Jersey City BOE and city council appear to find common ground on school funding crisis

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The Jersey City Board of Education and city council met to discuss the school district’s ongoing school funding crisis last night, though the video wasn’t available until this afternoon since technical issues made it unavailable in real time.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

“I think it’s a historic event for us to be coming together during this funding crisis and it shows the recognition that our city leaders have in terms of this funding crisis and the fact that we’re going to be working collaboratively to solve this,” BOE President Mussab Ali said.

He reiterated that the school district needs to receive about $85 million from city property taxes via the payroll tax, though only $65 million has been certified at this time.

Over seven years, the BOE faces a $391 million reduction in state aid, which is currently being addressed in their ongoing lawsuit.

Their preliminary $814 million budget comes with an annual tax levy increase of $1,000 per homeowner, with an $85 million tax levy increase, which they decided on March 17th – the same day the board discussed meeting with the city council.

“The residents of this city, in our opinion, cannot afford to have a tax levy increased, you know, $85 million this year, another 100 million we’re looking at next year,” Ali said.

“It’s amazing our district operates given how much we’ve had to cut over the last couple of years.”

The school board president continued that the taxes in Jersey City are much lower than those around the state, exclaiming that the schools only receive 27 percent of the property taxes collected in Jersey City, while they receive an average of 53 percent statewide.

“We, both as a council and as a board of education, can work together to come up with additional revenue raisers that don’t fall on the backs of taxpayers, but potentially you know actually provide some sort of ‘good taxes’ if you will that have been discussed, taxes like a cigarette tax, an alcohol tax,” said Ward E Councilman James Solomon.

Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh agreed with Solomon on working together to find additional revenues.

“We as a council should be looking at recreational cannabis and passing that as soon as possible, sort of creating the framework for how we’re going to tax it and at the distributor level, at the sales level, and there’s multiple levels you could tax it at that the state has allowed us,” he added.

“You can’t come get votes in our area and meanwhile hurt a majority Black and brown district of students,” Saleh said regarding Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who is seeking re-election this year.

Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano added that more meetings between the board and the council should be convened, noting that many people are leaving the state, arguably due to the taxes.

“There are a lot of people moving into Jersey City. We’re getting a lot of people from across the river, and people are coming here, and one of the biggest concerns they have is the school district,” explained Trustee Gerald Lyons.

Additionally, Ali said they need to address the legislature in Trenton, look at financing projections at sustainable funding for schools, as well as reviewing shared services agreements between the city and the schools.

“As an act of solidarity, I would urge the city to strongly consider an amicus brief as an intervenor on the litigation,” Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro said regarding the BOE’s litigation against the state.

“We need other leaders in the room with us, right? We need the superintendent, we need the mayor, we need the state legislators, we need the BAs (business administrators), we need those people in the room with us to be able to make the proper decisions,” Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson noted.

He also suggested that state Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-31), the Hudson County Board of Commissioners, and Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise should also be invited to the negotiating table in May.

The group of elected leaders ultimately agreed to make three joint committees to help address the lingering school funding issue, which are expected to be announced at their next joint meeting in May.

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