ELIZABETH, NJ – The Elizabeth Board of Education recently approved a budget that is close to half a billion dollars, which they said is the result of cuts in aid and higher overall costs. As a result, the average homeowner will find their school tax will increase by $200 to $300 this year.
The $499 million school spending plan passed by a 5-to-3 vote, with Ana Marie Amin, Tony Monteiro, Carlos Trujillo, Elcy Castillo-Ospina and Paul Pereira in favor, and Jose Rodriguez, Maria Carvalho and Stan Neron against the measure.
According to the school district, 25 cents of every tax dollar goes to “provide a high quality education at an affordable price.”
The school district will receive $417.1 million in state aid, which is down $2 million from last year. The district will also receive $15.1 million in federal aid, which is up slightly over the 2014-15 school year.
School officials said state aid has been dropping the last few years, which makes operating the schools more challenging with rising school enrollment. Because the district is projecting to add 1,154 students to the roster next year on top of the 926 new students that enrolled this year, the district had to reduce expenditures by $38 million for the 2015-16 school year.
This increase, though, will require the district to hire 36 more teachers for next year at a cost of $3.1 million, or a $7.5 million increase in instructional costs, which will total $398.1 million for 2015-16. The new faculty includes 24 bilingual teachers, four math teachers, three English teachers, two social studies teachers, a science teacher, an engineering teacher, and a special education teacher.
The budget also called for an end to an extended day for students in kindergarten through eighth grade because of the high cost of transportation. Classes next year will go from 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. with the high school hours operating from 7:30 a.m. until 3:57 p.m.
The district also has other increased costs, including benefit costs of $5 million, special education costs for 79 out-of-district students at $7.3 million, special education personnel support services of $3.6 million and transportation at $1.8 million.
Per pupil costs were calculated at $15,978 by the school district using the total current expense, not including tuition, transportation and judgments against the district. This calculation, they said, is in keeping with the state Department of Education comparative spending.
The board pointed out that when it came to the distribution of tax dollars for Elizabeth property owners, 60 percent of that bill goes to the city, 15 percent to the county and just 25 percent to the schools.
The school board took exception to Mayor Chris Bollwage insisting there should be a thorough review of the 2015-2016 school budget to determine whether the board can impose such a burden on taxpayers.
“Like all school districts, the Elizabeth school district prepares its budget following instructions incorporated into the budget guidelines and electronic data collection manuals published by the New Jersey Department of Education Office of School Finance. It is submitted for approval to the executive county superintendent and business administrator,” said a school spokesperson, noting “the department’s budgetary software does not allow districts to budget a levy that is not compliant with the state formula or violating the cap rules.”