After seven days of reviewing the budget, number crunching and tough decisions, the Board of Education approved a $46.6 million budget that, according to Curko, represents no tax increase on the school portion of the property tax bill.
The board-approved budget will still have to be approved by taxpayers during the April 15 school board election. If it's voted down, it goes to a City Council committee for recommended changes.
The plan for spending runs from July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2004. The budget, which passed unanimously, calls for $28.2 million to be raised locally by taxes. The public is able to view the full budget at the Board of Education's administration offices at 1115 Clinton St.
Just a week earlier, the district's administration painted a less rosy picture of the budget. In the budget that was introduced on March 18 by Curko, there was a call for an inflated $48 million in spending and a $2.5 million increase in the tax levy, which represents about a 10 percent increase. After a week of burning the midnight oil, the board and Curko modified that preliminary budget to create one with no tax increase.
There are several ways to modify the budget and lower the tax levy. Some ways are to find new revenue, defer costs or cut programs and services.
On the revenue side, Curko said Tuesday that several new income sources were added between March 18 and March 25. The largest is almost $800,000 in additional state aid for the district's kindergarten program, which was confirmed this week, but was not anticipated in the preliminary budget.
Another new revenue sources is a recent $207,000 award in state court. The district's attorneys recently argued that Hoboken deserves extra funding for its 3- and 4-year-old programs because it offers several hours of extra services without being compensated. The district anticipates collecting $207,000.
Another new revenue source was created by increasing the anticipated enrollment in the schools' special education program. Not every neighboring district has its own special education program. Some cities bus their special education students to Hoboken. Curko said Tuesday that one neighboring district will send three new students, generating an additional $54,000 for the district.
In addition to the approximately $1.2 million in new revenue, the approved budget also readjusted its schedule of appropriations by $1.28 million. Appropriations are items on which the district is spending money.
The biggest single line item is $388,000 fewer dollars that the board is budgeting for the charter schools. Charter Schools are public schools funded by tax dollars, but instead of reporting to the Board of Education, they have independent boards that make programming and curriculum decisions.
Charter schools funding are based on enrollment, meaning that for every student enrolled, the charter school gets a set amount of money.
Curko said Tuesday that the approved budget only accounts for 90 percent of the anticipated enrollment. He added that traditionally, the city's charter schools have over-anticipated what their actual enrollment is going to be. Because of that fact, he is only budgeting 90 percent of the anticipated enrollment.
"So you are working off historically accurate numbers?" asked Board President Jack Raslowsky II at a meeting Tuesday.
"Yes," replied Curko.
It is important to note that if the charter schools do end up having 100 percent enrollment, they will get their full funding. The board is legally obligated to give the charter schools their full funding.
"If they do get 100 percent enrollment, we're going to have to find an additional $388,000," said Curko. He said if that happens, the board has a surplus of approximately $650,000 on which it could draw.
Curko said that the additional $900,000 in reduced appropriations comes in the form of relatively small "general housekeeping" measures that are single line items.
"I'm very pleased that we're back here with a budget that represents no tax increase," said Raslowsky shortly before taking a vote on the budget.
Michele Russo, who was attending her last meeting Tuesday, thanked Curko for his work on the budget and said she is pleased that the will not be a tax increase.
"I'm absolutely pleased that in my three years on the board, we haven't had a tax increase," said Russo. She is not running for re-election in April.
According to Curko, there are several items that made constructing this year's budget particularly difficult. The biggest increase was $529,000 in employee health benefits, a problem plaguing all government agencies. The Board of Education saw a 22 percent increase last year and expects a similar increase this year.
Another sizable increase in for the charter schools, even with lowering the anticipated appropriation. They are set to get $344,315 more than the previous budget.
An additional increase is the proposed renovations of JFK Stadium's Field House to include space for the girls' athletic program. The state is funding $2 million for the field's surface, but has awarded no allotment to renovate the field house. The renovation will cost $450,000 and, according to Board of Education President John Raslowsky II, the renovation of the field house is necessary to conform to Title IX, the federal law requiring all schools to provide equal facilities and opportunities to men and women.
There are other budgetary increases in insurance costs and the costs of special and early education programs.
On the revenue side, Curko said that the state has not increased funding in the past three years for its special education aid, transportation aid and bilingual education aid. According to him, costs in those programs continue to rise, but funding does not, which burdens the district. The approved budget calls for approximately $13.5 million in state aid and $3.45 million in federal aid.
Caption SPENDING PLAN APPROVED - Students mill about outside Hoboken High School Friday morning before class. Their education, and that of their classmates in the district, is going to cost around $46.6 million for the next fiscal year, according to the budget that was approved Tuesday. Teachers get 4 percent
After months of prolonged and protracted negotiations between the Hoboken Education Association (the teachers' union) and the Board of Education, the sides have reached an amicable teachers' contract. Since July 2002, when the old contract expired, the district's negotiating team has met with the union dozens of times to try to hammer out an acceptable contract for both sides.
The terms of the new contract, according to district Business Administrator Anthony Curko, calls for a 4 percent salary increase per year for this year and the next two.
The city's teachers have shown overwhelming support for the new agreement. The contract passed by a convincing 213 to 22 union vote.
"The members agree that it was a fair contract," said Mary McGavin, a Hoboken English teacher since 1968 and the president of the Hoboken Education Association. McGavin added that, as with every contract, there were tense moments, but the nearly nine-month long negotiations were for the most part cordial and civil.
"Our teachers work very hard, and we wanted to make sure [the Board of Education] showed their appreciation and respect through a fair contract," she said.
McGavin pointed to the district's improvements in its standardized test scores. According to figures supplied by the New Jersey Department of Education, in the 1997-1998 school year, only 64.1 percent of students passed the High School Proficiency Test in October and April of their junior year. That was well below the statewide average of 83.5 percent passing. In the 2000-2001 school year, 97.5 percent of Hoboken's students passed. The average is 81.3 percent statewide.
According to Board of Education President, Jack Raslowsky II, those scores make Hoboken the best performing Abbott School/special needs district in the state.
He added that he believes this new contract shows the teachers their due respect while keeping its eye on the bottom line. "It's a plus all the way around," he said. "It both rewards the teachers for their good work and is a fiscally responsible contract." - Tom Jennemann