements of its planned closure in September of last year.
“We’ve got a guarantee from NJCU that they will continue the program. It was an arduous task, no question about that, but students will return to the building in September 2020,” Walker explained.
“We had a number of people involved, perhaps there were too many cooks in the kitchen, but we were able to finally come together and resolve it in the best way possible to support our students.”
Additionally, for the second time in a month, dozens of people – from both Jersey City and afar – spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, to criticize a state mandate which requires all public schools to update curricular standards and include course matter on the civic and historical contributions made by LGBTQ Americans.
The bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy (D) over a year ago, “requires boards of education to include instruction, and adopt instructional materials, that accurately portray political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”
Some speakers took curriculum suggestions made by Garden State Equality, an LGBTQ advocacy group which is providing municipal school boards with its own suggested curriculum at no cost – if they opt to do so.
Fadi Damien, a senior at Liberty High School, said that he hopes the curriculum, which has not yet reached its formative stages, will be implemented with community input.
“This is our chance to properly mold it with care. This should be critically evaluated and assessed. This is about who gets to decide where components of this curriculum properly fit. Any beneficial components should be decided upon by our students, teachers, staff, and families, and not in a way that is thrown up for a political agenda.”
Others, still, made remarks directly targeting LGBTQ people or described the state mandate as “intolerant” of religious beliefs. Some characterized the curriculum, which has not yet been created, as an “evil agenda,” or as “mental molestation.”
“So-called LGBT people come from all different communities, they’re not a part of a community, they’re a regular person with a sexual desire to do sin,” Eliesa Richter, a Lakewood resident who attended the meeting, said.
“They’re not a bad person unless they try to use mental molestation to try to teach all boys to be gay, and this is what’s being done, let’s not fool ourselves. I believe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is turning over in his grave since people think this is what he meant when he said ‘equality.'”
Some members of the public and board trustees alike described comments made by opponents of the curriculum update as “hateful,” and were having none of it.
“We heard about Dr. Martin Luther King. Many people don’t know that the person who organized his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech was Bayard Rustin, a gay man who we don’t learn about in history class. In my line of work, we take kids into emergency rooms when they can’t take the homophobia and transphobia anymore,”Â Lillian Rivera, a Jersey City resident, said.
“There’s nothing wrong with them. What’s wrong is the societal message they have internalized about who they are, and about their worth. Our neighbors are telling them that their history is not worthy of teaching, and that people like them should not be mentioned in textbooks.”
Trustee Gerald Lyons, who is open gay, wore an American rainbow flag to show his support for the LGBTQ community before making his feelings known.
“We heard arguments that gays want to turn children gay, and that they need to be taught control and how to control their sexual desires, and not teach us how to accommodate their sick and unnatural desires,” he remarked.
“Pedophilia and AIDS were brought up to support their arguments. Unfortunately, one speaker chose to speak for Dr. Martin Luther King, and said that Dr. King’s message of love for all would not include equal rights for the LGBTQ community. I find it very offensive that this hate monger would use Dr. King to spread his message of hate.”
As HCV first reported, similar protests were made at the Bayonne Board of Education meeting on Monday.
Chief News Correspondent John Heinis contributed to this report.