Because Bayonne has no elected Board of Education, the mayor, two members of the board of education and two members of the city council meet to review the budget proposed by the Board of Education. In passing the budget, the Board of School Estimate made numerous cuts that reduced the projected increase from an original $7.2 million increase to $4.5 million.
So the new budget will rise from $106 million in 2006-2007 to about $110 million for the 2007-2008.
This means that $53,639,581 will have to be raised from local taxes.
Mayor Joseph Doria said the impact on the tax rate will be felt over a two-year period, or adding $1 to the rate each year.
The budget was passed in two resolutions because the board went over the state mandated spending cap, and under state law must itemize those items for review. Cuts were made in both the basic budget as well as the over the cap budget to achieve the reduction in the expected tax increase.
The budget rose because of several factors including more than a $4 million increase in salaries, more than $1 million increase in health costs and other areas.
Board recommends cuts
To hold down the cost to taxpayers this year, board members agreed to eliminate funding to a non-critical speech study program, and cut back in other expenses throughout the budget.
While medical costs rose last year, Doria said that the new budgeted figure could be trimmed by $150,000. The board also agreed to cut $290,000 set aside for new text books. This would only affect the implementation of new series. Old text books would still be replaced as needed.
Sports programs will see a cut of $50,000, although Councilman Anthony Chiappone had proposed a cut of $200,000.
Chiappone also questioned the needed for new vice principal positions in some of the elementary schools, and suggested that these be cut in order to trim administrative costs.
Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia McGeehan said the new positions were needed because of the increased workload faced at Walter F. Robinson School and Woodrow Wilson School, where additions have caused a dramatic increase in student population.
"Some of the schools have 700 to 800 students," McGeehan said. "It is very difficult for one person to serve as the educational leader and still do everything else that needs to be done."
Robinson School has also taken on bilingual education programs for the district, and Woodrow Wilson handles the districts autistic student programs.
Board of Education President William Lawson pointed out that Bayonne has a very low ratio for administrative costs per student.
Doria, seeking to avoid laying off personnel, which he said would have a negative impact on educational programs, suggested that $1.2 million be cut from salaries and that positions be eliminated through attrition.
"In other words, we won't fill all positions when they become vacant," he said.
This would include a vice principal in the system who is expected to retire this year.
Lawson said this is the second round of cuts from this budget and that the Board of Education had made $770,000 in cuts prior to presenting the budget to the Board of School Estimate.
Chiappone also asked if school property at Horace Mann School might be used to provide the school district with additional revenue by converting some of the large space in front for use as public parking. He noted that this could be run by the city's Parking Authority, and could help offset some of the increases in the budget.
Board of Education Business Administrator Clifford Doll asked for an estimated revenue amount, although Doria said this was a bit risky because the funds would need to be raised before the end of the budget year.
But he agreed this was an area worth investigating in the future. Parking, as noted by Councilman Gary La Pelusa (speaking as a member of the general public) is sorely needed in the uptown area.
One other area that may produce future savings is the expected opening of the new P.S. No. 14 School in September, which will take on a new role as a neighborhood school holding classes from pre-k to eighth grade, as well as the host school for the district's gifted and talented programs. Because existing teachers, principal and support staff will be used, and teachers will be drafted from other schools to handle the increased classes the new facility will generate, and the district will not have to expend additional money next year on salaries.
McGeehan said increased school admissions have already filled the classroom space in the two new additions so that the P.S. No. 14 will play a critical role in relieving the burden on other schools in the area.
Doll said he has already talked to the Master Plan Committee about the impact on local schools from new and upcoming development. One pattern has already been seen in older housing stock. As senior citizens move out, younger residents with kids are moving in, and will have an impact on school populations in the future.
Back to the Board of Education
Doll said the next step is for the budget to return to the Board of Education to implement the cuts.
While the Board of School Estimate sets the amount of taxes to be raised and recommends areas where cuts might be made, the Board of Education can deviate from the recommendations and cut in other areas to achieve the same results. If the two bodies disagree on the cuts, the Board of Education can appeal the Board of School Estimate's recommendations to the state Commissioner of Education, who has the final say.
If the Board of Education feels it can live with the cut, it decides which areas the cuts will come from. For instance, one recommendation asked to cut $1.2 million salaries through attrition. But this year a bus driver is retiring and the school district will need to replace that position.
"The Board of Education may also think that a cut in one area may have too big an impact and may choose to cut from another area instead," Doll said.
The Board of Education is expected to take up the matter at its next scheduled meeting on April 24.
"Making these cuts has not been an easy process," Doria said. "But the members of this board all took this process very seriously, and we did manage to reduce the impact on the taxpayers this year."