With thousands of dollars reduced from the district’s school security budget, school board members on Wednesday evening raised questions about the impact it will have in the next school year.
Fiscal year 2014-15 will see the district’s security budget reduced by $450,000, according to James Smith, head of school safety.
Actual dollar amount of the reduction were not readily available; however, a budget document from March 14th, 2014 shows a much larger reduction. That document shows in 2013-14, the district had an $8 million security budget which was reduced to $7.2 million marking a 10-percent reduction.
“We’re not reducing the level of security in any building across the district,” said Donnie Evans, state-appointed district superintendent. “We got to make sure our kids are safe and our adults are safe as well.”
Evans said the reduction will not impact the level of security at the district schools. He stated that there is a difference between budget and expenditure, stating that at times the district budgets a lot more money than necessary to maintain effective operation of a certain function. “We’ve talked about budget versus expenditures, and we have established a pattern over time,” said Evans.
“Last year, my budget was seven million, seven thousand dollars, it was reduced with the increase of contractual obligations, contract and other,” said Smith. “The line item was reduced by $450,000.”
Smith said the superintendent gave his word to expend more resources if the needs arise. “After a conversation with Dr. Evans yesterday, he told me, that we’re going to continue at the same level as last year,” said Smith. “I will be able to provide the same services and we’ll be able to keep our stellar record that we have in the schools right now.”
Board members pointed out that there are still security issues in certain schools. “We still have School Number Two with a door open that anybody could go inside the school and go to the third floor and come back to the first floor,” said Alex Mendez, school board member. “I did that myself, I went inside the school, I went to the second, third floor, nobody stopped me.”
Mendez did own that there have been progress in making schools safer. “Eastside High School was a jungle before, now we have made some progress,” said Mendez. “It’s very hard for me to understand that everything is going to stand the same with that reduction in the budget.”
The district has been cutting costs to prevent an impending “fiscal cliff” which would force layoffs. Evans has promised to reduce staff at the district office by 25-percent in order to avert the cliff.
“I want to tell the public our schools are safe and if Captain Smith comes to me and tells me he has a circumstance where safety is an issue and cameras will solve that problem, he gets cameras, regardless of whether he has the money in his budget,” said the superintendent. “I just use cameras as an example, it may be a police officer stationed somewhere for a period of time.”
Evans said if more money has to be put into the security budget he will take money out of his own budget and transfer it to Smith’s to ensure the city’s schools are safe.
“We do not have the issues that Newark, Jersey City and Camden, Irvington has, my God Irvington! And that’s because of the system that we have,” said Christopher Irving, school board president. “We have some of the safest schools in New Jersey.”