Unless the state legislature reapportions school aid funding, little can be done to reverse the ill fortunes of 14 non-tenured teachers (of a total certificated staff of about 530) who were let go by the Kearny Board of Education.
So said Patricia Blood, superintendent of schools for the Kearny public school district, in the aftermath of a board meeting Monday, June 19.
Blood said those employees were the unfortunate casualties of how the numbers — of school enrollment and budget moneys — played out.
Blood said that she and interim business administrator H. Ronald Smith carefully reviewed the budget, projected enrollment data and employee retirements to see how many instructional staff could be brought back.
A big factor that went into those calculations, she said, was class size, among the elementary school population, in particular, she said.
For kindergarten and grade 1, for example, Blood said she’s placed a limit of no more than 21 students per class; for grade 2, 22 is the maximum; for grade 3, it’s 23; for grade 4, it’s 24; for grade 5, it’s 25.
So if a given school has a total of, say, 75, children entering the fifth grade, “I’ll need three sections of fifth graders,” she said.
And those calculations, generally speaking, provide the starting point of figuring out how many teaching positions she’ll need to fill. In turn, Blood said, she next looks at the fiscal resources available to fund those slots.
Problem is, she said, Kearny schools are “grossly underfunded” by the state and “that, coupled with other local issues,” compounded the district’s financial constraints.
One of those issues that, according to BOE member Barbara Cifelli-Sherry, “is causing hardship” to the district is the Kearny-based charter school which has drawn about 150 local students who had been attending Kearny elementary schools and for whom the district must pay 90% of their tuition.
In the $84.2 million budget for 2017-2018 that the board has adopted, of which about $51 million has to be raised locally, fixed costs such as health insurance, utilities and the like increased in excess of the state mandated 2% cap, causing pressures on the rest of the budget and triggering a projected school tax increase of about $144 on the “average” house assessed at $95,335.
Another as yet-unknown cost will be determined by the outcome of still-pending contract negotiations between the BOE and the teachers’ union. The existing agreement runs out June 30. Talks are “ongoing,” Blood said.
Meanwhile, there are 14 teachers — four from the high school and the balance from elementary schools — who won’t be returning for fall classes in September.
Additionally, Blood said, the district won’t be replacing a supervisor of English Language Arts and Social Studies, one secretary, one custodian and two media specialists, all of whom are retiring.
Asked about the teaching positions, Blood said that each accounted for an average base pay of about $52,000 plus $25,000 for health benefits, thereby accounting for a total of nearly $1.1 million.
“We are continuing to look at the budget to see if we can bring back additional teachers,” Blood said, “and if we can, those most recently not reappointed would be the first we’d look to bring back.”
But she conceded that unless the Legislature acts to redistribute the pool of state school aid, such an outcome seems unlikely.
And, even if the state lawmakers did provide the additional money and if the governor signed the bill, there is no way of knowing when the money would get to local districts, she noted.