Despite the budget being $94 million, only one member of the public attended the first night of the two-night session, and two people on the second. But board officials acknowledged input from resident Ted Zientek helped focus attention onto some areas for possible cuts.
The board voted on April 3 to trim the budget in order to avoid what would have been a tax increase.
If uncut, the tax increase would have meant an increase of $4 per $100,000 of assessed value. Officials said salaries are up about $3 million, and the district hired 12 new teachers accounting for about $900,000 more. A 9 percent rise in health benefits for employees accounts for $14 million. Also on the rise are natural gas costs, supplies and maintenance costs.
"We worked with the school system to contain costs and to hold the line on the budget," said Mayor Joseph Doria, chairman of the board. "Throughout the school budgetary process, my goal was to prevent a school tax increase while still providing for quality education. We have achieved that goal."
In her own statement in regard to the budget, Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia McGeehan said, "We have been working diligently and closely with the members of the Board of Education and the Board of School Estimate to assure effective and sound fiscal responsibility while maintaining an education system which has been recognized statewide for its academic improvement and success."
McGeehan said providing an education for a child costs money, but said that Bayonne is spending $9,219 per pupil, which is below the state average of $10,817 and the county average of $11,448. Ten other municipalities in Hudson County have a higher per student cost than Bayonne.
Councilman Anthony Chiappone, who along with Councilman John Halecky, the council members of the board, seemed to find common ground with Doria over some the areas of recommended cuts he brought to the public session on April 3.
Chiappone presented 13 budget items asking for a 10 percent cut in each, which resulted in about a $35,000 cut in the budget.
"I know it isn't a big bite, but it is symbolic," Chiappone.
Doria agreed, then submitted his own motion that would decrease the salary account for bilingual teachers by $140,000. The budget had set aside funding for up to six teachers, Schools Business Administrator Clifford Doll said the district could get by with four this year. Doria also asked to remove $112,000 from the administrative salary account that would have paid for an assistant principal.
Because two schools received Continuing Community Education grants, Halecky recommended cutting $86,000 of local budget money that would have been used to provide the same services. Also, because of a decrease in the number of special education students requiring tuition to private schools Halecky moved to cut $90,000 in tuition payments and another $90,000 in transportation costs.
Under New Jersey Law, in school districts that do not have an elected board of education, a board of school estimate has the authority to set the tax levy for school purposes and to initiate bond issues for school improvement.
"We have the right to cut the budget," Doria said. "But we do not have the power to negotiate contracts."
Board of school estimate is comprised of the mayor, two members of common council, and two members of the board of education.
The budget, which is submitted to the board of school estimate for approval, is the result of months of preparation and is based on the board of education's established priorities. Annually, the process begins in the late fall with input from teachers, principals, department supervisors and administrators.
The business administrator, in conjunction with the board, prepares a preliminary budget that is approved by the entire board before being submitted to the county superintendent of schools. During the preparation of the preliminary budget, public meetings are held to seek additional input from the community. Upon approval of the preliminary budget by the county superintendent, the final budget is determined and approved by the board of education before being presented to the board of school estimate in late March.
"Under previous city administrations, the Board of School Estimate members typically met only twice each year in the spring," Doria said. "When they faced too many surprises and too little time to make good decisions, I began the process of more frequent meetings throughout the year so that [the board] could take a more active and informed role in managing the school budget. As a result of these meetings [the board] was able to suggest appropriate cuts in the Board of Education's proposed budget."
"We have the right to cut the budget," Doria said. "But we cannot negotiate contracts."
Doll pointed out that while taxes won't be going up as a result of the cuts, the budget itself is still higher than it was last year, and that the increased costs were offset by $6.1 million in additional state aid. The additional aid was the result of legislation Doria submitted in his role as state senator.
This extra money, McGeehan said, helped to meet increased costs incurred by contractual obligations, health and liability insurance rates and energy rates.