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Sweeney Calls Jersey City School Contract ‘Irresponsible’ and an Insult to New Jersey’s 382 Underfunded Districts

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Senate President: Every NJ taxpayer is paying for Jersey City contract because city is receiving $151 million more in state aid than it should under fair SFRA   

TRENTON – Senate President Steve Sweeney today sharply criticized the Jersey City Board of Education for approving a teacher contract with an 8.25 percent average raise over two years with the district facing a $71 million budget deficit and more than 300 layoffs.

“As school board member Matt Schapiro pointed out last night, the contract is ‘not grounded in fiscal reality,’” Senate President Sweeney said. “It is irresponsible for the Jersey City Board to approve an average increase of 8.25 percent over two years, including a stipend to cover part of the employee cost share of healthcare coverage, when teachers are facing layoffs and the quality of education is threatened. This can’t be a model for other districts.

“What makes it even worse is that the Jersey City Board of Education wrote a blank check that taxpayers in every other school district in New Jersey are going to have to reach into their pockets to pay,” he said. “That’s because Jersey City continues to get $151 million a year more in state aid than it would be receiving if the school funding formula was run fairly with the 10-year-old growth caps and Adjustment Aid eliminated. Meanwhile, Jersey City continues to contribute hundreds of millions less than its ‘local fair share’ of the school budget year after year to the tune of $256 million this year alone. The state is working to live up to its obligation to students, and Jersey City should be doing the same.”

Senator Sweeney applauded Schapiro, who was elected in November, for having the courage to stand up for teachers who will face layoffs and for schoolchildren who will face larger class sizes as a result of the decision of the school board to put raises ahead of teacher jobs and the quality of education.

Schapiro was quoted by The Jersey Journal warning that the contracts “send the wrong signal to our state legislators determining where precious education funding will go in the years to come. They send the wrong signal to our educators when we prioritize three percent raises over dozens or hundreds of jobs which could be lost, and who will have to look tomorrow at the faces of treasured colleagues who may lose their jobs at the end of this school year. Most importantly, they send the wrong signal to our students and families, who will lose the most of all when resources they need are no longer there.”

The Jersey City teacher contract approved last night includes a retroactive 3.5 percent pay raise for the 2017-2018 school year, a 2.75 percent hike for 2018-2019, and an additional stipend to cover health insurance costs of 1.75 percent of salary for individuals, 2 percent for couples and 2.25 percent for families, The Jersey Journal reported.

Senator Sweeney said the Jersey City contract makes him even more determined to work to fix the school funding formula during this spring’s budget process, and again applauded Acting Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet for saying during his testimony before the Senate Budget Committee on Tuesday that he is willing to do so.

“This is Exhibit A for why we need to run the state’s school funding formula the way it was supposed to be run, not distorted by growth caps and Adjustment Aid that lock the state into continuing to send hundreds of millions of dollars into once-depressed cities that are now booming while refusing to provide the proper aid to growing districts like Bayonne and Clifton,” Senator Sweeney said.

“The contract approved by the Jersey City school board is subsidized by taxpayers in every other town in New Jersey. I’m sure teachers in Trenton and Kingsway Regional and Newark and Woodbridge would all like big raises too, but they’re not getting the state aid they should. That’s why we are determined to change the formula now.”