The Hoboken Board of Education voted Tuesday night to introduce a $56.8 million budget to run the district’s six schools and two charter schools.
The board will have a public hearing and final vote on the budget at their March 25 meeting. Then, the public gets to vote for or against the budget during the April 15 school board election.
If the public votes against the budget, it goes before the City Council to make more cuts.
The budget, up nearly $4 million from last year’s $52.9 million spending plan, does not call for an increase in the tax rate, officials said.
Each property owner in Hoboken pays a quarterly amount in taxes to the city, schools, and county. Each of the three entities strikes a budget once a year.
Superintendent Jack Raslowski said at the meeting, “There was no interest on my part as superintendent, or on the part of the board members individually or collectively, to have any increase to the tax rate.”
However, the actual amount of money the board will collect in taxes is $36 million, up from $32.7 million last year. Since more people are paying taxes, the tax rate will remain relatively stable.
Officials said that the increase in costs comes partly from increases in salaries, and new school programs.
Of the $56.8 million, $16.4 million will be paid via state aid. $2.8 million comes from federal aid, and $1.7 million comes from additional revenue, such as fees paid to the schools for use of their facilities. That leaves $36 million in spending for the taxpayers to cover.
New sound system
Tuesday’s meeting was the first board meeting to use the new sound system and microphones that were purchased as the result of a lawsuit filed by Councilwoman Beth Mason against the board concerning open meetings.
Mason was in attendance.
Raslowski said to her, “Councilwoman, I hope you admire the new mics,” to which she answered a hearty, “Yes.”
Board Business Administrator Brian Buckley, who worked on preparing the budget, said that the board’s two priorities were “educational needs and no tax increase.”
Board President Theresa Minutillo said Tuesday that she hadn’t had much of a chance to review the budget.
“The board will have the next several weeks to review the budget and make recommendations to the superintendent,” she said.
Board member Carmelo Garcia raised questions about Hoboken’s high per-student cost, compared to similar school districts.
The state’s most recent school report card estimated that Hoboken pays $16,040 per student, the highest per pupil cost in the state, not counting some mandatory costs. In the 2006-2007 school year, the average Hoboken teacher earned $25,000 more per year than statewide, largely due to the number of older teachers on the staff.
“We’re always getting attacked on the per-pupil cost, so I was hoping to see a plan, a three-year or five-year plan, on how we are planning to reduce our budget,” Garcia said.
Raslowski, who referred to Garcia as a “bulldog” on this issue, explained that high per-student costs were due mostly to personnel expenditures.
“The bulk of our expenses are in salary and benefits,” Raslowski said, adding that cutting personnel would only be done if it is “in the interest of the students, community, faculty, and staff.”
Some new projects covered in the budget include expanding the autistic children program from ages 3 to 5 to include ages 6 to 9. They also will be using the high school’s TV studio with an additional faculty member to assist production.
It also includes new programs in cosmetology, audio production, and culinary arts at the Demarest School.
Longtime board member James Farina, said that in recent years, “The good citizens of this town, year after year, even with those numbers going up, have always voted to approve our budget.”
This was Raslowski’s first budget proposal as superintendent. He said it went well, but he would like to improve the timing of communication between his staff, the state, and the board.
“As far as the timing of the whole budget process, I now have better insight into that,” he said.
Board member Anthony Romano mentioned the plan to expand the primary schools to grade K at some time in the future.
“Would that impact the cost per-pupil eventually, considering that we’re prepared to remove the two middle schools?” he asked.
Raslowski said that “eventually” it would.
Board members Tricia Snyder and Garcia said that enrollment in the district is expected to climb by 100 students next year.
The schools also have eight non-resident students who pay tuition ranging from $20,000 to $30,000 to attend school in Hoboken.
The board will hold their next meeting Tuesday, March 18 at 7 p.m., but the budget vote is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, March 25 also at 7 p.m.
Board meetings are held at the Board of Education, 1115 Clinton St., adjacent to the Wallace Primary School.
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