Jersey City School District proposes colossal nearly $1 billion school budget for 2022-23

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Jersey City Public Schools officials are proposing a nearly $1 billion spending plan for the 2022-23 school year that could cost the average homeowner nearly $2,400 a year in additional property taxes.

Acting Superintendent Norma Fernandez and Business Administrator Regina Robinson presented a massive $955.6 million budget to the school board during Tuesday’s special meeting. In order to fully fund the budget, the school board would need to increase the school’s tax levy from $278 million to $483.5 million.

“As I present this budget to the board for approval, please keep in mind that the district’s goal is to maintain current programs and invest in our former school buildings that have been neglected for years,” said Fernandez. “The budget presented to you today funds schools in Jersey City Public Schools and charter schools in the city.

“We must provide free education to all residents who wish to attend a public school and we must pay for it.”

None of the school board members commented on the proposed budget at the meeting.

The proposed budget represents an increase of nearly 15% over the $814 million budget passed in May 2021, when taxes were increased by nearly $1,000 per average homeowner. The increase was offset when Jersey City municipal taxes were reduced by about $1,000 for the average homeowner.

Fernandez said 21 schools require roof repairs or complete replacement and 32 schools need new doors. The school district has a total of 49 school buildings, more than half of which were 90 years or so ago.

Property taxes include municipal taxes, county taxes and school taxes. The potential school tax increase is expected to cost taxpayers $2,399 or $200 per month for the average homeowner.

Robinson said the budget shortfall is $184 million in total.

“When we talk about closing the budget gap…we’re going to have to have a conversation beyond tonight in terms of voting on that,” Robinson told the school board.

The Jersey City School District will lose $68.5 million in state aid for the 2022-23 school year. Funding increased from $253.2 million to $184.7 million.

Over the past two years, the school board has had to dramatically increase the school tax levy to help fill the growing budget hole left by the state’s seven-year plan to dramatically cut district funding.

The Jersey City Public School, which educates about 30,000 students, at its peak received $418.7 million in state aid for the 2016-17 school year, but will have seen more than 233, $6 million slashed since 2018. Those cuts were the result of the public school funding plan, S2, approved by lawmakers in 2018, under which Jersey City property owners would have to contribute more and the state less.

The city has taken steps to soften the blow, such as creating a 1% payroll tax and enacting a law that dedicates a portion of tax abatement revenue to the school district. School officials have long complained that the city’s past reliance on tax abatements is costing the district millions.

The school board will host another special virtual meeting on Thursday to further discuss the proposed budget and possibly approve sending it to the county superintendent for review. The meeting will start at 6 p.m.

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