The city’s school district is receiving $401.43 million – same as last year – in education funding for 2017-18, according to the New Jersey Department of Education.
“It could have been worse. At least we got what we got last year,” said school board member Flavio Rivera, chairman of the fiscal committee. “We know we’ve been flat funded, but expenses go up every year.”
Rivera said the district has been working on a budget this year with the assumption of reducing spending by $20 million. He said the various departments in the district have been instructed to find cost effective ways to do business without reducing services.
After laying off hundreds of employees, including classroom teachers and librarians, to balance budgets over the past years the district may have a tough time finding savings through quick layoffs.
School board member Jonathan Hodges said classroom sizes have increased as a result of teacher layoffs.
“That’s no surprise. I’m not surprised at all,” said Hodges when told of the state education figure for the district. He called the flat figure “illegal underfunding” of the school district alluding to the historic Abbott v. Burke ruling in which the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered adequate funding for poor urban school districts.
Hodges said the expansion of charter schools in Paterson further deprives the district of revenues. He cited the recent almost 1,500-seat expansion approved by the state for four city charter schools.
Paterson hands over $34 million to charter schools in the city.
The city is not alone in being flat funded.
None of the school districts in Passaic County received additional education funding this year. Beach Haven Borough in Ocean County received a 12.6-percent increase in funding from last year. Tewksbury Township got a 4.5-percent increase. Other districts — a small number of them — that saw increases were under 3.5-percent.
Among the big cities, Newark has received a slight 0.19-percent increase; Jersey City remained flat.
Paterson schools had a $468.75 million budget in 2016-17, according to public records. Rivera said the school board will receive preliminary information on next school year’s budget at Wednesday’s school board meeting.
“We’ll have to deal with it,” said Rivera of flat funding. His strategy is to inject efficiency into district operations to reduce cost. The board also discussed bonding money to make major improvements to its facilities so as to avoid big unexpected repair expenses during the course of the year.