Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bayonne Board of Education met to handle the most important items on their agenda, primarily the approval of the budget for the 2020 to 2021 school year.
The meeting, held March 24 at the Anna J. Herbert Board Meeting Room, was open to the public. However, Board Secretary Gary Maita told the Bayonne Community News that those in attendance would be tested for a fever at the door.
After taking their temperature, if the person showed signs of a fever, they were not permitted to attend. Per the livestream, their appeared to be only three members of the public present.
Most of the board was present at the meeting over the phone, with President Maria Valado among the only members present in person. Trustee Michael Alonso was absent altogether.
Budget increases nearly $20 million
The board voted to adopt a tentative budget totaling $164,300,621 dollars. The board, minus Alonso, voted unanimously to approve the budget. The budget consists of $146,744,541 from the General Fund and $17,556,080 from Special Revenue.
The budget calls for a 1 percent tax levy, marking a tax increase of $69,754,376 dollars.
Last year, under the leadership of Trustee Joseph Broderick, the board passed a $146.1-million-dollar budget. It was a contentious vote, passing by a razor thin margin of 5-4.
For the 2019 to 2020 school year, the tax levy also totaled approximately $69.6 million dollars.
Previously, the board was divided on the tax increase reflected in the 2019 to 2020 budget. Valado appeared to favor a bigger tax increase while Alonso and Munoz said that the increase was too much.
This year, the board was unanimous in their decision and no-onespoke neither in favor nor against the tentative budget.
Any comments for the public session were asked to be sent ahead of the meeting, and also at the start of the livestream, by email to [email protected]. They were read into the record by the Board Secretary at the end of the meeting.
The online streaming of the meeting, as well as social distancing, are part of preventative measures put in place to stop the further spread of COVID-19.
Residents could also attend the meeting and give comment in person, although New Jersey residents were ordered by Gov. Phil Murphy to stay at home.
Tentative budget concerns
In a submitted written comment, Bayonne resident Charles Ryan questioned the budget contingency funds considering the challenges the year may hold regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Members of the board said the current budget funds have been made available for home instructions, additional help and any other costs incurred by the pandemic.
Gene Woods, Bayonne Education Association President, spoke on the budget in person at the meeting.
Woods’ primary line of questioning pertained to the 1 percent tax levy proposed in the tentative budget.
Woods wanted to know why the city was not taking advantage of the tax levy. Woods called for the tax levy in the Board of Education budget be raised to 2 percent in order to better support the school district.
According to Woods, the schools are crumbling and enrollment is increasing. Even with the hiring of new staff members to support the increased enrollment, the district is still short of necessary staff including teachers, counselors, nurses and school psychologists.
Woods argued that $6 million dollars from a 1 percent increase to the tax levy could help schools hire more staff and fix buildings.
In response, the board noted there is only a 1 percent tax levy because of the $2.5 million dollar in surplus that is being used in the budget.
The board said it was going to look at increasing the tax levy in the future. It noted that with a $20 million dollar increase in the budget, the board is comfortable with a 1 percent tax levy.
Woods also asked when the district would receive promised Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) funds from the city for tax abatements given to developers on Avenue E and across Bayonne.
The board stated it is working with city to redo local agreements including the mentioned agreement between the district and the city.
Teachers commended for virtual instruction
Some other comments included teachers and parents praising the transition to virtual learning.
“My son is learning what he needs to,” Melissa Rodriguez, a teacher in the Bayonne School District, said in a letter to the Board of Education. “Bayonne teachers keep up the hard work.”
Woods thanked Superintendent of Schools John Niesz for what he’s done for school district in terms of COVID-19 preparation. Woods said his actions were ahead of a lot of other districts in the County.
At the meeting, Woods also commended Rodriguez for her words, stating that she spoke on behalf of teachers in the school district. Many teachers within the district have kids of their own that they are now homeschooling as well.
Anthony D’Amico thanked Superintendent Niesz and the administration for their leadership in this time.
“I’m proud the district has been proactive and not reactive,” D’Amico said. “Teachers have been amazing in virtual learning process.”
Charles Ryan thanked the teachers, administration and staff for their efforts during the current crisis for doing a fantastic job under difficult circumstances.
Alicia DeMaria asked the Board if it was against the law for teachers to teach virtual learning by creating a video of themselves. According to Board of Education attorneys, no such law exists.
At the end of the meeting, President Valado took time to thank the teachers and parents for their fantastic work amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Valado extended her thanks to the community for coming together for the better of the students.
Now that it has been approved, the budget will head to the County for further approval.
The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on April 28 in the Anna J. Herbert Board Meeting Room at the Bayonne Board of Education at 669 Avenue A.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at [email protected]
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