NEWARK - The Newark Public Schools' $1.012 billion budget for the next school year turned a major corner when the advisory board approved it on a 6-3 vote here at the Central High School Auditorium March 29.
Board members Alturrick Kenney, Marques-Aquil Lewis and Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson voted against the proposed outlay. Board President Elaina Pintor Marin, vice president Shanique L. Davis-Speight and panelists Shavar Jeffries, Ivan Lamourt, Juan Rivera and Nakia J. White, however, carried the measure.
Pintor Marin saluted outgoing members Rivera and White for their overall six years' service after their last vote. The board president also wished Lewis, is vying against eight other candidates, "my heartfelt best of luck" in the April 17 school board election.
The $1,012,577,293 spending plan for the 2012-13 school year, however, is not yet finished.
NPS Central Office administrators, for example, are anticipating budgets from among the system's 75 building principals this week. Then the combined plan is to be forwarded to the Essex County Superintendent of Schools and the New Jersey Department of Education for their approval.
Then there are two areas for further adjustment.
The budget is operating on the presumption that State District Superintendent of Schools Cami Anderson's restructuring plan will also be approved by the advisory board at their April 24 meeting at the George Washington Carver School Auditorium.
That restructuring plan, on one hand, calls for: the creation of two gender-based high schools; the expansion of American History, Arts and Science Park high schools into the junior high school grades; 15 percent more early childhood centers in the South and West wards and the establishment of eight Kindergarten-Eighth Grade Renew Schools.
Anderson's "Bold Plan for Excellence, Efficiency and Equity," on the other hand, calls for the closing and/or moving of seven schools. Public school students at the following buildings will be absorbed into other designated schools: Barringer 9 Success Academy, Burnet Street School, Chancellor Avenue Annex, Dayton Street, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Eighteenth Avenue School and the West Side 9 NAF Academy.
The MLK School community is planning to present an education and fiscal counterproposal April 24 that would fulfill Anderson's Renew School goals while keeping the K-8 student body in its building. MLK students are to go to the renamed Thirteenth Avenue Renew School Technology Center Sept. 5; administrators and staff, like those at the other Renew Schools, have to reapply for their jobs.
The restructuring is projected to yield $5.5 million in utility and staff savings. Another $5 million was dialed into the budget for this year's savings from consolidating the Camden Elementary and Middle schools, closing Fifteenth Avenue School and receiving lease payments from at least five charter schools.
It may be not until Oct. 15 when the 2013-13 budget becomes final. That is when NPS' envisioned 68 school buildings - and the public charter schools operating in the city - are to have their official attendance figures set.
Official school enrollments on Oct. 15, when all student transfers are to be completed, determines how much federal and state aid the districts get.
NPS, like all other public and charter school districts statewide since 2008, are to base their budgets on per-pupil tuition. Having the tuition follow the student affects those children who enroll in the free or reduced lunch and breakfast programs.
The new budget, according to NPS Chief Financial Officer Foto Anagnostopoulos, includes an $875,533,147 operating budget. Another $141,044,146 in grants and entitlements push the budget above $1 billion for the first time in at least five years. The current school year budget was set at about $937 million, down $38 million from the 2010-11 school year budget due to a reduction in state aid.
State aid still plays a predominant role in operating New Jersey's largest public school system. The 2012-13 aid from Trenton makes up $716,343,147 of the operating budget. The anticipated property tax outlay, up 2,136,857 from last year, is $108,979,733.
This seven-to-one ratio is due to Newark being one of 31 so-called "Abbott School Districts" as determined by 12 State Supreme court decisions since 1974. The State Legislature is bound to fund up to 90 percent of the Abbott districts to fulfill the state's high court mandate for funding "a thorough and efficient education." (Irvington, East Orange and Orange are also among those districts targeted by the court's Abbott family et. al. vs. Education Commissioner Burke rulings.)
Anagaostopoulos, in her 30-minute PowerPoint slide show presentation, noted that the $717 million in state aid includes the $34 million that the State Supreme Court ordered the Gov. Chris Christie Administration and the State Legislature to restore. Although the state has increased its statewide education funding by $213 million from last year, Newark is actually receiving $700,000 less due to funding formula changes.
"There is $700,000 in the Edujobs funding that's in the budget," said Anagaostopoulos. "That is the last of the ($46.6 million over three years) AARA federal stimulus program from President Obama that is going away."
School administrators had forecasted a $36,330,433 budget gap. That gap is to be in part filled by the district shedding 1,610 positions.
That figure includes cutting 174 actual jobs and closing 156 vacancies from among teachers, staff, administrators and trade employees. Some of the cut teachers may be retained in a pool that Anderson started this year, where long-term substitute instructors are drawn from.
Anagaostopoulos also projected a continuing five-year decline in student enrollment among NPS' magnet and comprehensive schools.
The overall K-12 student body is anticipated to be six percent - from 37,700 to 36,068 - less in 2012-13 over the current year. The enrollment decline translates in per-pupil tuition dropping from $18,427 to $17,025.
The CFO's enrollment decline slide chart also includes the five year increase in charter school enrollment. New and existing charters are to take in 7,978 students from Newark in 2012-13, up 1,476 from this year. That increase translates a 21 percent increase.
Both Anagaostopoulos and Anderson explained to the audience of 70 that NPS is setting aside $148 million for charter school per-pupil tuition - and increase of from this year. Charter schools, due to their lower administrative costs, are to get 90 percent of a per-pupil's tuition - a figure that they can keep after Oct. 15. Charter schools, since they are directly approved by NJDoE, are considered as separate school districts.
While Newark has set aside $148 million, NJDOE forecasted a 41 percent increase and asked NPS to set aside $165 million. Essex County Schools Superintendent Dr. Lawrence Feinsod, of West Orange, chose Newark's set-aside figure.
"The state has historically overestimated the percentage of students going to charter schools," said Anagaostopoulos. "We're confident in our estimated figures."
"What happens if, for once, that the state's figures are right?" asked Kenney. "Where are we going to get the additional $17 million from?"
Kenney was joined by several public floor speakers who questioned other areas of the budget plus the budget process' timing and transparency.
Junius Williams, Esq., repeated his concerns both at the March 29 hearing and his Rutgers-Newark Abbott Leadership Institute class March 31.
"Thirteenth Avenue School is supposed to be a technology center but I don't see a line item for equipment in the budget," said Williams before a class of 80. "I asked them where the money's coming from - and they say 'foundations.' The only foundation I know of that could fund the technical resources need would be the (pledged $200 million) Facebook grant."
Williams questioned how the teacher pool would be funded once the trade union bumping is done - and how school building principals would cut their own budgets.
"I understand that principals are being asked to make one and seven percent budget cuts," said Williams, who is ALI's executive director. "Where are they going to make cuts - in staff and/or classes?"