The Jersey City Board of Education adopted a $973.8 million budget for the 2022-23 academic year at its special meeting Thursday. The new financials are projected to increase school taxes by $1,608 per year on a $460,000 home.
In a formal precursor to yesterday’s vote, the board voted to “approve” the nearly $1 billion budget in March, a plan that was subsequently also approved by interim Executive Hudson County Superintendent Melissa Pearce.
Board trustees voted along similar lines in their 5-4 vote to adopt the budget as they did to pass it in March. Board President Gerald Lyons and trustees Lorenzo Richardson, Noemi Velazquez, Gina Verdibello, and Paula Jones-Watson voted in favor; trustees Younass Barkouch, Alexander Hamilton, Natalia Ioffe, and LeKendrick Shaw voted against.
“We submitted a budget to the county superintendent that we do not all agree on but that allows us to continue serving our students without reducing personnel,” Jersey City’s Acting Schools Superintendent Norma Fernandez said at Thursday’s meeting.
About 77 percent of the revenues in the budget are allocated to salaries and benefits for teachers and staff, according to Fernandez.
In addition to a $426.7 million local tax levy, Jersey City schools receive funding from the state. For Covid-related expenses, such as pandemic recovery and technology, they also receive money from the federal government.
Local school taxes will help close a gap left by severe state aid cuts that have affected the district as rising home values and a significant amount of new development has increased the city’s tax base, which stood at $45 billion in 2021.
The district is also using “excess surplus,” a fund balance, and some cost reductions to close the gap between expenses and revenues.
School Business Administrator Regina Robinson said at Thursday’s meeting that the state reduced by $225 million its aid to the district this year.
Both Fernandez and Robinson warned of more reductions in state funding next year.
“S2 legislation will continue to remove the equalization aid during the next fiscal year,” Fernandez said, referring to a law designed to redress the “over aiding” of districts like Jersey City that have a lot of property wealth compared to others that don’t. “We may not receive any equalization aid at all.”
Several members of the public spoke in favor of the budget at the meeting, including parent Dana Patton, who said she is dismayed to see a narrative circulating that the schools created their funding shortfall.
“The school district in Jersey City last year was only getting 37 percent of the property taxes when school districts across the state on average get more than 50 percent,” Patton said. “The city has held an outsized share of the property taxes to fund its own budget and continues to be antagonistic about the schools’ getting a more appropriate percentage.”
Patton is on the education team of multifaith coalition Jersey City Together whose members have been advocating for “full funding” of the city’s public schools. (Full funding corresponds to that level of taxation that would produce an “adequacy budget” leading to all students’ meeting New Jersey’s minimum achievement standards for public schools.)
She joined fellow Jersey City Together education team member Jessica Taube in a statement commending the board on adopting the budget Thursday night.
“We congratulate the board on final approval of this fully funded budget that brings our schools closer to a fair share of property taxes,” the women said. “Real work lies ahead. Jersey City Together will continue our work to ensure this money is invested so that our schools are fully staffed, that our children receive mental health supports, and that every school has potable water. Our children deserve schools that are fully funded, fully staffed, and fully safe.”