Mayor Fulop Capitulates to sustained “Voodoo-Math” Campaign, certifies $86 Million for JCBOE

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop has announced that more than $86 million will be yielded from the municipality’s new payroll tax in 2020.  That tax is intended to anchor the plan to stabilize the city’s educational needs put forward by the Mayor and Ward D Councilman Michael Yun which was announced last month.  It is also aimed at avoiding tax increases and layoffs.

The Fulop-Yun plan was a direct response to the state’s massive cuts in educational assistance to the 30,000 student district.  However, former Jersey City Board of Education President Sudhan Thomas, who’s terms ended on January 2, 202, is calling today’s announcement  a case of “voodoo math” on the Mayor’s part.

“Former Board President Thomas said “I am happy to see Mayor Fulop abiding by the law and certifying $ 86 Million instead of his earlier offer of $ 40 Million which would have underfunded the JCBOE by $46 Million leading to the lay-off of 680 Teaching jobs. Steve is yet to clarify on his offer to certify merely  certify $ 10 Million in Payroll taxes in lieu of the proposed $ 124 Million state aid cuts for 2021-22 year; $ 5 Million in payroll taxes in lieu of the proposed $ 174 Million state aid cuts  for 2021-22 as outlined in his February funding plan. The plan seems to be aimed at covering up the out of compliant PILOTS/abatements that  potentially owe over $ 100 Million to Jersey City. The JCBOE faces a $150 Million budget gap.  There are 2 African American men at the helm at the JCBOE; Superintendent, Walker and Board President, Richardson are capable men who should be left to do their jobs. Steve should focus on cleaning up city hall instead of engaging in “quixotic missions” and threatening to  fire the duly elected Board if they do not do his bidding; the precise kind of threats and actions that forced the state takeover of the JCBOE back in 1989 not to mention the obvious  Trumpian resonances”

A press release issued by the Mayor’s office on Wednesday states, city officials have confirmed that the Payroll Tax, instituted in 2018, will generate $86,010,956 to put forward to the 2020-21 school year, over $50 million more than yielded a year ago as the city continues to work with the Board of Education in its budget crisis. The move was greeted with welcome relief by school district officials of the Jersey City School Board and public education activists, parents, teacher’s union and other labor groups  who have been on the edge this past 4 weeks on account of Fulop’s original plan that seemed to potentially not meet the sate aid cut levels in required payroll tax certifications.

“We believe the $86 million, which represents more than twice the amount the payroll tax raised for the schools a year ago, will go a significant way in solving part of the crisis created when the state began making cuts to schools across New Jersey with its reconfiguration of formulas,” Mayor Fulop said. “However, there is still a lot of hard work to do on our end, and the Board of Ed, when it comes to budget management and dealing with this real crisis now and into the future.” 

Three weeks ago, Mayor Fulop and Ward D Councilman Michael Yun unveiled a $250 million dollar Jersey City School Funding Action Plan that will provide a steady revenue stream to the school district, while simultaneously saving taxpayers from increased rates. The plan includes belt-tightening measures on the city’s part, the payroll tax receipts, and pooling all monies generated through prior tax abatements, which the city has not granted in the last three years.

“Since the city adopted the payroll tax in the fall of 2018, our tax department has made an extraordinary effort to collect close to $90 million dollars designated specifically for the school district,” Councilman Yun said. “As they continue to collect these funds on behalf of our children’s education, the Jersey City Municipal Council is continuing our examination of the city budget, seeking areas where there are potential dollar cuts that won’t mean service cuts for our community or to our city workforce. These are merely the first of many steps that the City of Jersey City is taking to gain the trust of the Trustees at the Board of Education so that we can meet the needs of our children’s future.”

Earlier in February, Fulop forged a strange partnership with known adversary Ward-D City Councilman to announce a plan which they claimed funded $ 250 Million to the Jersey City schools across the next 3 year. The announcement was a strange sight with none of Fulop’s 5 allies on the City Council present along side with him for the announcement.The plan was met with swift criticism because the Mayor essentially committed to certify $ 40 Million in payroll funds in lieu of the projected $ 73 Million in adjustment aid cut underfunding the district by $ 33 Million. JCBOE President, Lorenzo Richardson, who rejected the plan as “not good,” asked Fulop to focus on certifying the $ 86 Million payroll tax that the City had an obligation by law to fund in lieu of the state adjustment aid cut. Several aspects of the Fulop’s proposal particularly the one  to privatize the ACFSME – 2262 union’s 800 members, all Jersey City Citizens who work as Custodians, Security Guards, Bus Drivers and Lunch Duty stuff to save $ 25 Million  were met with stiff resistance even by Fulop’s allies on the Board.

