This is an update on the unfolding budget process for Jersey City Public Schools; the budget was introduced Tuesday March 15th and will be finalized on or before next Monday, March 21st. I watched Tuesday’s board of education meeting and then reviewed the budget document on my own, trying to make sense of the numbers presented, including creating some graphs. I figured I’d share what I learned along with next steps advocacy for those who may be interested.
As Dr. Fernandez outlined on Monday night, the programs outlined starting on page 34 of the budget document includes (but is not limited to):
- Targeting teacher to pupil ratios of
- 1:15 (PK),
- 1:21 (K),
- 1:22 for grades 1st and 2nd
- 1:24 for 3rd-5th
- 1:25 6th – 8th, and
- 1:26 for 9th-12th
- Capital and maintenance projects like districtwide AC installation, electrical upgrades, replacement of doors at 70% of the schools and replacement of 21 school building roofs.
- Fully funded NJSIAA athletic programs and interscholastic programs for grades 6-12 and expansion of athletic programs to include wresting, lacrosse, fencing
- Much more – check out pages 34-44 of the budget.
2-Investment Areas, $ and % context.
Most of the 2022-23 budget is salaries ($334 million) and benefits ($112 million) for staff, followed by non-salaried expense/operations ($178 million), then allocation to charter schools ($129 million).
In terms of ‘what changed‘ between the 2021-22 schools budget and the proposed budget for next school year (2022-23): revenues (other than the school levy, which is not yet approved in 2022/23) are down by $78 million and expenses are up by $73 million. Here’s how that breaks out:
- Revenues: State aid was reduced by $68 million and the payroll tax is also down, by $21 million. The state aid cut has been the subject of extensive news coverage while the payroll tax was the subject of a lengthy discussion among the district business administrator and the board trustees on Monday night’s budget meeting.
- Expenses: Charter allocation is up the most ($25 million), followed by non-salary operations ($20 million), then JCPS salaries ($19 million) and benefits ($7 million).
4-The school levy “plug”
The budget presented by Dr. Fernandez includes a $184 million deficit that the school tax must plug. I use the word “plug” here as a description of how the levy works: in effect — the district lays out the needs and associated expense, then uses available revenues like state aid, local payroll tax, and available fund balances that can be “rolled over” into this year’s budget to help fund. When those revenues are exhausted, the school tax levy is the funding of last resort (the ‘plug’). The BOE has sole authority over the school levy*.
The board will meet again on Thursday March 17th at 6pm to discuss the budget and ask questions of the administration. It’s not clear if the budget will pass as-is or be subject to line-item cuts from BOE trustees who must ultimately approve the school levy that will cover necessary revenues to pay for all expenses.
If the fully levy isn’t passed, then services on the expense side must be cut; charters would not be subject to cuts so the areas up for red-lined cuts are salaries and benefits and non-salaried operations including capital repairs.
This past Tuesday, the trustees were seeing the budget for the first time and simply absorbing the information provided by Dr. Fernandez (who shared an executive summary) and Business Administrator Regina Robinson (who gave a more detailed overview, paging through most of the budget documents). You can see that budget meeting here.
Email Template to BOE Trustees
If you want to support the budget, time is limited to do so; the BOE could pass the budget tonight if it choses to..it could also wait until Monday March 21st as that is when a final budget hearing is scheduled. The budget meeting will stream from the district Facebook page here. The budget must be sent to the county by March 22nd, per state law. I am hosting an email template here on CivicParent in support of Jersey City Together advocacy to enable those who want to share the needs – and why a fully funded budget matters – with district admin and the BOE.
You can also call the BOE and share thoughts at the Thursday March 16th meeting. You must sign up before 4pm to be put on the speaker’s list. They will let you dial in via phone or zoom. All requests to speak at a board meeting must be made by calling in your request to 201.915.6074 or you can email email@example.com.
*A note: there is also a discussion around “banked cap” that I am not completely following, but I’ll be listening for tonight. The district can choose to raise the levy by more than the “plug” amount by opting to use “banked cap” which does expire and represents prior year levy funds that were not raised … there is interplay here with state law and it’s outside the scope of this post.