The school district, which is funded by the state and from 40 percent of Bayonne’s property tax bills, levies additional taxes when the cost of running the district increases. Bayonne experienced a 13.2 percent rate increase to the state’s health insurance plan as of January; increased spending on school security; curriculum updates to math and science programs; upgrading of aging facilities (the average building is 83 years old); a growing student population; and a low reserve of funds from last year’s fiscal mistakes. A breakdown of the district’s expenditures and increased costs over time are available on its website: bboed.org.
One of the primary reasons for the property tax increase is the uncontrollable cost of health insurance. The worry is that healthcare costs can result in more property tax increases in the future.
“Health insurance is something that we’re going to have to deal with each year,” said Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael A. Wanko. “That’s something out of our control.”
Property taxes increase
For a Bayonne home with an assessed value of $177,000, the property tax levy would mean 80 more dollars tacked onto the annual tax bill. Many residents are still in sticker shock from last year’s 5 percent increase.
Another reason for levying the tax is the district’s largest and most negotiated expenditure: salaries, which account for 38 percent of the proposed budget. Total salaries make up 65 percent, while salaries and benefits combine for 84 percent of the budget.
“The best we can do is come to a number that we and taxpayers can handle and afford,” said BBOED President Joseph Broderick. “Teachers are the most important aspect of education. Students are nothing without a good teacher and we know that. What we try to do is figure out how to give them all the resources we can.”
The district is planning to bring on at least five new teachers so that classrooms remain at appropriate sizes. Staff at the district, meanwhile, is still 100 positions short from last year’s layoffs, including 70 teachers, 10 administrators, 10 custodians, and seven secretaries.
“This is the best number we could come up with that won’t be too much of a burden on taxpayers.” – Joseph Broderick
As the one-year teachers’ union contract approaches its expiration date in June, the BBOED is planning to negotiate raises that the Bayonne Teachers Association is sure to expect. After all, teacher salaries in NJ declined by more than 3 percent from 2000 to 2013, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, which is not far off from the national one percent decline. Meanwhile, the cost of living continues to rise in the region.
The text of the proposed budget reads, “The additional State Aid, if received over the next few years, would go to Collective Bargaining Agreements, more educators and personnel, while at the same time keeping the tax increase to a reasonable level.”
Maintenance of the district’s aging facilities, which make up 12.5 percent of the budget, are expected to increase in cost over time if the district does not invest now. Repairs to roofs, masonry, and heating, venting and cooling projects are priorities for the district, which hopes such projects can help reduce energy costs over time.
According to state law, boards of education can increase property taxes by 2 percent every year, even though Bayonne opted not to do that for four of the last 10 years, most recently in 2014. Any levy that results in an increase of over 2 percent must be approved by the state. The proposed tax levy comes after the city increased property taxes by 3.65 percent in 2017 and 2.27 in 2016.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.