At least 63 employees of the Hoboken Board of Education will be laid off due to cuts in the board’s 2014 budget, Superintendent of Schools Mark Toback said on Thursday. Additionally, six of the district’s early childhood classrooms are being transferred to a contracted preschool provider, costing at least three teachers their jobs.
Toback said the layoffs are the result of a variety of factors, including a decline in the state aid typically offered to the district and the rising costs the district must pay the city’s various charter schools each year.
“The cuts come from all parts of our operating budget, including administration, the business office, custodial departments, transportation, non-mandated instructional aides, security... every effort was made to protect the teaching and learning process,” Toback said. “We will be working with the unions to try and protect some jobs.”
Among the victims of the layoffs are the district’s bus drivers, who are tasked with transporting special needs students. The district will attempt to save money by privatizing transportation.
“We will be working with the unions to try and protect some jobs.” – Superintendent Mark Toback
“These people [the drivers] have been working over 30 years with them,” Gary Enrico, the president of the Hoboken Education Association, was quoted as saying on News 12. “They know the kids, they know the families, they are from Hoboken. So our kids will now be picked up by strangers and transported by strangers and we’re not happy about that.”
Toback attributed the layoffs to six factors: the decline in state aid, a 40 percent reduction in federal aid, the rise in charter school costs, a loss of school choice revenue (money the district receives when students from outside of Hoboken attend Hoboken schools), a food service deficit, and a lack of revenue from last year’s budget surplus.
And while Toback has called the layoffs unfortunate, he recently pointed to several ways that the district reduced costs in an effort to minimize the layoffs. Textbook purchases scheduled for this year, originally marked at $100,000, will be reduced by half, as will the large facilities management budget. Additionally, special education program spending will be reduced by $300,000. Paired with other cost-cutting strategies, Toback said, the district’s $64.8 million budget was already down nearly $1 million prior to it ever being made public.
Taxes still rising
Despite the layoffs, Hoboken residents can still expect to a see an increase in their school taxes. The new budget, which was passed by the board at a meeting two weeks ago, contains a 3.9 percent tax rate increase and a levy (the amount that comes from taxes) of $39 million.
At a budget presentation in March, the board’s business administrator, William Moffitt, portrayed the Hoboken public school district as having fallen on hard times due to funding cuts and new charter school costs. Though the budget doesn’t represent an overall increase from last year, the tax levy is $1.5 million higher than the 2013 tax levy of $37.9 million.
Toback described Hoboken’s situation as similar to the struggles facing districts statewide. State education policies are pushing more of the burden to taxpayers, he said. Specifically, the state’s school choice program, which pays districts to allow students from outside Hoboken to attend the city’s schools, is being curtailed this year at the behest of Gov. Christopher Christie. The result is a loss of $250,000 to the district, he said.
Additionally, Hoboken must deal with rising salaries, increases in health care, special education, and food service costs, while still dealing with a 15 percent reduction in federal funding.
Finally, the district will pay the city’s three charter schools $8.3 million this year, up from $7.5 million last year. That number has doubled since 2010, when the district only had to give $4.1 million for the charters. The district is given extra aid to cover the charters too, but recently the board has complained that the cost is still too much.
The board has aroused controversy recently by opposing the state-granted expansion of the Hoboken Dual-Language Charter School (HoLa) to eighth grade. The state is concerned that HoLa could cost around $1.25 million in the next few years – though it’s unclear how much of that would be covered by state aid. School officials have recently said the charters are “bankrupting” the district.
A spokeswoman for HoLa has called the district blaming layoffs on charter costs “unfair.”
The board’s total budget in 2010 was $59.2 million, $5.6 million less than this year’s proposed $64.8 million.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at email@example.com