The Jersey City Board of Education will consider an initial $736 million budget with an unheard of 47 percent school tax levy increase at an emergency meeting today after technical difficulties forced yesterday’s session to end without a vote.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“As you know for the past two years, we began with a $71 million deficit … and the current year that we’re in, we’re dealing with a $120 million deficit, and this [upcoming] year, we’re dealing with $150 million,” said Board President Lorenzo Richardson.
“And so we’re in the process of putting together a budget that would one, make sure that needs of the students are met in light of what’s taking place – because we have to put that as a priority – and we don’t want to shortchange what’s happening with the children right now because we’re going through a crisis.”
Richardson, Gerald Lyons, and Lekendrick Shaw were the only trustees who attended the meeting in person, with the other trustees calling into the meeting.
The public was also not allowed to attend in light of the coronavirus pandemic, though they were allowed to submit questions electronically.
Only five residents obliged though and it’s probably just as well, given that glitches in the Facebook stream caused it to be restarted twice and the sound to cut out on a number of occasions – with trustees regularly complaining that they couldn’t hear.
Nevertheless, BOE Business Administrator Regina Robinson eventually said the proposed budget is $736,108,276, up $98 million from last year.
The school tax levy is also around $200 million, compared to approximately $137 in 2019: a massive 47 percent spike.
With the school budget seriously ailing, largely due to state aid cuts, the city has pledged $250 million in funding over the next three years, a figure that increased after pledging $86 million from the payroll tax in 2020 alone.
Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker said the city has already certified that payroll tax number for their upcoming $612 million budget, which conversely, came with no tax increase when it was introduced in January.
Mayor Steven Fulop expressed pause this afternoon when told about the initial BOE budget, calling a 47 percent tax increase “problematic” and “very difficult.”
“It’s problematic, a 47% tax levy increase under these circumstances is very difficult. You can imagine, the biggest concern that we’re getting is people can’t pay their rent and their mortgage … we’re trying to figure out what tools we can use at the local level to be helpful,” he said.
The mayor added that such a tax increase would create “a significant hit to our municipal budget” that would require the whole fiscal plan to be redone.
Today’s emergency Jersey City BOE meeting was initially scheduled for 5 p.m., but school officials revealed this afternoon that they would hold off until Friday to give the budget a more comprehensive review.
The Hoboken City Council met completely remotely yesterday via Zoom, while the Bayonne City Council and West New York Board of Commissioners still held regular meetings.
News correspondent Corey McDonald contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with new information.