Acting superintendent Eileen Shafer unveiled her budget priorities – increasing funding for art, music, and remedial learning to address low student performance — for the 2018-19 school year at a community forum on Wednesday night.
Shafer wants to hire 12 music, 12 art teachers, and 2 librarians. She also wants to create a summer professional development program for teachers, after school programs for students, and provide computer devices to students in 7-12 grades. Her priorities also include addressing poor student performance and low state test scores.
Her priorities will cost an estimated $7.3 million.
She scheduled two community forums to hear from local residents about their priorities for the next school year. This is a departure from the 2017-18 school year when the district was criticized for lack of transparency in the budgeting process.
“Parents and the community did not feel the budget was all-inclusive. By that, I mean, the parents and the community did not have an opportunity to weigh in on what should be in the budget or what should be eliminated,” said Shafer speaking of last year. “So we had decided this year to have an all-inclusive budget development.”
About 30 people attended the first forum at John F. Kennedy High School. Several people complained about the cleanliness of the school buildings. City resident Sailys Cabral asked whether Shafer’s budget contains transportation funding for Passaic County Technical Institute (PCTI) students.
Shafer told her officials from both the district and PCTI will have to meet to discuss the situation. The technical school agreed to provide student busing for the current school year after Paterson decided to no longer pay to bus its students to the high school in Wayne. Paterson’s move to suddenly cut busing due to fiscal constraints after providing it for decades led to protests from residents and community leaders.
The district continues to face financial problems. Business administrator Richard Matthews in his presentation at the forum said health benefits, charter school expansion, old school buildings, transportation, and the teachers’ contract are the main cost drivers in the budget.
For example, health insurance cost has jumped from $87 to $93 million. The district is currently enrolled in the state’s health insurance plan. Matthews suggested the district may attempt to explore other options to save on health expenses by changing insurance providers. He said health insurance cost has been increasing at an unsustainable 13-percent per year.
The municipal government which is self-insured has had similar problems with health insurance.
Matthews also highlighted the small local contribution to the school district. Local taxpayers contribute $42.3 million while the state provides $405.7 million to the district’s budget. He suggested the school board may have to look at going over the 2-percent tax increase to raise more revenue from property owners.
Last year, the district had a $41.82 million gap that led to cuts and more than 100 layoffs. There was no deficit figures presented on Wednesday night for the 2018-19 budget.
The 2017-18 budget was $553 million budget.
With a new governor taking office in January, local education officials are hoping for an increase in state aid to the district.
A second budget forum is scheduled for today at 6 p.m. at Eastside High School.