Taking its cue from Mayor Mark Smith, who stated earlier this month that he didn’t want to see any tax increase for Bayonne residents despite heavy cuts in state aid, the Bayonne school board has voted to slash next year’s school budget by 10 percent.
They will now send the $115.5 million plan back to the Board of School Estimate, where it is expected to get its final approval at a meeting late in the summer, on Aug. 31.
“The mayor made it very clear that he does not want us to raise taxes,” said Board President Will Lawson in an interview this week. “We understand that taxpayers are hurting and so we’re going to have to make the cuts.”
The state cut the district’s aid by $5.7 million for the upcoming 2010-2011 school year, leaving school officials to find ways to keep its promise to slash the budget.
“We have a committee looking into areas we might be able to save.” – Will Lawson
Lawson, who is also a member of the Board of School Estimate, said he would oppose any recommendation from that board to raise taxes, too.
In a district where the Board of Education is appointed, a Board of School Estimate – made up of members of the Board of Education, the mayor and the City Council – meets to review the budget and make cuts where necessary.
“The Board of School Estimate cannot tell us where to make the cuts; the Board of Education must do that. But in this case, I believe we are all in agreement about not raising taxes,” Lawson said.
Bayonne, Lawson said, is already underfunded from the state.
“This is why a few years ago, we received $8 million in extra aid to make up for aid we should have received,” he said.
Despite the shock of the cuts imposed by the governor, Lawson said the district was prepared.
“We have a committee looking into areas we might be able to save,” he said.
While he said he could not yet comment on what areas might be considered, calling the cuts “a work in progress,” he said the district has some hopeful areas – including the fact that the contract with the teachers expires on June 30, leaving many areas open for negotiation that might have been closed otherwise.
Changes in healthcare last year, plus a provision for employees to pay a portion of their healthcare premiums, will help reduce the district’s costs in the upcoming year.
As for other areas of cuts, Lawson said, it was still too early to point to “this or that,” although the Board of Education has asked the schools’ Central Office – which includes the superintendent of schools and her staff – to begin taking a close look at possible areas.
Lawson also said there are several state bills that the Board of Education is keeping a close look at – including one involving pension reform – that could provide financial relief to the district.
“The one thing we’re not going to do is panic,” he said.