After removing the 2.8-percent property tax increase, state-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans’ secured the school board’s approval of his 2017-18 budget on Monday night.
Evans had to cut $1.16 million from the $553 million budget to offset the revenue lost by forgoing the property tax increase. He eliminated 8 elementary and high school supervisors’ jobs to produce the savings, he told the school board.
“We’re not taking away classroom teachers; we’re taking away some of the supports,” said Evans. He said the supervisors being eliminated provided mentoring, professional development, and guidance to school teachers.
The superintendent noted those services for teachers will not be entirely eliminated, but will be provided in a “different way.” The remaining 16 supervisors will be re-distributed to schools to continue providing professional development to teachers, he said.
Evans said the elimination of supervisors will not be as “detrimental” as eliminating classroom teachers.
School board member Jonathan Hodges questioned the superintendent whether these positions were unneeded to begin with. The superintendent replied in the negative. “I’m not saying that. I’m obligated to submit a balanced budget,” said Evans.
Hodges said the superintendent has described low quality instruction in the classrooms as a “major weakness” hindering student achievement in the district. He said the supports being cut were put in place to improve quality of teachers in the district.
“We’re way below the state in terms of educational performance so any cut is going to be detrimental,” remarked Hodges.
The superintendent had to fill a $41.82 million shortfall in the budget by cutting various programs. As part of those cuts, he told the board he will eliminate 208 positions. 71.5 of those positions are vacant while 122 are professional district staff among them 96 teachers. The total number of positions being eliminated is now 216.
Some worry the big cuts will result in further decline in instruction in the district.
“Please pass a budget that supports a thorough and efficient education for every Paterson child. I’m not sure any of the changes here will do that since we’re reducing programs and staff,” said Rosie Grant, executive director of the Paterson Education Fund, an education advocacy group.
School board members voted 7-2 to approve the budget. Hodges and Lilisa Mimms voted against the budget. The approval comes three weeks after the board rejected the budget citing the property tax increase and cuts in instruction and program. Evans attempted to override the board, but needed the state commissioner of education to approve the override. While he was awaiting word from the New Jersey Department of Education he commenced negotiations with school board president Christopher Irving to work out a budget deal.
This deal included the removal of the tax increase. This resulted in Monday’s special meeting to re-consider the budget.
The district has been slashing its budget every year as it finds itself experiencing a “fiscal cliff” due to constant flat funding from the state. Some school board members told the superintendent to prepare a three-year financial plan. The plan will assume the district will remain flat funded for the next three years and there will be a big expansion of charter schools in that time frame.
Business administrator Daisy Ayala told the board the district is preparing such a plan.
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