Questions over Jersey City teacher layoffs remain

The Jersey City school budget crisis may have been mostly averted, but it’s far from over. This spring, 450 employees were threatened with layoffs. And while the district scraped together enough money to stave off the majority, 100 pink slips are still in the hands of teachers and other staff.

“To see 100 teachers this year leave the district, according to the union, and then to find out possibly another 100 might be getting riffed, that’s a little bit scary,” said Jersey City Public Schools teacher John Flora.

The layoff notices went out after the Board of Education was hit with a $120 million shortfall that was partially due to a cut in state aid. The district was able to plug the hole and save most jobs with the help of a new city payroll tax, the pending sale of administrative buildings, and savings to the school district’s self-funded unemployment insurance program. Still, it’s not enough and now a group of advocates is proposing their own plan.

“We’re asking them to fund $16 million through their city budget to be allocated directly to the public schools,” said Jersey City Together Lead Organizer Brigid D’Souza.

D’Souza says that $16 million could save those 100 positions and force the city to have a conversation about raising the school tax levy and sharing more tax abatement money with the district. Her organization is delivering handwritten letters to the city council from students about the impact of pending layoffs and instability in their schools.

“We need a paradigm shift in Jersey City. We need to prioritize our public schools with public funding. And I’ll just give you one statistic, out of every $1 in property tax in Jersey City only 24 cents currently goes to public schools,” she said.

“This district is ravaged by the state’s recklessness and its irresponsibility,” said Jersey City Board of Education President Sudhan Thomas.

Thomas points to the district’s $27 million loss in state aid. The school district is one of several suing the State Department of Education over the cuts. Still, he’s uncertain if asking city council for money is the way to go.

“If there is money coming to the school district, we have to make sure that it’s money that will come every year. We don’t want a one-shot deal,” said Thomas.

Instead, Thomas wants to see a sustainable, predictable solution, but says the district will need to make what he calls “efficiency eliminations.” Flora says teachers are feeling the instability and looking for other jobs.

“I had a colleague, he’s a newer teacher, and he said he’d rather be unemployed this summer than have to deal with the uncertainty of coming back and not knowing if he’s going to have his job again,” he said.

“These are painful steps that we have to navigate, but we are pretty confident that the measures that we’re taking, not just for the short term but for the long term, will protect the 33,000 kids that we serve,” Thomas said. “Ultimately, that’s our primary focus.”

NJTV News reached out to Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop’s office, but he was unavailable for comment. Thomas says they’re hoping the darkest days are behind them.

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