This coming Tuesday at 8 p.m., the board will hold a public hearing, then vote to approve, amend or vote down the budget. The public will also have the opportunity to speak. Once the board members approve the budget, the Hoboken voters can vote to accept or reject it during the April 15 school board election.
The public can view the preliminary budget at the Board of Education's administration offices at 1115 Clinton St.
The budget calls for $48 million in spending for the 2003 to 2004 fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2004. Last April, voters approved a $44.75 million budget for the Board of Education.
After all the revenues and appropriations are totaled, according to the introduced budget, $31.3 million will need to be raised by local property taxes. According to Curko, that would be a $2.5 million increase in the tax levy from the previous year. If the budget were to pass without modifications, which is unlikely, there would be approximately a 10 percent increase in the school portion of the resident's property tax bill.
According to the budget, there are several big-ticket items that account for a multimillion increase in spending. The biggest is a $732,315 increase in the funding of the city's two charter schools. Charter Schools are public schools funded by tax dollars, but instead of reporting to the Board of Education, they have independent boards that make programming and curriculum decisions.
According to Curko, the increase in charter school spending is due to an anticipated increase in enrollment. Charter school funding is calculated by the amount of students enrolled.
The second biggest swell is a $529,000 anticipated increase in employee health benefits, a problem plaguing all government agencies. According to Curko, the Board of Education saw a 22 percent increase in the cost of health benefits last year and expects a similar cost increase this year.
The third biggest increase is the proposed renovations of JFK Stadium's Field House, to include space for the district's girl's athletic program. The state is funding $2 million for the field's surface, but has awarded no allotment to renovate the field house. The renovation will cost $450,000 and, according to Board of Education President John Raslowsky II, the renovation of the field house is necessary to conform to Title IX, the federal law that requires all schools to provide equal facilities and opportunities to men and women. "This is an equity issue," said Raslowsky Tuesday.
There are other budgetary increases in insurance costs, and the costs of special and early education programs. The Board of Education is also slated to receive $12.5 in state aid and $3.45 million in federal aid.
Not the final budget
To avoid imposing a tax increase, the Board of Education can find additional sources of revenue, apply for more state aid, defer current expenses, or cut services or programs. "If we agree that the budget must be amended to show no tax increase," said board member David Anthony Tuesday, "my suggestion to achieve this goal is for us to form a budget committee to work closely with the administration to close the gap."
Anthony added that he would not support a budget with a tax increase. "In these tough economic times it would be unfair to burden our taxpayers with a 10 percent tax increase," said Anthony.
Toward the end of the meeting, Raslowsky asked for volunteers from the board to sit on an ad hoc budget committee, which was formed to review and make amendments to the budget. Raslowsky chairs the committee, which includes Anthony, Carmelo Garcia and board Vice President Wanda Santana-Alicea as members.
"This is not the first time we've been faced with tough decisions," said long-time board member James Farina. "In its final form I'm sure we're going to accomplish the goal [of keeping a stable tax rate]."
Garcia said that in the seven days between meetings, the board members will make adjustments to the proposed budget. "We're committed to a flat tax rate," said Garcia, who also works for City Hall. "Our goal to stabilize taxes by crunching the numbers. We're going to work with the administration to see where we can generate additional revenue, as well as see what cuts can be made. Under no circumstances is it acceptable for an increase in taxes to occur."
Big piece of the pie
A large piece of the tax pie is made up by school taxes. Property taxes are made up of municipal, school, and county portions. While it's not uncommon for well over 100 people to pack the City Hall chamber for a City Council meeting, it's rare to see over a dozen people at a Board of Education meeting, even though taxpayers spend almost twice as much money to educate the city's children. In the municipal budget that just passed in January, $17.5 million is will be raised in municipal taxes, while the school board needs around $30 million to be raised in property taxes.