JERSEY CITY, NJ - The Jersey City Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to approve its $736 million 2020-2021 budget that will include a 39 percent increase to the local tax levy.

“I appreciate the efforts everybody made in making this budget possible,” said Board President Lorenzo Richardson.

Although state aid figures will not be known until after the state adopts its budget – perhaps as late as October – local officials are not hopeful that the schools will see an increase, and could see even less aid as result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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If unchanged later, this budget will have to raise $53 million from local taxpayers, or about $500 more per home with an assessment of $450,000. This comes at a time when school officials have already significantly trimmed costs, reducing staff in every level of the district from teachers to administrative.

Many activists’ groups had been pushing for the tax increase rather than additional cuts, claiming the district had already suffered from previous cuts – causing cuts in programs, staff as well as increasing class size. 

A number of groups, and nearly all the board members, supported a spending plan that was introduced by Schools Superintendent Franklin Walker and would retain much of the current educational programming.

The school district had anticipated more than $86 million in revenue from a Jersey City payroll tax, but the city announced in March that it could no longer guarantee the funding until the state provided some clarity on the ongoing emergency and that the imposition of the tax on a workforce suffering significant layoffs would be unfair to the workers.

The city itself anticipates a negative impact of $50 million to its own treasury.

Mayor Steven Fulop, in conjunction with now-deceased Councilman Michael Yun, had proposed a fiscal rescue package for the district but the COVID-19 emergency along with Yun’s death derailed those plans for the foreseeable future.

In January, Fulop convinced the city council to add a public question to the November ballot that would temporarily convert the school board to one elected by voters to one appointed  by the mayor, a move, he said, that would help achieve his goal of fixing the school crisis by reducing conflicts on the board and helping to deal with a $150 million school budget shortfall. 

Saying there are still “major concerns” with the Board’s efforts to raise taxes, Fulop decided in April to rescind the resolution calling for the vote adding that “the world is a very different place today than it was in January when we approved the referendum.”

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