By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Education Commissioner David Hespe acknowledged this is a difficult time for school districts.
For the fourth year in a row the budget contains essentially flat funding.
Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly is recreation coordinator for the Paterson schools.
“Flat funding means less funding. Everything else goes up — program costs, teachers’ salaries, pensions and benefits,” he said.
When Wimberly made that point to Hespe, the commissioner spun it this way: “I think flat funding was actually better than most people were expecting going into this budget for districts. The SFRA — the school funding formula — is underfunded by around $1.1 billion.”
In all the budget designates $12.8 billion for school aid to the state’s 581 operating districts.
Hespe noted that even as the dollars stay flat, the share of state spending is rising.
“The overall share of the state budget going to support schools, going to support education, is growing even with this flat funding. That number’s been climbing from 33 percent and now it’s at 38 percent and it’s an extraordinary number,” Hespe said.
Wimberly says his schools in Paterson will have to shed hundred of jobs in the coming year.
“Obviously it’s well documented. Districts such as my largest district, they’re gonna have a layoff of 369 employees,” he said.
“We are gonna see reductions in force in Newark, we’re going to see them in Camden,” Hespe said.
Hespe said most districts can accommodate larger class sizes.
“The research is actually supporting that class sizes can go a little higher than we have in a lot of our districts,” he said.
Newark Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin brought up the 250 to 300 Newark teachers who have been removed for ineffectiveness but are still being paid.
“Every year for the past two or three years we’ve had $15 million to $20 million tied up with educators that are not doing anything for our kids,” she said.
Pintor Marin blamed superintendent Cami Anderson.
“I think the superintendent would say parents wouldn’t want a teacher like this back in the classroom. So it’s a policy initiative she’s pursuing to improve teacher quality in the Newark school district,” Hespe said.
“So we’re gonna have a policy initiative we’re not gonna be able to pay for and we’re going to have to go back to square one? It’s doesn’t make sense to me,” Pintor Marin asked.
Hespe goes before the Senate Budget Committee Tuesday.