PATERSON, NJ - Will education officials restore the art and music programs at the city's elementary schools? Are athletic teams going to be eliminated? Will security be reduced at city high schools? What's going to happen with Paterson's Adult Education program?
Paterson Public Schools' tentative 2011-12 budget holds answers to such questions.
But after sending the budget to the Passaic County Superintendent of Schools and the New Jersey Education Commissioner on March 4, the city school district has declined to discuss the substance of the budget until after the information was presented to the Board of Education at its March 16 meeting at 7 pm at Kennedy High.
Starting March 17, copies of the budget will be available for public review between 9 am and 3 pm on weekdays at the district's offices at 90 Delaware Avenue. The public hearing on the budget has been scheduled for Wed., March 23 at 6:30 pm at the same location.

After last year's budget brought hundreds of layoffs, decimated the elementary school art and music program and left the district without enough special education teachers to meet state requirements, officials are hoping this year's budget cuts won't be so drastic. 
Paterson Schools Commissioner Pedro Rodriguez said he expected to get more complete information about the budget this year than he had gotten last year. A year ago, Rodriguez said, Superintendent Donnie W. Evans simply said there would be about 800 layoffs, but didn't provide a detailed breakdown on how the terminations would affect school programs. Rodriguez said he only learned afterwards about the special education and elementary school art and music cuts.
"I hope that this year we have a better picture,'' Rodriguez said. "I'm not expecting any cuts. If anything, I expect some programs to come back, like music teachers and art teachers.''
Rodriguez also said he wanted the district to create programs for gifted and talented students. "I don't see that program in the budget, I won't vote for it,'' Rodriguez said.
Paterson Schools Commissioner Errol Kerr, chairman of the school board's finance committee, said he had not yet heard any details of how the budget affected education programs. "Right now, it's all a lot of chatter about what's going to go,'' Kerr said. He said he hoped the district would restore cuts made last year in music and art.
"I think there are some scenarios, depending on the availability of resources, where we're going to fill that in,'' Kerr said.
On March 2, the Board of Education voted to send its preliminary budget to Trenton and the county superintendent. But at that point, the district had only figured out how much revenue it would have in the budget - $523 million. Officials needed two more days to finalize their plan on how to spend that money.
Evans had outlined $31 million in possible budget cuts back in February, including reductions in administrative staff, security and athletic spending. It remains to be see which of those cuts have been incorporated into the budget.
The preliminary budget shows a $13.6 million increase compared to the $509 million being spent in the current school year. That includes a $17 million increase from various state government sources, which total $443.6 million, and a $3.3 million decrease in federal funding, which amounts to $78.3 million.
The budget does include some welcome news for Paterson property owners who are reeling from the massive tax increase being imposed by the municipal government. Although state law allows the school district to raise city education taxes by two-percent, the district has opted to keep them at the same level as last year.