Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop’s office and local teachers union President Ron Greco painted two very different pictures of public school funding in their first public spat since the new tax bill came out.
“He constantly knocks the board: all these parents that came out for all those months and data produced from the state, no matter how he spins it, he’s not funding the school system,” Greco said in a phone interview yesterday where he also opposed having April board of education elections and said a national superintendent search wasn’t needed.
“I don’t know what alternate universe he’s living in talking about how the school system is an abysmal failure: whether you’re in Belmar or Jersey City, how do you wash your hands of the public schools? … The reality that no one likes is that we have to fund our school system.”
He also claimed that Fulop had come up with very few ideas to help the public schools in the midst of their financial crisis outside of selling their headquarters on Claremont Avenue and the former School No. 3 on Bright Street.
In a lengthy response, city spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said “the mayor CANNOT LEGALLY” use the city budget to fund the schools and it is “truly alarming” a school official would not know that.
While a municipal budget cannot include a line item for their corresponding board of education, financial partnerships such as shared services agreements are relatively common in New Jersey.
“This is just the latest example of their serious dysfunction and why the community should be asking school leaders what exactly they are doing to fix the budget issues – that they knew were coming and are only going to get worse – other than pointing fingers to distract attention away from themselves and increasing taxes every year to fix the issues that they should be taking responsibility for,” she added.
“You’d be hard pressed to say the mayor has not provided significant financial relief to the schools alongside actionable cost-saving and revenue-generating plans, all in an effort to protect our classrooms and provide access to a quality education for each of the 30,000 students.”
She also noted the BOE “inflated inner office salaries” and gave a tax increase of about $2,600 in the past two years, while noting Fulop implemented the payroll tax, presented a $250 million funding plan with late Ward D Councilman Michael Yun, and provided a $1,000 tax decrease last year to offset the BOE’s tax increase.
Greco and Fulop have rarely seen eye to eye on the school district in recent years and it was inevitable they would spar at least once during this budget cycle since residents are staring down a substantial tax increase.
The preliminary $695,264,198.48 municipal budget, introduced by the city council earlier this month, comes with about a $1,030 tax increase per household assessed at $470,000.
Meanwhile, the board of education approved a nearly $973 million budget with an annual tax increase of $1,608 on a home evaluated at $460,000.
Additionally, last year’s $814 million BOE budget, which activists praised for being fully funded, came with a $1,000 tax increase per household assessed at $460,000.
For the most part, the school board themselves have shied away from getting into a war of words over budgetary woe, but did release a joint statement between Acting Superintendent of Schools Dr. Norma Fernandez and the nine trustees defending their most recent spending plan.
“State Aid to the JCPS was reduced by 68.5 million dollars this year. That brings the total lost revenue under the S2 Legislation to over 225 Million dollars since 2018,” they told HCV, in part, on June 13th.
“Approximately 77% of the budget is cost associated with salaries and benefits—every year, wages, benefits, and insurance increase, as do the goods we purchase. The JCPS has the ever-present need to improve facilities and re-invest to address maintenance issues that have been deferred for years due to lack of funding.”
Furthermore, the city has also previously noted that the BOE now accounts for 40 percent of the total tax bill, compared to 26 percent in 2020, as well as that the public school tax rate has doubled – .429 to 860 – during that same time frame as the city reduced it’s tax portion from 43 percent to 35 percent.
Greco declined to comment on Wallace-Scalcione’s remarks today.