The Jersey City Board of Education approved a fully funded $814,051,708 budget for the 2021-2022 scholastic year at an uncharacteristically brief meeting last night that lasted over two hours.
There were just three speakers, all of whom are a part of Jersey City Together, during the public portion: Dr. Jyl Josephson, Nancy Pokler, and Brigid D’Souza. As they did last week, they all implored the board to vote for a fully-funded budget.
The spending plan, which narrowly passed on first reading back in March, comes with a $278,019,494 local tax levy – which includes a bank cap of $85,000,000 – and an annual tax increase of approximately $996 per homeowner with an assessed value of about $460,000.
“The budget that is being present this evening is a budget of equity. As I’ve said so many times, it provides [for] 30,000 students and the role in the Jersey City Public Schools with the sustainable education that meets their immediate needs and long term goals,” said Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker.
“Our focus is how we best meet the needs of the children. The district still lacks revenue and budget stability, which adds fiscal uncertainty when added to the pandemic impact and that 80 percent of our students are economically disadvantaged. Our only option to secure the necessary funding to submit a balanced budget that meets the students needs is a tax levy.”
Walker continued that the state cut their funding by $152 million this year and thanked the board for “doing the right thing” by proposing a budget that comes with a necessary tax increase – in particular since the payroll tax has only been certified to bring in $65 million, despite initial estimates projecting $85 million.
“I’m supporting this budget. We need every cent in this budget plus more. If the city is not going to set up and do the responsible thing, then this board needs to take them to court. Enough of playing around with the education and of the future of the children of this city. That is the responsibility of this board,” Trustee Joan Terrell-Paige stated.
“We got a terrible letter, email from the Mayor of Jersey City, blaming us for all the woes of the people who are residents of this city, telling us that, you’re responsible for having raised on average $1,000 per household in the city. And he went on and I said, no you’ve made a mistake here. We’re the people who are the scapegoats here, sitting between the State of New Jersey and your city, our city,” Trustee Marilyn Roman exclaimed.
She further stated that this current financial scenario is not sustainable for the long term, a sentiment that was echoed by Trustee Gina Verdibello.
“We shouldn’t feel bad for making sure the children get what they need. The city does need to step up. Enough saying we’re going to take what we can get.”
As for Trustee Alexander Hamilton, he lamented having to raise taxes every year to cope with their budget deficit.
“I really want a long-term solution regarding this budget and I’m really sort of tired of this being the only solution we have because it should not be the only answer that we have to raise the levy all the time,” he said.
Hamilton said the other levels of government should be aware of the issue and commended Ali for working on that.
Hamilton said he was representing people who “have not necessarily called into our meetings and they do not want to face these tax hikes that we’re talking about here on the levy.”
The budget passed by a tally of 6-3 with Terrell-Paige, Roman, Verdibello, Board President Mussab Ali, Trustee Gerald Lyons, and Trustee Lorenzo Richardson voting yes.
Chief News Correspondent John Heinis contributed to this report.