The head of the Paterson teachers’ union facing massive jobs cuts is asking the school district to join a lawsuit, filed by Jersey City, challenging how the state is providing funding in some urban districts.
A total of 234 Paterson school district employees, including 166 teachers, are awaiting layoff notices next week, union president John McEntee said.
In an interview Thursday, McEntee alluded to the April 29 lawsuit from the Jersey City school board contesting steep cuts in state school aid. (More than 270 teachers in Jersey City received layoff notices this week.)
“We’re pushing to join the lawsuit with Jersey City,” McEntee said.
“It’s the bottom of the 9th, two outs, bases loaded type of move. But at the same token, what have we got to lose,” he said.
McEntee was among a delegation of about 200 from Paterson who went to Trenton on March 27, in a so-far unsuccessful bid to attain an additional $28 million in state aid that would offset the layoffs and program cuts that were approved Tuesday night by the school board.
The districts’ situations are not exactly the same. Jersey City’s state aid for the 2019-20 school year is being reduced by $27.1 million, and the city also is facing continued cuts over the next six years. But, Paterson is receiving an additional $13.2 million.
Paterson Schools Superintendent Eileen Shafer, in a statement from the K-12 district upon the $609.9 million budget’s adoption Tuesday, referenced “increases in mandated expenditures that whittled away most of the increase in state aid to the district.”
Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh said the city’s public schools “were placed in a difficult position this year, needing to cut teachers and programs as well as raise taxes to balance their budget.”
“I appreciate that Governor Murphy has given the Paterson Public Schools a record amount of funding this year, but it is still not what our students deserve based on the school funding formula. This just shows how underfunded we were,” Sayegh said in an email sent by his spokesperson.
The Paterson school district, like Jersey City did last fall, is in the process of regaining full control of its operation from the state.
McEntee, though, said that progress is being undercut by the lack of sufficient funding.
“They gave us local control back – well, congratulations. Here’s an empty pocketbook. They left us on ‘E,’” he said, making a comparison to someone returning a car that is almost out of gas.
In addition to the 234 job cuts, the 2019-20 school budget in Paterson will undo one of the district’s much-touted achievements – offering art and music programs at every elementary school.
The loss of 29 supervisors and 23 vice principals is expected to negatively impact teacher professional development and school administration, schools officials said.
The budget also will raise municipal taxes by 14 percent, adding up to a $195 increase for the average home valued at $195,000.
The law firm representing Jersey City in its lawsuit did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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