The school board unanimously voted down state-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans’ 2017-18 budget on Wednesday night after some board members and education advocates described the budget as inadequate to provide a decent education to Paterson students.
School board members opposed the 2.8-percent school tax levy increase in the $553.74 million budget. The superintendent had to close a $41.82 million shortfall. He closed the deficit by cutting programs, consolidating schools, reducing staff, and proposing to sell old buildings.
- 122 professional staff (among them 96 teachers), 14.5 support staff, and 71.5 vacant positions will be eliminated. The 208 reduction in force will produce $11.53 million in savings.
- District eliminated its courtesy bussing program to produce $930,000 in savings. It eliminated the high school twilight program to save $75,000.
- Cuts to programs, consultants, consolidation of schools, and other non-salary reductions will generate $10.54 million.
- There’s also $8.45 million in fund balance and $2.2 million a capital budget. There’s $1.16 million from school tax hike.
- $7 million from charter schools that fail to open or sell old district owned buildings to generate equivalent amount.
Behind the general categories are cuts that will directly impact students. Longtime school board member Jonathan Hodges pointed to the cuts in after-school programs. The district’s after and before school programs are being cut in half.
“A big part of your method to address our lack of performance is to use after school programs. You’re cutting our after-school programs. What does this mean for our ability to make any strides academically?” Hodges asked Evans.
Hodges also focused on the cuts in the summer school program which has been reduced to $80,113 in 2017-18 budget from $783,755 in the prior budget.
“We cut dramatically,” said Evans. He said the district is also consolidating classes with fewer students to create savings. He did not directly answer Hodges’ question.
“With money not being available that kind of hinders programs,” said business administrator Daisy Ayala. She said the biggest cost drivers for this year’s shortfall were state flat funding, charter school expansions, health benefits, pensions, salary increases, transportation, and workers’ compensation.
“This budget does not represent a quality education for our kids,” said board member Emanual Capers, whose daughter attends School 27. He described the district as being “house poor.” He suggested consolidating school buildings to avoid layoff of teachers.
“Our kids are getting the short end of this deal. This is unacceptable,” said board member Chrystal Cleaves.
The cuts to the program caught some board members by surprise. “We can’t go back and change it. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing I submitted a budget like this to the state,” said board member Manny Martinez scolding the superintendent.
Martinez also complained about the lack of transparency in putting together the budget document. “The whole budget was a bait and switch. We still haven’t seen a final budget. How can we vote on this?” he said.
The district provided board members copies of the user-friendly budget late last month. A majority of board members with few exceptions approved the “tentative” budget for submission to the state last month without receiving copies from the superintendent.
“I’m just thoroughly disappointed,” said school board president Christopher Irving. He has said the lack of transparency in the budgeting process has eroded public trust.
“There was no transparency in this process,” remarked Flavio Rivera, school board member. Hodges, who was one of the votes against the tentative budget last month, suggested Rivera should blame himself for voting on the preliminary budget without viewing the document.
Hodges also slammed Irving for allowing the tentative budget onto the agenda. Irving blamed the superintendent for the lack of transparency in the process. “This process has been flawed. That is the superintendent’s fault,” said Irving.
School board members voted 9-0 to reject Evans’ budget. The superintendent said he will override the board’s vote. Though the school board has secured local control of fiscal, the superintendent continues to wield an override on the budget.
Evans explained budget oversight and management falls under fiscal, but not budget development. The district has regained control of the three out of the five areas. It still needs to regain instruction and program; and governance.
“How are we doing at providing a thorough and efficient education to Paterson’s children?” asked Rose Grant, executive director of the Paterson Education Fund, to board members. “I don’t think we’re doing that well. We’re really not doing well and we’re shortchanging our kids.”
The district will begin the next budget year with more than $25 million in the red if state education funding remains flat, said the business administrator.
Some of the specific cuts in the budget include:
- The district is also reducing security, legal, technology, and instruction and programs by $4.21 million.
- Several schools are being moved to produce savings. The Young Men’s Academy to Prospect Park. The Newcomers Program at School 11 is being moved to the New Roberto Clemente School to save $434,399.
- Transportation has been cut by $100,000.
- Yes Academy and the Silk City Academy are being combined to save $664,627. Great Falls Academy is being moved to School 11 to save $1.8 million.
- Consultants budget has been reduced by $710,000. Credit recovery is being eliminated everywhere save at two locations to generate $84,246.
The district is also reviewing other cost cutting measures to generate savings that are not part of the current budget. Some of those cuts include closing School 14, whose students will be absorbed by School 28 and School 4; and closing School 17, whose students will go to School 12. Closing of School 14 and 17 will produce $870,000 in savings. The district is reviewing to possibly to sell old School 5, 35 Church Street, 33 Church Street, and the Smith Street church building it owns. All three building sales will produce $8.37 million.
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This report was updated on April 6th, 2017 at 1:10 p.m.