Paterson community protests school funding cuts

Frustrated and angered by the program and staffing cuts facing their district, nearly 200 educators, administrators and parents from Paterson traveled to Trenton on March 27 to protest the state’s chronic underfunding of public education. They urged legislators to increase state aid to the Paterson School District. Wearing stickers that read “Cuts hurt kids” and “Paterson students deserve better,” they descended upon the Assembly Budget Committee to advocate for their schools.

“We firmly believe that any reductions must not be made on the backs of the people who dedicate their lives to educate the children of this city,” declared PEA President John McEntee. “Doing so only makes it that much harder for our students to receive the first-rate education they deserve.”

The proposed state aid is significantly less than what Paterson is entitled to under the School Funding Reform Act of 2009 (SFRA). This, coupled with the state’s call to increase by over $9 million the funding the district must turn over to the city’s charter schools, leaves Paterson’s public schools facing a budget crisis. Moreover, a million dollars now needs to be allocated for the Passaic County Technical School to fund the expansion of its STEM program.

Paterson EA President John McEntee addresses a post-hearing rally at the Statehouse.

This combination of cuts has led the district to propose a budget that would cut over 120 teachers, resulting in class sizes of up to 40 students, as well as eliminate over 60 administrative positions. In addition, these cuts will result in the elimination of SAT preparation courses, vocational education services, textbook purchases, science lab upgrades, art and music instruction, and intervention programs designed to improve student performance in reading and math.

“Our district is already struggling with an educational deficit because of exploding class sizes, crumbling buildings and insufficient technology and teaching materials,” McEntee stated. “How are layoffs and reallocation of funds going to help solve any of these problems?”

PEA members and educators Lakresha Hodge and Charles Ferrer delivered testimony at the budget caused by the underfunding of Paterson.

“As you have heard and will hear from several speakers, we have been underfunded for many years as a result of an unsuccessful state takeover,” Hodge said. “I know this because I am a product of Paterson Public Schools. I know what it used to be; I know what it is; and I know what it can be.”

Despite a steady increase in enrollment since 2013, Paterson has been flat funded for years, and, under SFRA, should be receiving $72 million more in state aid as of 2018-19. Additionally, the district currently allocates over $50 million to the city’s charter schools. To close the gap, Paterson would have to raise $51 million through increased property taxes, but it would mean an average property tax bill of over $12,000 to achieve that amount.

“If we continue down the path of underfunding, our children will not receive the thorough and efficient education they are due by law and principle,” Hodge continued. “Someone once said, ‘It comes down to what your priorities are and, if public education is about kids, then every decision we make should be focused on the question of whether it’s good for a child.”

McEntee agrees and vowed to continue to fight until more funding is secured.

“As we debate this war over school funding, our children are the ones who are suffering,” McEntee said. “Frankly, they deserve better.”

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