Responding to impassioned testimony from a dozen Paterson residents on that city’s underfunded public schools, Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-5) called for changes to the 2017 state budget during the Assembly Budget Committee’s hearing Monday. Paterson lost 119 city jobs in 2015, and stands to lose an additional 115 this year. Those losses, Wimberly said, will be felt in city schools that have already gone underfunded by $280 million since he took office in 2012.
“These are not wants. These are needs,” Wimberly said of school administrators and librarians who could be affected by the cuts, adding that crucial transportation and SAT prep programs would also be threatened if funding stays at its current level. He also spoke out against the perception that the state’s intervention in Paterson’s schools has been the result of irresponsible spending at the local level.
“The state of New Jersey has been in Paterson for over 25 years. So when people say that Paterson is not fiscally responsible when it comes to education, they’re saying that the state of New Jersey has not been fiscally responsible. We have not been in a position to choose our own superintendent to run schools. There’s been I believe eight superintendents over my tenure in the school district.”
“In Paterson, we have paid our fair share of taxes dating back to 2011, when we had a 29 percent property tax increase,” he said to applause from the crowd. “During that same year, we lost 125 cops.”
In 2015, the total taxes on a $350,000 house were $10,319. That figure presents a 44 percent increase over the $7,146 amount the same homeowner would have owed in 2010.
Wimberly pointed to a potential 6.1 percent property tax increase and a 1.4 percent increase in county taxes for Paterson residents this year,with an additional $500 million tax levy from the state Department of Education.
Mike Jackson, the councilman from Paterson’s first ward, said that he anticipates a rise in crime if the current 2017 budget’s flat funding rate for the city’s schools remains in place, adding “Our community members are taxed to the gills.”
Wimberly drew a comparison with Newark, a city that has seen significant public and private spending as it attempts to bolster its own ailing district with new charter schools.
“When you talk about the charter school issue, I believe in this budget the city of Newark is going to receive $35 million for charter schools. If we could receive $35 million for charter schools, we wouldn’t have to cut 115 positions this year.”