In a letter to the editor, Jersey City Board of Education Trustee Noemi Velazquez, speaking as a private citizen, gives her take on why school funding and budgeting is extremely complicated.
My name is Noemi Velazquez, and the following statements are made in my capacity as a private citizen, and not in my capacity as a board member.
These statements are also not representative of the board or its individual members, and solely represent my own personal opinions.
I am writing this opinion letter in response to Mayor Fulop’s letters that consistently lay the blame with the school system for the recent tax increases.
It is imperative that I point out several important facts about the school funding that the Jersey City district has had to contend with in recent years.
Due to Jersey City’ growing wealth and booming development, the state of NJ has cut hundreds of millions worth of annual aid from our schools.
This left the board of education with very few mechanisms at their disposal to compensate for the loss of these funds, while still being responsible for running an entity with close to 30,000 students, 4,000 employees and over 40 school buildings, half of which are over 100 years old and in a dire need of improvement and upkeep.
With the nationwide teacher shortage and competitive salary market for educators, rising costs of supplies, and the decreasing state funding, what other recourse would any school board have, than to approve the increase of the school portion of the tax levy, hoping that the city would lower its portion to offset the change with no detriment to the taxpayer.
Unlike many other NJ municipalities where 50% or more of the property tax revenues are allocated to the schools, in Jersey City traditionally 50% of the tax revenues were allocated to the municipal budget and the school district and county would receive about a quarter each, respectively.
Therefore, it is not unreasonable for the second largest school district in NJ to request slightly more than a quarter of tax revenues.
That is not to say that the board of education should be content with an opaque, last minute budget that could use much improvement in terms of transparency.
Which is why, after the necessary vote to pass the budget within compliance deadlines, the Jersey City school board has taken every step to improve fiscal efficiency.
It is a matter of public record that the school board has recently approved a forensic audit to determine cost saving opportunities, initiated early budget planning well ahead of deadlines, and detailed monthly spending reports for public meetings. In my opinion this shows full commitment to be accountable to our community.
In addressing Mayor Fulop’s criticism regarding the school district’s refusal to follow a “road map” he proposed, which allegedly led to its financial crisis.
As I recall from the news articles, this road map involved the privatization of school maintenance jobs that currently employ hundreds of local residents, as well as relinquishing school properties to developers with dubious givebacks to Jersey City students.
It is unfortunate and disheartening that our Mayor, whom I’ve wholeheartedly supported, has made a conscious effort to travel to Trenton for reasons other than helping our/his school district.
The Jersey City schools’ students are in dire need of partnerships with our city administration that will foster and ensure success, not convey negative criticism or label them as failures.
I strongly believe that if both the school district and city administration worked together with the interest of the most vulnerable residents (the JC students) in mind and at heart, the city would continue to move forward without leaving ANYONE behind.
And in place of continued gentrification, we would ALL rise to prosperity TOGETHER!
Resident of Jersey City