The Jersey City Board of Education passed a preliminary $1,001,537,924 budget with a slight tax decrease during last night’s caucus meeting.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
Acting School Business Administrator Dr. Dennis Frohnapfel explained the budgeting process, which began in November.
The total budget is up about $300,000 from what was presented last week, while there is a general appropriations increase of $27,682,326 and has a tax decrease of $51 for the average home assessed at $470,000.
the district was able to recoup $89,072,074 from the New Jersey Department of Education due to a provision in the American Rescue Plan back in September and is expected to also include $33,701,019 from the state with a new bill moving quickly through the legislature.
“This budget puts more of the educational dollar into the classroom,” Frohnapfel said, noting that the state cut $51,062,150 when they announced school funding earlier this month.
“The district is experiencing an increase in a net valuation taxable. When tax revenue goes down, our state aid goes down.”
The price of property in Jersey City has gone up, he noted, which impacts the formula, as well as that it costs the district $24,229 to educate each student. Frohnapfel also mentioned that employee benefit costs make up 38 percent of their salary allocations.
“Adopt the fully funded school budget for the 2023/2024 school year. This fully funded budget must be a fully implemented budget,” Meghan Howard Noveck, of Jersey City Together, said.
“Schools must provide staff wrap-around services. The water remediation work must be completed. The district must do all this in a transparent manner … We’re in this situation where we can have a fully funded budget… is because the state returned revenue to the city. This money is crucial. But it’s not sustainable. The fiscal cliff is still coming. The board can and should put pressure on the city.”
Another member of Jersey City Together, Jim Nelson, also called on the nine-member volunteer board to support this fully funded budget, as did Rev. Ritney Castin of Mt. Pisga AME Church.
“My congregation is made up of a number of students, a number of parents … who want a fully funded budget. I urge your passage of it,” she added.
Educator Mike Greco urged the governing body not to let local politicians to use “scare tactics and false narratives” to interfere with this budgeting process.
“Hold their feet to the fire and … be transparent about the payroll tax and fully fund our schools,” he said.
Jersey City Education Association President Ron Greco said the board should worry about the budget while he worries about Mayor Steven Fulop.
“We are coming here very politely tonight asking for you to vote for a budget. Your role as a board member is to advocate for the Jersey City public schools,I have my sparing with the King of Grove Street,” he said.
“If you want local control, you have to fund the system. This is the fraction of the 4,000 people we can bring out. Our next journey is to City Hall. I’m here to invite all of you. You’re going to have to do that uncomfortable chore of confronting King Steven. We have busted our backs to get you in this seat.”
Greco continued that state aid cuts are only going to get worse before they get better, as well as that the city should be more concerned with funding the schools than getting the Centre Pompidou x Jersey City off the ground.
Jersey City BOE President Natalia Ioffe thanked the various teachers who came and spoke for attending and voicing their opinions before they left, though many speakers remained and not all of them, thought the preliminary budget was reading for a vote.
“When you were sworn in, you made a commitment to the students of Jersey City. I am amazed anyone is comfortable approving this budget. Can you say you understand what you’re approving?” Erika Baez, who ran on the “Change for Children” BOE team in 2021, asked.
She criticized what she felt was a lack of transparency and rushed nature of the process.
“Thank you for reviewing this fully funded budget. Please support it. We are facing a fiscal cliff in the future. There is wealth here in Jersey City. Our tax base has grown,” Dana Patton, another parent and Jersey City Together member, stated.
“We need to make sure the city … is going to do their part. I also wanted to ask you to be sure to work with the state because the state also has a responsibility. They have never fully funded the SDA (Schools Development Authority).”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Norma Fernandez said that the budget revolves around meeting student’s needs.
“Our focus is how we best meet the needs of children. The district has diligently been working for budget stability,” she said.
“We also need to improve our facilities and address the maintenance issues due for years. We operate 46 school buildings. Fourteen buildings are over 100 years old. 16 buildings are over 80 years old. Only 11 of our schools are less than 50 years old.”
Ioffe also addressed concerned about transparency, noting that this was the third time the board has received their annual spending plan, which they did previously on March 4th and March 14th.
“There has been some time given to contemplation of these figures. Last year’s budget process and vote was very difficult. This school district has gone through a journey… of becoming more responsible,” the board president added.
“It all goes back to King Fulop. We need to go down there and push those politicians because they’re hurting the students,” Board Trustee Paula Jones-Watson said.
Board Vice President Noemi Velazquez, a retired teacher, said she knows what educators go through and that she felt hurt every time City Hall said this is a failing district.
“We have had the budget for some time now. This budget is a bit different. There’s a lot to take in,” Trustee Lekendrick Shaw noted.
“I am supportive of this budget. It is a lot of money, and we should be detailing where this money is going,” Trustee Younass Barkouch indicated.
As for Trustee Lorenzo Richardson, a longtime staunch critic of Fulop and City Hall, recalled the Tom Cruise hit “Jerry Maguire” as he spoke about their current predicament.
“I concur with a lot of the comments. For some time, I’ve been jumping around like Jerry Maguire telling the mayor to show us the money on the payroll tax. It appears they were not forthcoming with information. Is that accurate?” he asked.
“That’s true,” Frohnapfel replied.
“That’s very telling when you’re asking for money for this district. There are needs in this district that the city doesn’t have to deal with and have relinquished responsibility to deal with,” Richardson said.
He also contended that Fulop’s administration has always raised taxes since the tax levy has gone u consistently, hitting about $319 million last year compared to $359 million for the district.
“Every year since the mayor’s been office, he has raised taxes. If you look at the 2022 analyses … we were around $359 million. They were right behind us at $319 million. Why is their levy as much as we are? There’s something wrong with that.”
The first reading of the budget passed unanimously (9-0) after about two hours of discussion.