TRENTON – Two assemblymen on the Budget Committee – one a Republican and one a Democrat – scrapped this afternoon over the finances of the Paterson Schools and the responsibility of the State of New Jersey versus local School Commissioners prior to Chairman Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36) intervening.
The disagreement ensued after School Board Commissioner Cory Teague, a possible candidate for the city council, griped to the Budget Committee about Paterson’s School System lacking full state funds.
That prompted a comment by Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26), who asked Teague how much money Paterson receives per pupil from the State of New Jersey.
$18,000, was the answer.
“I live in Morris Plains, about 20 minutes from Paterson,” said Webber. “Our students receive less than $400 each from the state,”
Teague registered bewilderment.
“That’s a surprise to you,” the assemblyman said, who pointed out that Paterson students receive roughly 36 times what they get from the state in Morris Plains. “Now I know Paterson has different challenges, but it’s tough to swallow. These are working families trying to make a go of it too. I grew up in Clifton. I used to drive through Paterson four or five times a week to get to my grandmother’s house.”
Then Webber invoked what he described as a “disturbing story” about Paterson Board of Education members preparing to go on a $25,000 trip to New Orleans.
Teague denied it’s the whole board; just four people at a substantially reduced cost.
“I thought it would be good for at least a couple of us to go and never made the suggestion the entire board go, but the newspapers grab things and run with it,” Teague said.
Webber said he understood, but drove his original point.
“We see disparity,” he said. “These stories don’t help. I would encourage the Board of Ed to be more prudent. A lot of people in Paterson are paying the bills.
Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-35) stepped in at that point, and directed his remarks at his GOP colleague.
“Paterson is state-controlled with a state-appointed superintendent,” said the Paterson lawmaker. “The mismanagement is not coming from our school board commissioners. This is a situation – 22 years of ongoing fiscal mismanagement – and in no way are our school board members responsible.
“I support them wholly,” Wimberly added. “Any best practices we can find to help with a $50 million budget deficit are welcome. This is a state-appointed superintendent. The people in the administration are not from Paterson. The commissioners have no voting power. They can vote on anything, but they can be turned down.”
Webber was about to respond and Wimberly too seemed willing to continue, but Schaer intervened at that pointed and prodded the committee forward.