The city’s school district which sought to raise $10.6 million through a 27.2-percent school levy increase to plug a massive budget shortfall has reduced its proposal by half in its 2016-17 budget submitted to the Passaic County superintendent of schools, according to the district.
“The tax levy was reduced by half as we look for alternative ways to reduce costs,” said district spokeswoman Terry Corallo. By reducing the school levy increase proposal to half the district is seeking $5 million that it unsuccessfully sought last year.
The district has been struggling to close a $45 million budget gap that has been reduced to $38 million. State-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans has proposed a lengthy list of proposed cuts that include school closures, cuts to athletics programs, cuts to professional development, cuts to consulting contracts, and deeper cuts at the central office.
Evans last Wednesday shocked the school board by proposing to increase the school levy from $38.9 million to $49.56 million. Quickly, the nine-member school board condemned the move by voting down the tentative budget and the school levy increase.
“I think that’s a step in the right direction,” said school board president Christopher Irving about the reduction in the proposed school levy. “I think a further step would be cutting down to zero.”
The city council also came out against school levy increase.
Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres has said the district’s budget has to be “vetted.” He could not be reached for further comments on Monday morning.
Torres has proposed auditing the district’s budget. The mayor will appear before the council on Tuesday night to present his fiscal year 2016 budget. He is also expected to present his proposal to audit the district’s budget at the same time.
Corallo said she was not aware of the mayor’s move to audit the district’s budget.
Council president William McKoy, the longest serving member on the council, said he does not recall a time in the past 16 years, when the city audited the district’s budget. He said the audit is likely to go through budget to find savings.
Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, said the auditor will likely go through each of the district’s line items to find duplicative services or other places where cuts can be made, so as to prevent a tax increase on cash-strapped homeowners.
Some of the homeowners present at last week’s board meeting said they could not afford to pay more taxes. Homeowners have been battling a 6.1-percent possible increase in the municipal levy increase for the past month.
The city has the second highest housing cost burden in New Jersey with one of the lowest median household incomes — $33,964 – in the state rendering even a slight tax increase painful to property owners.
Irving said the homeowners of the city cannot afford a tax hike.
The district has scheduled a public meeting at John F. Kennedy High School today 6 p.m. to further discuss the 2016-17 school year budget.