Even after criticism from school board members and advocates, the school district has no plans to release the preliminary budget document until after it is approved by the Passaic County superintendent of schools.
State-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans on Wednesday night said Passaic County superintendent of schools Robert Davis advised him not to release the preliminary budget until after it is approved by his office. “He made it very clear that the budget document, the 400-page document and the user-friendly version, were not to be distributed publicly,” said Evans.
Davis on Thursday said he did not direct Evans to not release the preliminary budget. He said the superintendent can release the entire 415-page budget if he wishes to.
“Any superintendent would be crazy to do that because the numbers are changing every hour before board adoption,” said Davis. He described the document that was submitted to his office on March 9th, 2017 as a “working document” that does not have to be made public.
Evans received criticism from board members and education advocates on Wednesday night.
“Keeping the board in the dark until after the county superintendent sees it is reckless,” said school board member Jonathan Hodges. “I want to see what you did before it goes to the county superintendent.”
School board members voted on the preliminary budget on March 15th, 2017. Board members did not receive even the basic outline of the budget. Some school board members said they did not know there was a 2-percent school levy increase in the preliminary budget.
Evans provided board members a two-sheet budget document that listed basic numbers like the levy and total appropriations; however, this was an entire week after the board voted on the preliminary budget. He said the board’s fiscal committee was aware of the numbers and played a role in preparing the 2017-18 budget.
Board members can inspect the abridged 137-page user-friendly budget at the district headquarters, Evans offered.
Rose Grant, executive director of the Paterson Education Fund, an education advocacy, cited a New Jersey law that states the district should make available for inspection the preliminary budget after it is submitted to the county superintendent.
“Somebody’s breaking the law in this case,” said Grant.
Hodges said sending the budget to the state without sharing it with board members is “problematic.” He said after the county superintendent approves the budget the board cannot make changes of more than 10-percent on a given line item.
“This process is wrong,” said Hodges. He demanded the long form budget from Davis last week.
Davis said every board has policies on who receives what documents. He noted there’s usually two ways to prepare a budget. In the first case, the fiscal committee of a board works with the administration on preparing the budget; and in the second case, the board acts as a committee of the whole. In the first case, the fiscal committee receives more detailed information on the budget while in the second case the entire board does.
Hodges and other board members said the budget process has to change. He said the lack of transparency in the budget process has shut out the community.
“You can’t expect the community to come out when you shut them out of the process,” said Hodges. He said other districts have posted their budgets online prior to their public hearing.
Davis said there are different types of districts that follow different timelines for their budgets.
The proposed 2017-18 budget of $468.64 million has a 2-percent school levy increase that the board urged the superintendent to remove. This year’s budget had a $33 million shortfall which has been plugged by making various cuts.
The school district is making the 2017-18 budget available for public inspection at the central office from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. starting Monday, March 27th, 2017 – interested parties must schedule a review by calling (973) 321-0980.
Public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Wednesday, March 29th, 2017 at 6:30 p.m. in the John F. Kennedy High School auditorium. And a final adoption vote is scheduled for April 5th, 2017 at the district’s central office.
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