Facing a rarely seen $120 million budget shortfall, the Jersey City Board of Education approved an initial $609 million budget at last night’s special meeting, which could spell over 600 layoffs in the district if this plan were to eventually receive the final okay.
The majority of the nine-member board began the meeting by slamming the state for consistently underfunding the district over the past district, leading to the latest budget crisis in front of the Jersey City Public Schools.
“In 2008, when the School Funding Reform Act was passed, they capped our ability to raise the local [tax] levy at two percent. And keep in mind that we were a district that was under state control until just this year,” began Trustee Mussab Ali.
“And so every year, we only got to raise our local levy two percent, with the exception of bank cap, which came around not very often … Ever since 2012 if you look at what our state aid has looked like almost every single year out state aid has gone down.”
If the budget received final approval from the board in it’s current form, it would result in about a 10 percent tax increase and an unheard of 630 teachers being laid off, though officials noted throughout the meeting that last year’s budget initially called for major layoffs and that never came to fruition.
Trustee Gerry Lyons added that a recent study shows that the JCPS population will grow by about 27 percent in the next five years, another factor that the state has not taken into consideration, and also noted that despite robust development in the city, no new schools are on the horizon.
“The Heights, where I live, there’s going to be something like 3,000 residential units going in: there’s no no schools. [Public School No.] 26 will replace 31,” he stated.
Trustee Matt Schapiro said while the state may not have been the best partner for the school district, the lion’s share of the blame really belongs to the City of Jersey City for not stepping up to the plate when it comes to school funding.
“We are fooling the public if we are telling them that this is all because the state has underfunded us and is continuing to underfund us,” he began.
“I think there is an argument to be made there, but we have to look at the numbers soberly and a sober look at the numbers tell you very clearly that Jersey City is not pulling its weight in funding our public schools And unless we agree as a board and acknowledge that’s the case, I certainly don’t see any way of pulling us out of this.”
Schapiro added that he could not currently support a tax hike at this time since he had only received a copy of the budget 10 minutes prior to the start of the meeting.
Additionally, Board President Sudhan Thomas said the state had been running “a trojan horse operation” in the way they had been running the school district prior to Jersey City regaining local control last year.
“This is one of the biggest trojan horse operations I’ve ever seen where the state is in control, the state underfunds, and there is no challenge put in front of the state … and in 2017 the state made an eight million dollar cut after we sent the budget,” Thomas exclaimed.
Thomas continued that the state has underfunded the district by $110 million in the past eight years, which includes a $27 million cut this year – which was originally supposed to be $14 million.
He also called the state’s decision to eliminate the district’s adjustment aid last year “draconian” and “unconstitutional,” emphasizing that “they are guilty of this situation.”
The first reading ultimately passed 7-1, with Trustee Joan Terrell-Paige voting no and Schapiro absent for the vote.
The first hour of the meeting streamed live on our Facebook page and can be viewed below: