The West New York Board of Education had just enough votes to approve a preliminary $152 million budget with a two percent tax increase, about one third of what was initially expected, at an unexpectedly calm and conservative meeting on Wednesday evening.
The initial preliminary budget, which is $152,028,362 based on a presentation given by West New York Schools Business Administrator Dean Austin, had previously been okayed by the board but needed further approval before going before Interim County Superintendent of Schools Melissa Pearce.
As it stood heading into the meeting, the budget would’ve come with a 6.7 percent tax increase, or about an additional $95 per year for a resident with a home assessed at $105,156.
Their biggest added expense would’ve been the allowable adjustment for increased healthcare costs, which would’ve potentially been $642,886 for the 2019-2020 scholastic year.
Tom DeSocio, a field representative of the New Jersey Education Association, was the lone speaker during the public portion of the meeting and while he cautioned the board about relying on other entities for funding, he still pushed for them to okay the budget.
“We’re happy to see that we have some additional money and the fault of that is the result of not putting money into the budget, the municipal portion any way – for four year – and the failure of the [Gov. Chris] Christie administration to actually not give us adequate funding,” he began.
“So now we’re back to a better place and I’m happy to see you did increase the municipal portion, but I do want to caution that the gap between the fair share and the municipal portion, if we don’t start to close that, the state’s gonna give us less money as a result of it.”
The budget came with $52,285,285 local fair share funding, with $32,837,647 as the related tax levy.
When it appeared that the board was ready to vote, Trustee Jonathan Castaneda, the campaign manager for the New Beginnings West New York team, made a motion to amend the budget by reducing the tax increase down to 2 percent.
“I just don’t feel comfortable with 6.7 percent. I looked at the budget from last meeting, so considering all the costs, the rising gap between what we have in our local levy and what our fair share should be, I’m afraid increasing this amount would place an even bigger burden on our taxpayer,” he said.
Austin responded that such an amendment could be voted on and could likely be feasible if the rising healthcare insurance costs were reassessed.
The vote on the amended budget passed 5-3, with Trustees Maite Fernandez, Ruben Mendoza and Damarys Gonzalez voting no. Trustee Adrienne Sires was absent.
Gonzalez, who works in Mayor Felix Roque’s office, said that she voting against the budget since she was left out of any related discussions and communications.
” … We’re talking about being isolated from a meeting as important as this, as passing a budget, normally, when things were okay, we would be included and discuss things prior,” she stated.
“But to not even have access to my email, and this is the second month in a row that I have not been able to get into it, limited me from even knowing what I was looking into.”
Castaneda countered that the board unanimously approved the initial reading of the budget last month, while Board President Adam Parkinson later added that Gonzalez should take her email issues up with the IT department.
While she was clearly dissatisfied with that response, that was the closest the meeting got to any sort of drama or theatrics, as the budget was the only matter on the agenda to be discussed.
The New Jersey Department of Education mandates that each local BOE submit their annual budget by April 30th.