LETTER: Parent groups are vital for the success of Jersey City Public Schools

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In a letter to the editor, Jersey City Committee Director at the Concerned Parents Association of P.S. No. 16 Natalia Ioffe says that parent groups are vital for the success of the local public schools. 

Natalia Ioffe

Dear Editor,

To anyone who’s been paying attention during the past few years, the current shortage of public school funding does not come as a surprise.

From the moment Governor Christie proposed the new school funding formula it was clear that resources would dramatically decrease. The much anticipated local control gave our school district a welcome independence, but it seemingly came at a price.

Last June the state took away $8.5M in funding from Jersey City Public Schools and we, as a community of parents and teachers are now dealing with the consequences.

The teachers are waging a battle for fair pay and the parent groups that have been running after school programs in their schools are faced with the necessity to share the cost of security coverage for these programs.

It means that our community needs to join resources more than ever in order to keep our schools on the path to success.

It is encouraging to have the ongoing support of corporate sponsors, charities and local businesses that are committed to helping our public schools.

Companies like the RBC Capital Markets, Silverman, Goldman Sachs, Mizuho and Wells Fargo, among many others, have been generous contributors to the Jersey City public schools.

Charities such as the Ansel Family Fund at East Bay Community Foundation and Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation help sponsor scholarships for extracurricular arts and academic summer programs that allow low-income students to participate at no cost.

However, these partners would not be able to extend their support to our schools without a very important component – strong parent groups acting as a bridge for alternative sources of financial support, utilizing their non-profit status to bring in much needed resources.

It is a mission that comes with an enormous fiscal responsibility, accountability and liability, but it’s one that the parent groups have been carrying out with great success.

As parents we are the most invested parties, and our primary goal is to serve our children and help them reach academic and developmental success.

Through the years Jersey City’s parent groups have demonstrated their willingness and ability to share the financial burden of our public schools.

During these same years we have developed an understanding of the constraints that inevitably and necessarily bind the public sector. We have learned to work with the school district to achieve common goals.

We have learned to use free market strategies, while still adhering to public sector compliance, allowing us to serve our schools in a most efficient way.

To provide an example of what a parent group can financially contribute to a school: during 2017 the Concerned Parents Association of P.S.#16 brought in $30,000 in charitable donations and fundraising proceeds alone.

The non-profit group processed additional $100,000 in revenues from the various after school and enrichment programs, that helped cover instructional and overhead costs of these programs.

It may seem like a drop in the ocean compared with the $8.5M loss incurred by the school district, but in a course of a single school year these combined efforts helped subsidize an after school program, a summer camp, 15 merit-based and low-income scholarships, a full semester of free dance workshop for 200 students, 6 high powered A/C units, 6 classroom tables, 20 chairs, 1 industrial pool vacuum, and a few thousand books presented to the students as seasonal holiday gifts and rewards.

That is just one parent organization in Jersey City, but there are so many others that put in a colossal amount of work to support their schools financially.

These non-profit parent councils are run by unpaid but committed volunteers who consciously sacrifice their time and labor to serve the students and staff of Jersey City Public Schools.

The work of parents in our school district has long transcended activism and evolved into a fully fledged working partnership, complete with ongoing business transactions and joint project management.

An empowered parent group can do more to support the students and staff of their school than any government entity, because as parents we have access to the free market, a diverse wealth of talent, and a network of sponsors.

Most importantly – we possess a continuous motivation to create the best educational environment for our children and their teachers.

That is why there needs to be a renewal of commitment in the relationship between the school district and parent groups, and a stronger bridge of communication, not only for informational purposes, but with a goal of mutual collaboration.

By supporting and empowering non-profit parent groups, the Jersey City school district can open the doors to unprecedented levels of support for our schools, benefitting students and teachers in the long term.

Natalia Ioffe

Committee Director at the Concerned Parents Association of P.S.#16