The state-operated school district is increasing the school levy by 6.4-percent to raise $2.5 million in revenue from homeowners, according to school officials.
“I’ve further reduced it by half,” said state-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans on Wednesday evening speaking of the school levy. The district originally proposed increasing the school levy by $10 million. Evans then reduced it to $5 million. A final reduction tonight left the school levy increase at $2.5 million.
The 6.4-percent tax hike translates to $75 for an average home assessed at $190,000, said Evans.
For more than a decade the district has not raised property taxes. This year, the homeowners’ contribution went from $38.9 million to $43.9 million, according to district documents.
The district’s overall budget is $560.6 million for 2016-17, according to the district’s budget document.
School board members unanimously voted down the tax increase and the budget arguing it is not adequate to provide a “thorough and efficient” education to city students as guaranteed in the New Jersey constitution.
“What has happened to our district is absolutely illegal, it is unfair, and it is downright disenfranchising the brown and black babies in this city,” said school board president Christopher Irving.
Other school board members said the deep cuts to education will dismantle the public schools system in Paterson.
“We cannot educate our children with this budget before us,” said board member Nakima Redmon.
“I find it very difficult to support this budget,” said board member Errol Kerr who commended Evans for reducing the school levy. He said the budget does not provide the level of funding needed to provide city students a “thorough and efficient” education.
The district has cut librarians and reduced other services. Evans said the district has scaled back extra help that was being provided to academically struggling students in the district as a result of the cuts.
Board member Jonathan Hodges pressed the superintendent to admit the budget is not sufficient to provide city students their constitutionally guaranteed education.
“Do you anticipate the current expenditures you have for curriculum and instruction are adequate?”
“We will not be able to do some of the things we’ve done in the past,” responded Evans while owning it would be nice to have more funding to provide more services to students.
Hodges said many of the district’s third graders are not reading at grade level. He said the district has only a small number of its high school seniors college ready based on SAT scores. All of the cuts in the budgets will only reverse whatever little progress that was made in the past few years, he said.
“We’re going to be moving backwards,” said Hodges. He and other board members blame the state for chronically underfunding the district.
Rosie Grant, executive director of the Paterson Education Fund, an advocacy, agreed with the board. Over the past eight years the district has been underfunded by $278 million, according to the Education Law Center.
“If we don’t have all kids reading at grade level by third grade, we don’t have thorough and efficient education. If we don’t have a strong curriculum, we don’t have thorough and efficient education,” said Grant. “If we don’t have supplemental and at risk programs for kids that need it, we don’t have thorough and efficient education. If we don’t have small classrooms and enrichment opportunities, we don’t have thorough and efficient education.”
Grant read off a long list of items without which a “thorough and efficient” education is impossible. “This budget does not provide for all of these things,” she said.
All nine school board members voted against the budget. Irving asked what would be the next step for the superintendent.
Evans indicated he will override the advisory school board’s vote and submit the budget to the state.
The city’s school system has been under state control since 1991. When the state took over the district it stripped the school board of all the powers that ordinarily belongs to a board of education. Since then, it has returned control over three – operations, fiscal, and personnel — of the five functional areas to the school board.
School board members indicated the state and the school board have yet to finalize the documents returning control over the last two areas.