A colleague asked me recently “How are you dealing with all this confusion around the school budget?” My response was that I’m not confused. I’m crystal clear about what has happened, is happening and will keep on happening if nothing is done to correct the harm and protect our children. Here is what’s clear to everyone – 232 Paterson Public Schools’ (PPS) employees received lay-off notices. Come September, class sizes will increase dramatically, essential programs will be cut, academic achievement will be negatively affected.
I’m also really clear about how we got here. After 8 years of underfunding by the State of NJ, despite court rulings, Paterson has been forced to make do with less for many years. All our students’ needs were certainly not being met. A year ago, PPS received a $20M increase in state aid for the 2018-2019 budget, with the expectation that, at least, that amount would be added each year for 7 years until the district was brought to full funding under the law. However, the 2019-2020 increase will be $13M, not the expected $20M. $11M of the $13M represent increased aid to charter schools and the county technical high school that serve Paterson children, in effect leaving the district with $2M more in state aid than they had last year.
The other side of the budget equation is that costs are projected to increase by $48M. These costs include staff salaries that were negotiated under contract, health benefits, utilities, textbooks, innovative programming necessary for improving student achievement, after school and summer programs and much more. In order to present a balanced budget, as required by law and the Return to Local Control Transition Plan, PPS had to drastically cut expenditures and increase local taxes. Since local taxes had not been increased for education for several years, PPS is allowed, by law, to levy the 2% annual increase that had not been used for the last 7 years. This results in a 14% property tax increase for Paterson residents. A reminder here, we often forget that renters are taxpayers too. The burden will be endured by all residents.
One more thing that’s really clear. Our children will bear the brunt of all this. Their futures are threatened. Their constitutional right to a thorough and efficient education violated. Our children are our most treasured gifts. Please join us in advocacy for adequate and equitable funding for all schools. Start by calling your Governor at 1-609-292-6000, and ask him for more state aid for Paterson schools.
Rosie Grant is the Executive Director of the Paterson Education Fund (PEF), a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to stimulate community action for change so that the Paterson Public Schools ensure that all Paterson children achieve high standards.