The Board of Education approved a $59.1 million budget on Tuesday, and although the school tax rate is down, three of the eight members said more could have been done to reduce costs.
The public will vote on the budget on April 21, when they will also select three members of the Board of Education.
Superintendent Jack Raslowsky explained a budget process that slightly lowered the school tax rate despite a $3 million budget increase over last year. The board’s business administrator, Brian Buckley, has previously said that an increase in tax ratables in the city – spreading the tax burden over a larger number of taxable properties – allowed the board to lower the rate.
Raslowsky said the district was able to add guidance counselors in the elementary schools, expand a gifted student program, and absorb a 17 percent increase in health care costs, while reducing the tax rate by 2.81 percent.
But at least 20 employees will be laid off in what Raslowsky called “right-sizing” the district. The laid-off employees will be from support staff positions, possibly including nurses, clerks, disciplinarians, computer technicians, and others.
Only eight members of the nine-member board were present to vote, as member Anthony Romano resigned earlier this year to become a freeholder. His seat is one of the three that is open in the school board election.
Reductions not enough for some
The board approved the budget with a 5-3 vote. Board member Jim Farina voted for approval begrudgingly. “I’d like to vote ‘no’ on the whole tax levy, but they’d shut down the schools,” he said.
Board member Carrie Gilliard joined Theresa Minutillo and Rose Markle in opposition to the spending document. “$59 million is troubling me. We need to revisit this. I cannot support it,” she said. Markle said the only further cuts that Raslowsky considered would take funds directly from the operations of the schools, as opposed to cuts in the administrative areas that many people believe are bloated.
The most unlikely approval came from local gadfly Moe DeGennaro. Known for his scathing remarks at City Council meetings, DeGennaro said that the rest of the city should learn from the open and fully-explained school budget process.
“I’d like to thank Mr. Raslowsky,” he said, adding that unsupportive board members were “asking for too much.”
Decreasing costs and increasing enrollment takes years, Raslowsky said, and the district is taking the right steps to get there. Enrollment was initially projected to increase by 100 students, but Raslowsky said Tuesday that projection was flawed. The increase will most likely be approximately 50 students, although the board also approved a school choice initiative to bring in some out-of-town students.
The board, administration, and the public debated at the meeting whether the district should open their rolls to out-of-town students.
Critics said the district should cater more to the students that they have, but proponents want to increase enrollment to fill classrooms and reduce per pupil costs. They could be reimbursed up to $884 per pupil from the student’s home school district. Hoboken would reserve the right to turn down any student that would create a financial burden. For next year, the district has allowed for 20 such students to enter the schools.
Minutillo said the schools were basing their decision on finances, not educational benefits.
“We have a high school that’s almost empty. We need to do something.” – Carrie Gilliard
“We don’t have a lot of ways to increase revenue; that’s why I would consider it,” Raslowsky said.
Gilliard was in favor of the initiative. “We have a high school that’s almost empty. We need to do something and we need to do it, I think, now,” she said.
If the public votes down the budget on April 21, it will go to a committee of the City Council for further cuts.
The March 17 issue of the Reporter incorrectly listed Board of Education term limits as four years, when they are in fact three years.
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at email@example.com.