The city’s preliminary school budget approved on Wednesday night contains a 2-percent school tax levy increase, according to district officials.
School board members said they were not provided the “tentative” budget document prior to their vote. The board was provided the budget’s overall revenue number which was listed on the agenda.
“We told them it wasn’t acceptable,” said school board member Flavio Rivera, chairman of the fiscal committee, when asked about the school levy. He said this is a preliminary document that will undergo changes prior to a final vote and adoption in the spring.
Rivera’s committee urged the district to balance its budget without increasing taxes. The district had a $20 million budget deficit. He said the various departments were asked to reduce their spending without cutting instruction and programs or reducing services.
“Cost goes up, charter school tuition goes up, but our revenue remains flat,” said Rivera. “We got to be realistic. We have no other ways of generating revenue.” He said this month’s flat state education aid figure and the almost 1,500 seat charter school expansion approvals did not help the district’s dire fiscal straits.
Charles Ferrer, first vice-president of the Paterson Education Association, the teachers union, suggested the district’s state-appointed superintendent has not been asking the New Jersey Department of Education for additional funds to ensure local schools are “functioning to the level they should.”
“We have to ask,” said Ferrer. Evans said he has asked for more funds in the past five years. He said in the last three years he made those requests in writing.
“We asked and made our case,” said Evans.
Paterson schools have laid off hundreds of staff members – teachers, librarians, and nurses – over the past couple of years due to budget shortfalls.
The district’s 2017-18 budget lists $468.84 million in revenue. Homeowners contributed $41.45 million in the last school year’s budget. The proposed 2-percent increase will result in homeowners contributing $829,000 more in school taxes.
Last year, the district’s preliminary budget had a 27.2-percent tax increase. State-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans eventually reduced the increase to 6.4-percent prior to budget adoption.
Business administrator Daisy Ayala declined to comment on the proposed tax levy increase contained in the budget on Wednesday night. She referred questions to Terry Corallo, spokeswoman for the Paterson Public Schools.
Corallo did not respond to a message for comments on the proposed tax levy increase on Thursday.
Board members voted 5-3 to approve the preliminary budget which has to be sent to the Passaic County superintendent of schools for approval before adoption by the board. Board members Jonathan Hodges, Lilisa Mimms, and Nakima Redmon voted against the tentative budget while Emanuel Capers, Oshinn Castillo, Manny Martinez, Christopher Irving, and Rivera voted in favor. Chrystal Cleaves was absent.
Mimms said it was “scary” to vote on something without being provided the actual document. “I want to see what’s in there,” she said prior to voting against the preliminary budget.
There will be two hearings in the next two weeks on the school budget, according to Irving. The final budget will be adopted at the end of this month, he said.