It's Saturday May 9th and we are within a week of the 2020/21 schools budget being passed for next year. Parents are on the 98th yard line of a fight to push Superintendent Walker's full budget across the goal line. This post is aimed to bring parents and school advocates up to speed, give a quick accounting of advocacy to date, and share some final tools for the next few critical days.
What's at Stake - $10+ million
As explained below, the next days will determine if we keep - or lose - $10 million or more for our schools next year. As context, $10 million could pay for over 100 teachers and staff. So, if you've not engaged, please take this 2 minutes to keep reading! Concrete ways to engage are below.
Recap - to bring you up to speed (March 20th until now)
Mr. Walker presented a progressive budget with a $50 million investment on March 20th; it passed 8-1 with Alexander Hamilton the lone no vote. At Wednesday's BOE meeting, a majority of the BOE trustees who voted for this budget reversed course, citing taxpayer concerns, this despite 25 members of the public spoke on public record (23 of them were parents) who supported Mr. Walker's full budget - IN FULL. Parents said: we are parents, we see the need for funding. We are taxpayers, we want our tax dollars invested in the schools.
As a reminder, only 24% of our tax bills go to the schools but the city takes 50% of that bill. The May 6th BOE meeting was live-streamed on Facebook and is viewable below:
Pushback from BOE Trustees on why $10M or more must be shaved off of Mr. Walker's budget.
Despite overwhelming support from parents who spoke on public record, a majority of BOE trustees spoke about reducing the budget by - at a minimum - $10 million. Trustees spent several hours after public comment critiquing the budget as excessive spending to bolster their points, citing:
- Class sizes are not too big and don't need to be smaller (Trustee Valasquez)
- Hiring more teachers and staff is not necessary in this moment and if anything would be excessive (Trustee Roman)
- Concerns for taxpayers must be taken into account along with concerns for the kids (Trustee Hamilton, Trustee Shaw, Trustee Ali, Trustee Valsquez)
Trustee Richardson made the case that the school levy - the source of the $50 million investment is the ONLY source of revenue the BOE has full control over, thus the BOE should approve the maximum amount. However the meeting was dominated by the other BOE trustees (see below for accounting) who picked apart Mr. Walker's budget as excessive.
BOE Trustees' Positions on Mr. Walker's Budget:
There are only three trustees who expressed support on Wednesday for the $50 million budget: Mr. Richardson, Ms. Verdibello, Ms. Terrell-Paige. Here's my rundown of where the trustees are situated based on their public comments:
- President Richardson: Supports the $50 million budget
- Vice President Verdibello: Supports the $50 million budget
- Trustee Ali: Against the $50 million in current budget, indicated need to lower by as much as $10 million
- Trustee Hamilton: was the lone vote against the initial approval of the budget on March 20th; is opposed to the $50 million and was in favor of lowering by at least $10 million
- Trustee Lyons: did not voice support for full $50 million or for reducing by $10 million but did say he needed more answers to questions about the budget.
- Trustee Roman: against the $50 million in current form; opposed hiring of new teachers and staff among other numerous critiques.
- Trustee Shaw: Against the $50 million in current budget, indicated need to lower by as much as $10 million.
- Trustee Terrell-Paige: Supports the $50 million budget
- Trustee Noemi Velazquez: Against the $50 million in current budget, indicated need to lower by as much as $10 million
You can check out the trustees on the BOE page here.
Compute your personal tax expense if $50 million is approved.
To help taxpayers understand the impact of this $50 million investment, a team with Jersey City Together created a tool that allows you to compute the estimated property tax increase if the $50M is passed. You can input the value of your home and then see the monthly increase. If someone is renting, I think they can still get a sense of the per-home impact as context as to the investment (note: even renters pay property tax...they just pay it indirectly, to the landlord).
The School Tax Expense Calculator is below (mobile/phone version). Click here for the full desktop version.
I should note: several trustees cited concern for taxpayers who will have a $700/year increase; but $700 per year is what a $700,000 home would have to pay (annually) to support a $50 million increase. A home of say $325,000 value would pay an annual cost $338 or $28/month. So -- the tax impact varies here with home value. This is important for taxpayers to understand when we are talking about whether or not we cut teachers, paras, social workers, and other staff.
City levy & its role in your tax expense.
Another important factor here is the city's role in tax expense. Currently, the city accounts for nearly 50% of our property tax bills. The schools account for only 24% of the bills. Jersey City Public Schools have been locally underfunded for years and Mr. Walker is now aiming to "catch up" for lost time. Hence, the $50 million investment.
What is not being discussed is the city's levy increasing this year - again. The city's proposed budget released in February shows the city levy increasing by $20 million. Parents have called for BOE trustees to pressure the city to lower its levy and "make space" for Mr. Walker's budget to increase by the full $50 million and also mitigate tax impact.
Where we stand now -- it's now or never. Speak up or lose $10M or more.
If we want this budget approved, we need as many people as possible to pressure the Board of Education to fund the full budget. An effective way to engage is to use the PS #5 PTA's email campaign - you can access that here. It takes less than 2 minutes to send; a template letter is provided and you can edit if you want. All BOE Trustee emails are pre-loaded.
In the end, this will come down to people power. Parent advocates engaged thus far are doing all they can, but more pressure is needed.
Call Into the May 11th Board of Education Meeting and Support Mr. Walker's Full Budget
If you would like to speak at the Board meeting, call the Office of the Secretary to the Board at (201) 915-6074 and leave a voice message or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Get Three (or More) Fellow Parents, Taxpayers, Friends, Etc to Compel the BOE to Fund
What the BOE needs is to hear from more parents about the need to fund. They nearly funded this entire budget in mid-March; the larger global picture has shifted however and now there are increasing concerns about taxes. Two key question (for all of us) to ask though are:
- What is the cost of NOT funding the full $50 million for next year? Parents: think about what it's like teaching your kids now, at home, and what will be needed when they return next Fall. Do you want more or less resources? The time to demand those resources is now.
- Why is the city not being put under the same scrutiny and pressure to lower its levy, so that the BOE can "catch up" and invest in our kids?
The budget must be approved by this Thursday May 14th. It's now or never to voice your support!