The taxpayers will contribute $72 million for the school budget.
Members of the board cited the state-mandated "Whole School Reform" model and a state-negotiated personnel contract as the primary reasons behind the additional spending.
As one of the 30 Abbott "special needs" school districts in New Jersey, the Jersey City school district was ordered by the courts to follow the Whole School Reform model. The model, which was implemented three years ago, enables each school to prepare its own budget and encourages parental involvement. In addition, each school selects a specific educational model that best fits the character of the school.
But "Whole School Reform" has been the source of an escalating budget for Jersey City, officials say.
Board members charged at their meeting Thursday that instead of spending money on supplies, teachers, or classroom activities, increasing amounts are paid to consultants who help teachers adjust to the new program. The schools have hired state-sanctioned consultants who represent the companies that developed the models. According to Associate Superintendent of Schools Francis Dooley, each of the 40 schools in the district has spent approximately $80,000 on consultants. In addition, the school district sends some teachers to receive professional development training about the model being used in their classroom.
"I see all this money being spent on consultants," said Franklin Williams, vice chairman of the board. Board members questioned what value the consultants provide to the school and suggested they submite a task sheet that justifies the hours charged. "We have to be the ones to put our foot down," he said. "Somebody has to say that the Emperor doesn't have any clothes on."
According to the board, the increase in spending makes supplemental aid necessary to supply the basic ingredients of an education. "To do anything else would cut our staff and take away supplies from our kids," said Rev. Edward Allen, a board member.
Superintendent Charles Epps said the school district has the flexibility to decide whether or not to continue with the Whole School Reform models, making a distinction between the Whole School Reform program in general and the specific models it encourages. Despite conceding to the "astronomical cost" of the program, he said the school district is "better off" than it was before.
In reference to the budget increase, Epps said he checked with other superintendents presiding over Abbott districts to discover that they all asked for more money. However, Epps said Jersey City is unlikely to receive the extra funds because "the bottom line is that the state doesn't have the money."
A public hearing on the budget will be held at P.S. 11 on Tuesday at 6 p.m. A slide presentation will break down the budget and detail what academic programs, after-school activities, and other expenditures the budget includes for the 2002-2003 school year. Liberty High School woes
Kenneth Williams, a student representative from Liberty High School, a growing 150-student school that rents space from Hudson County Community College, addressed the board with concerns about the limited space available in the three-year-old high school.
"We're being deprived of the work that needs to be done on a daily basis," Williams said. In addition to having spatial problems, Williams said, Liberty High School classes often have substitute teachers, poor ventilation, no gymnasium for recreational activities, and a "grave supply problem."
Beginning in 1999, the school enrolled 50 students into its freshman class. But with an additional 50 incoming freshman each year, the student body has reached its maximum capacity of 150 students, and an additional 50 are expected to enroll in September, when it has a 12th grade for the first time.
According to Chairperson Suzanne Mack, the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency had long promised that a new site would be acquired and developed for the college and high school to share. Although no definite plans have been made, Epps said the situation might be resolved by September as the school administration actively seeks another site for the high school. In the meantime, students are bussed to the Boys & Girls Club on Fridays for physical education.
Spotlighting a paradigm of good attendance, the board recognized an eighth-grade special education class in P.S. 23 that has not missed a day of school since December. Lenore Francis, who teaches the class, said her students truly understand that a day missed from school is a "day lost forever." Epps commended her success rate and awarded each student a wristwatch.
The board also honored Ercel F. Webb, a former teacher and community activist who died in 1999, by naming P.S. 22 "Rev. Dr. Ercel F. Webb School." Many congregates from the Monumental Baptist Church where Webb was a pastor attended the board meeting to recite some of his accomplishments.
Last month, the City Council passed an ordinance that changed the name of Lafayette Park to Webb Park.