Some final words on 2022-23 Schools Budget, anti-school tax rhetoric, and city/BOE budget timelines

This is my final post re: the Jersey City Public Schools budget which will be voted on this Monday. The 2022-23 budget is far from certain to pass; anti-school-tax rhetoric may reduce funding so let's be honest about what that means: possible staff reductions or vacancies that won't be filled. And possibly more. A few related points, and information from my website to help inform the perspective:

1) This budget is majority staffing, so cuts to funding could result in cuts to staffing.
I recall in 2019 seeing similar paradigm (need to fund but BOE chose not to fund w/ levy investment). There was shock at layoffs but today we have history to inform; budgets actually do fund real investments, like teachers. Learn more here about the proposed budget here. I've reached out to district admin with questions; I'm doing my best to understand it and sharing what I can.

2) The city has an interest in keeping the school levy low, hence the clockwork-like anti-school tax rhetoric each BOE budget season.  Each year during the school budgeting season, City Hall criticizes the BOE with anti-school-tax rhetoric. Here's the pattern, and I want to point it out because I also follow, research, and write about city budgeting each year.

a) The city takes a "wait and see" approach because once the school levy is set, the city can then finalize the city levy.

b) A lower school levy means a higher city levy is possible while keeping the tax rate stable.

c) Here's the timeline nuance: the BOE is working out a levy that will take effect in July 2022 (the start of the next fiscal year). The city, however, still hasn't even shared their levy for calendar year 2022, the current operating year. The state gives this latitude to towns and cities; schools however must plan ahead. So the city has this right to sit on sidelines, hit the BOE with "high school tax" rhetoric (which is so misleading given we have comparatively low school tax rate in NJ), then work through their city budget process in summer (the city has passed its budget in August/Sept the past few years).

Timeline: May (Fiscal Year BOE Levy Passed) ----> June (Calendar Year City Levy Introduced) 

3) Tax hikes are serious business. I don't minimize the importance here.  But keep your eye on the entire tax bill. Last year property taxes were stable despite a school tax increase. That's because the city lowered its tax in August *in response to the school tax hike* that was passed in May.  Learn more about this shift in levies here. tax must go up because we need...teachers. Paras. Nurses. Coaches. Enrichment for kids. Aging buildings that must be repaired. And so on. To all who might counter this need in our schools, I'd ask: why does city tax need to go up? Why not ask the city to justify its spending? That's a question that isn't asked nearly enough by enough taxpayers (I know because I've followed the city budget hearings year on year and they do not receive the same public scrutiny as the the school board hearings).

4) The BOE is between a true rock and a hard place, but it's not a surprise. We're in the middle of multiple years of state aid cuts.

The rest of the state is fed up with JC, our big buildings, things like the Pompidou, and ... our low school tax rate. They are letting us figure this school funding out on our own. Because we have the tax base to fund locally, and it's up to us as a community to force our 3 local governments to share the property tax dollars equitably. The state isn't going to fight that internal battle for us.  This is how the rest of the state sees us -- a huge tax base and a small school tax rate. It shows how little we value our children in Jersey City...the state will not rescue us because we make this choice when our BOE votes not to fund. The state will continue to withdraw state aid. Learn more about our low school tax rate here.

5) Finally: there is usually some excuse not to fund, like "lack of transparency..." "where does the money go..." and what not. I get it.  I've been outspoken about need for transparency, actually writing about it and sharing data about it and calling into BOE meetings about it, i.e. I've taken time and sweat equity to call it out. Repeatedly:

So yes, the district needs vast improvements in how it reports and shares data. So I understand the frustration re: "where is the money going." All that said: I truly believe "lack of transparency" is a terrible excuse to defund. I think we should fund it, and also work for more transparency; it's not an either/or, it's a both/and. "Not funding" is what we do if we want to throw the system away; it has the same effect. You cannot fix something if you are starving it at the same time. If someone else has a better solution, I'm all ears.

So ultimately, this is up to community; it always has been. It's happening now, none of this is really surprising as to where we are and how we got here, and I want to share that if the budget gets cut and there are cuts to staff, let's not say we weren't warned.

Learn more and take action if you want to in this call to action.

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