The city’s advisory school board, in a largely symbolic move, voted against sending the state-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans’ budget which lists a $5 million local tax levy increase to the New Jersey Department of Education during Thursday evening’s special meeting of the board of education.
The district submitted the budget on March 9th, 2015 to the department of education without approval from the school board. “It has already been submitted,” said Chrystal Cleaves, school board member. She said it makes no sense to vote to send something that’s already been sent.
School board member Manuel Martinez questioned the superintendent’s move to include the tax levy increase from $39 million to $44 million in the preliminary budget. He said when discussions were taking place the idea of increasing local taxes was nothing more than an option to help the district avoid a fiscal cliff.
“The fact that we saw this materialized on paper in a proposed budget now gave this legs,” said Martinez. “If we were really serious about not doing this we wouldn’t have put it in the budget.”
Lilisa Mimms, school board member, said “to approve a submission of what is not supposed to be” makes little sense.
School board members did not get a copy of the preliminary $567 million budget until Thursday. “They waited until today to give us this budget which becomes a public document once it’s submitted,” remarked Flavio Rivera, school board member.
Rivera said he has received calls from constituents asking about the potential tax increase, but he could not answer their questions because the superintendent did not keep the school board in the loop. He asked about the budget process and how it works in this district.
“For a state control district, I have no obligation for you to even see the budget, I can prepare it and submit it,” said Evans. “It’s not the way I want to operate.”
The superintendent said he wants school board members involved in the budget process to make recommendations. As the agent of the state in a takeover district, all the powers of the school board is vested in the superintendent, including the power to raise local taxes.
“It’s still open to change,” said Evans.
Though the budget may be open to change, school board members voting for it were not. “I do not support, I do not sanction, I do not approve, nor will I ever approve these types of measures to increase this municipal tax levy by this amount,” said Martinez.
“I won’t vote for a budget that has any tax increases here,” added Jonathan Hodges, school board president.
All six school board members who attended the meeting voted against submitting the preliminary budget that listed a large tax levy increase that – if unchanged — could hit homeowners, on average, with an additional $213 per year in taxes.
Voting against the measure were Cleaves, Martinez, Mimms, Rivera, Hodges, and Kenneth Simmons.