Nearly two years ago Jersey City was informed by the state that it was cutting more than $170 million from the JCBOE, which operates 40 public schools. Those cuts have since increased with the recent announcement of an adjusted state aid formula. Jersey City saw the largest funding cuts for two straight years. According to the city, Jersey City schools will have lost $120 million by the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

In a letter to the Editor Thomas broken down Fulop’s plan as ultimately looking to defund the JCBOE by $314,891,722 which would have cost the school district 4199 jobs. “Thomas called Fulop’s plan grounded in “VOODOO MATH” to be resoundingly rejected. Community Organizers, Civic Activists and concerned citizens voiced their concerns about Fulop’s plan asking the Mayor to focus on the basics instead of coming up with a superfluous proposal with no consultation or coordination with school district officials.

Thomas’s sustained campaign taking to Newspapers, Radio Talk shows ,TV interviews  , Social Media supported by community activists, parents and JCBOE employees seemed to have worked with the Mayor going into hiding and a lock down mode over the last 4 week only to finally emerge late evening, March 10  and certifying the $ 86 Million funds needed for the school district consistent with the law.  Fulop known for his uncompromising positions and doubling down on flawed public positions seems to have blinked on this one, giving the school Board what Thomas wanted which ultimately seems to have been what school officials wanted as well.

Officials familiar with the Payroll Tax Ordinance and the State S2 law’s provisions conceded that the City would have run afoul of the law if they did not certify the full state aid cut via payroll tax certification. Jersey City Councilman and new found ally of Fulop, Michael Yun attributed the $ 46 million underfunding scare to a “ misprint “  in a social media conversation with Thomas on his public page( See below).

Sources familiar with  inside developments talked about a Thomas , special advocacy groups backed initiative to file an  Order to Show Cause– Emergent petition targeting a Friday, March 13 filing  in the Hudson County Courts to compel Fulop to certify $ 86 Million in payroll tax fund in advance of the Board’s March 20 dead line to file a balanced budget. The proposed court actions which were abuzz in Jersey City earlier this week  may have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back forcing Fulop to come out in the open after 4 weeks of silence only to fully certify the funds the school board needed.  The Mayor for now seems to have walked back on his original threat to fire the school board and replace them with his own choice of appointed board members if the current board did not accept his February funding plan.

The JCBOE Budget faces a shortfall of $ 150 million brought in part by $ 86 Million in state aid cuts now offset by the payroll tax; $ 48 million in carry forward deficit and about $ 20 million in new program investments. The 2013 the JCBOE -CAFA audit details  $ 75 Million in its fund balance. The district’s finances were run to the ground under the former superintendent, Lyles, a Fulop appointee which left the district with a $ 120 Million deficit in 2018. Lyles who served under Mayor Bloomberg in New York and was considered a close confidant of  Steve Fulop , Chris Christie, Christoper Cerf (Notorious for the Newark School Board debacle)  was sent packing by Thomas in July, 2018 last year.

The Jersey City School Board under the Presidency of Thomas is credited with a wide range of measures including Efficiencies, Elimination of waste, Increasing Revenues and HR rationalization, a full forensic audit of the district that ultimately cut the operating deficit by more than half  to $ 50 Million in 2020 from the earlier $ 120 Million created by Fulop appointee, Lyles.

The JCBOE has also filed a comprehensive constitutional challenge under Thomas’s Presidency last year against the State of New Jersey for $ 2.1 Billion in operational funding and capital funding the state owes JCBOE according to the law suit. The Education Law Centre long considered a champion for fighting for funding of urban school districts and subsequent ABBOT rulings joined suit in the State Supreme court to compel the state of New Jersey to fully fund the capital expenses of the urban school districts giving an impetus to the JCBOE law suit. Judge Jacobson  denied the State’s attempt to have a summary judgement dismissal against the JCBOE funding law suit on January 15.School district officials are confident of success in the law suit.

A people’s movement that resoundingly rejected Steve’s efforts to take over the school board budget process that would have ultimately led to a crippling financial Armageddon type situation.

The other elements of the FULOP-YUN plan seems to be dead on arrival with several aspects including efficiencies already accounted for. The school board essentially ignored Fulop’s plan and did not take up any aspect of the plan during the last 5 meetings it has held since the plan touted as “VOODOO MATH” was released.  It is not clear if the events of the last few weeks was a one off disagreement between Fulop-Thomas, 2 men who were once called  strong allies or if it was an ominous sign of things to come for Fulop. 

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