School board members narrowly adopted a budget on Tuesday night that cuts 234 jobs, including 166 teachers, and raises property taxes by 14-percent.
Among the 234 jobs cuts were also 29 supervisors, 23 vice principals, 11 non-certificated staff, and 5 directors.
Superintendent Eileen Shafer said her staff had to make “hard decisions” to balance the 2019-20 budget. Her staff began with a $43.62 million budget gap that had to be closed over several months. She had to scale back a list of priorities and even remove things like SAT prep, art and music that were put in place in September.
“It has been said often that a budget is a reflection of a district’s priorities. That is not exactly accurate in this case, as we certainly tried to avoid layoffs and discontinuing programs,” said Shafer. “However, despite increases in mandated expenditures that whittled away most of the increase in state aid to the district, we have managed to formulate a student-focused budget that continues many of the district’s educational programs – including those for students with special needs.”
School board members approved the $609.93 million budget in a 5-4 vote. Initially, school board members rejected the budget in a 5-4 vote, but later one board member, Joel Ramirez, switched his vote to allow for passage.
Ramirez, Manny Martinez, Nakima Redmon, Kenneth Simmons, and Oshin Castillo voted in favor while Emanuel Capers, Robinson Rondon, Jonathan Hodges, and Eddy Olivares voted against.
The key sticking points for board members were the teacher cuts and double-digit tax hike. Homeowners have to pay $47.44 million, up $6 million, from last year’s $41.45 million, according to documents presented to board members.
School officials said the 14-percent tax increase translates to $195.45 on an average home assessed at $195,000.
Capers said that figure is much higher for homeowners, who have been hit with a 2-percent tax hike or $3 million increase from mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration and a sewer increase of another $3 million.
Capers recommended eliminating the tax increase from the budget by privatizing instructional aides. His privatization plan produces an estimated $9.4 million in savings, but business administrator Richard Matthews balked at the suggestion.
“We need this revenue every year moving forward,” said Matthews. He pointed out taxes haven’t been raised over a decade.
“We’ve been kicking the can down the road, so here we are,” said Simmons.
Some school board members warned failing to adopt the budget will jeopardize return to local control. For 27 years the district has been controlled by the New Jersey Department of Education. The state has placed the district on a two-year transition plan to return local control.
“If we don’t pass the budget there are ramifications and consequences that will be lowered on us,” said Martinez. “We’ve been working towards local control. This is local control. Either we make these decisions or the state comes in and makes the decisions for us.”
“It’s not a thorough and efficient education by any means, but this is where we are,” said school board president Castillo. “If we don’t do it, the state is going to come in and do it themselves. Either we keep local control and adopt this budget or we get rid of local control and still get a tax increase. Our options are very limited.”
The board’s public hearing on the budget attracted just three speakers.
“We’re not meeting our students needs,” said Rosie Grant, executive director of the Paterson Education Fund. “We’re losing classroom teachers, art teachers, music teachers, media specialists, nurses, supervisors. That’s a lot of cut.”
Grant said these cuts will negatively affect quality of programs in the district. Paterson schools are among the lowest performing in the state.
Shafer has said classrooms will have 40 students per a teacher in September after the cuts.
Morale is already low among teachers in the district, said John McEntee, Jr., president of the Paterson Education Association, the teachers’ union.
McEntee blamed the cuts on the expansion of charter schools in the city. The district has to transfer $63.8 million to charter schools in 2019-20 school year, up $9.42 million from last year’s $54.3 million.
Charter schools share of the budget gobbled up much of the $13.23 million increase the district received in education funding from the state. 83-percent of the district’s budget is funded by the state. The state provided $439.25 million, up $13.23 million from the previous budget year.
Shafer blasted charter schools last month, but later bowed to pressure from a charter school group.