Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

School Board Shocked by Planned Budget

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

School Board Shocked by Planned Budget

Article excerpt

Paterson school board members reacted with shock and outrage Wednesday night when district officials presented them with a preliminary 2016-17 budget that would increase property taxes by 27.2 percent to support the school district.

After more than 10 years without an increase, the tax levy for the district would jump from $38.9 million to $49.5 million for the school year beginning on July 1, according to budget documents made public Wednesday night.

That proposal comes at a time when Paterson property owners also face a 6.1 percent increase in municipal taxes, a hike that precipitated a partial shutdown of city government this week.

"We just can't afford to increase taxes at this time," said board member Nakima Redmon.

School board members asserted that they were blindsided by the proposed increase and vowed to remove it from the budget. But they delayed taking a vote to do that until the district administration provides them with more information on what spending cuts would be made to offset the elimination of the $10.6 million tax increase.

"Why is it you always seem to run out of money?" parent Rainbow Williams asked district officials during Wednesday night's meeting. "Last year, you were $50 million in the hole. This year it's $45 million ... It seems somebody needs to learn how to do math."

Eighth-grader Fabliha Zaman bemoaned the impact that last year's budget cuts had on instruction in city schools, saying she missed terminated teachers who helped her learn. "It doesn't make sense to me," said Fabliha, who attends School 7. "We all don't deserve this."

The school district, under state control since 1991, is struggling with a chronic fiscal crisis, one that local education advocates blame on the state's decisions not to provide the district with court-ordered levels of funding.

In 2015, the district laid off more than 350 employees, including 170 teachers, to close a budget deficit. But the problems have persisted. For the past several weeks, city education officials have engaged in a series of public meetings to discuss ways to close a $45 million shortfall. …

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