The city’s school board voted to approve a $594,716,254 school budget for fiscal year 2014-15 on Monday evening after expressing its displeasure at the state’s abandonment of the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) formula.
Jonathan Hodges, school board member, amended the budget resolution prior to passage to include harsh language decrying the state’s flat funding of the district. He added into the resolution, “The board believes the budget was not constructed consistent with the School Funding Reform Act of 2008.”
The Education Law Center, an equal funding advocate for poor and urban schools, has filed a complaint in the judiciary asking the court to bring the New Jersey Department of Education back in line after it completely abandoned the formula this year.
“The lawsuit asks the supreme court justices to require the department of education to run the formula, and then to re-issue state aid notices to the school districts that let them know how much aid they’re entitled to and what their adequacy budget is,” said Sharon Krengel, spokesperson for the center.
“The formula is still the law, but in the proposed budget for next year, the governor’s budget, they did not use the formula at all to determine school aid,” said Krengel.
Since 2009, the state has been using a modified version of the formula to award school aid, said Krengel.
Hodges further amended the resolution stating that the budget is not adequate to provide the district’s students a “thorough and efficient education.”
Donnie Evans, the district’s state-appointed superintendent, expressed his reservation in attaching his name to the amended resolution. “If we’re changing something I already approved or already signed off on I need to see it first,” said Evans, who had signed the original resolution.
Evans offered the board an alternative: to approve two separate resolutions, one for the budget and the other for the protest. Hodges amended the resolution, and left it for Evans to sign prior to sending it to the state.
“I need to subject that to further review before I decide whether I’m going to sign off on it,” said Evans.
Lisa Pollak, the district’s lawyer, said, “You’ve now created a new resolution that may not be acceptable to the state.”
“You’ve re-crafted this, and I understand,” said Evans. “The ball is now in my court to determine how and what form it’s going to go. It will go with or without my signature is what it comes down to and that’s the decision I’m going to make.”
Richard Vespucci, spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Education, said every year the department receives one or two modified resolutions, but unless these resolutions ask the department to take some action, it presents no problems. “If they’re expressing their feelings about how they feel about the funding that’s their feelings,” said Vespucci.
Vespucci said the department does not have the power to provide the districts more funding — that’s up to the legislature. “In terms of us changing the total amount of state aid, we have no authority,” said Vespucci. “We can help conduct a review of their budget and identify revenue from what exists in terms of resources.”
The district has already identified items in the budget that it can cut to shift revenues. The present budget cuts the budget of several schools: Academy High School’s budget is reduced by $2,769,675 from the previous year; Business Technology will see a cut of $99,635; HARP Academy, $186,729; Hospitality and Culinary Arts, $110,680; New Roberto Clemente, $142,638; School 15, $188,783; School 5, $4,977,548; and Panther Academy, $166,291, according to a sheet distributed by the Paterson Education Fund, an advocacy.
“I need to know what is happening in School Five,” asked Errol Kerr, school board member, after seeing the drastic reduction. “Because of the arrangement between School 5 and Don Bosco funds have been shifted. Students who were in School 5 are now in Don Bosco,” answered the superintendent.
“We tried to be very cost conscious,” said Richard Kilpatrick, the district’s business administrator. “We didn’t reduce their per pupil cost.”
The business administrator said much of the budget that has been cut were monies each school did not spend in the previous year. “I think the schools will be hard pressed to say they lost money,” said Kilpatrick. “We tend to budget a lot more than what we actually need.”
Where there have been cuts, said school officials, grants and federal dollars have managed to fill the void.
All school board members voted to adopt the budget save Alex Mendez, who was at a council at-large candidate forum, and Kerr voted against the budget.
In his final amendment of the resolution, Hodges added: “The Paterson Board of Education agree to submit this budget only under the unusual duress peculiar to state take over districts which preclude us from taking the more appropriate action of legally pursuing the additional funding that we are entitled to under the law.”