This year’s school budget will not burden property owners with an increase in taxes, according to a budget presentation given during a special meeting of the school board on Thursday night.
“So basically, just clear and straight, what kind of percentage we are going to have on tax increase?” asked Alex Mendez, school board member.
“The budget was prepared with zero percent tax increase,” responded Richard Kilpatrick, district’s business administrator.
For the past decade the district went without increasing local property taxes beyond the $39 million tax payers have been contributing for the past decade. However, that may change next year, according to some school board members.
“I think not this year, but in the future there needs to be a real conversation with the city council and the mayor,” said Christopher Irving, school board member. “It’s unfair for the city to continue to do it, and look at us and say we can’t touch it at all to help our children.”
Board members fear cuts in programs will retard the progress the district has made in recent years with improved state exam scores and improved graduation rates in high schools. With the state flat funding the district – since 2010 the district received a paltry 2.8-percent increase in aid despite increases in day-to-day operations cost, according to the Paterson Education Fund, an advocacy – program cuts are bound to follow.
In 2010 the city received $389 in state aid; in 2014 the city received $400 million. “It looks like an increase, but it’s not an increase,” said the business administrator. With not enough money flowing from Trenton, the district has been acting on ways to live within its means by cutting costs.
Recently, Donnie Evans, district superintendent, imposed a hiring freeze on all non-essential positions in February. Evans vowed to reduce his administrative office staff by 25-percent, saving $5 million dollars, according to a recent internal memo.
“We’ve implemented three freezes in the district,” said Evans, citing the district office staff reduction, non-essential administrative staff hiring freeze, and a new “limited” freeze on hiring at school level. With the exception of math and language arts teachers in grades 3-8; and key shortage areas like high school science and middle school math teachers, the schools will not be hiring.
If a teacher leaves in middle of the year, Evans said, temporary teachers will be hired to continue running the classroom for the rest of the year. “We don’t want a classroom to go without a credentialed teacher,” said Evans. “But, in an area that’s not critically short, then hiring a permanent person, meaning beyond the end of this year, until we know we’re going to have students to support this position, is what this is about.”
Evans clarified that when he means temporary teacher it does not mean a substitute but a credentialed teacher.
“We decided to close out this year, meaning no new purchases, no new expenditures, no new commitments,” said Evans. Planned activities and emergency spending will not be impacted by the “close out,” Evans said.
The superintendent also asked his directors and administrators to cut non-salaried positions to squeeze out another $25 million worth of savings. “We asked our senior staff,” said Evans, “to look at their non-salaried budget and begin to identify up to 25-percent of those budgets that we can cut from the budget and not harm our instructional program.”
This year’s $595 million has been prepared and sent to the state, said the business administrator. Kilpatrick, using the numbers of this year’s budget, showed what impact a tax increase would have on city residents. If the district wanted to raise $2 million from taxes, an average property valued at $350,000 would pay $150 more annually; if the district wished to raise $11 million an average valued property would have to fork out $486 for that tax year.
Most board members are against increasing local taxes. “There is no intent to raises taxes,” said Manuel Martinez, school board member. “We have to be willing to explore options.”
Others worried the devastation that a tax increase will have in the city with the city government increasing taxes every year and now the school board bandwagoning. “Do you think a landlord is going to take on another tax increase and not pass it onto renters?” asked Corey Teague, school board member. “You have people that will be literally homeless.”
“People will just move out of the city in droves,” said Errol Kerr, school board member.
Evans is hoping his cost cutting measures will avert the impending fiscal cliff. “We are actually participating in an exercise that will allow us to avoid a cliff or at least soften the impact of that cliff,” Evans said. “If we start now, if we start taking some actions now, then we will be better prepared, so we can do it in a way that doesn’t result in massive layoffs.”