PORTRAIT OF AN UNDERFUNDED SCHOOL DISTRICT: BAYONNE
June 25, 2014
The Bayonne Public School District has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the most underfunded in New Jersey. When the new school funding formula was first enacted in 2008-9, the district was $31 million dollars below “adequacy,” or the level of resources required for students to meet State academic standards. After years of State underfunding, including a $5.7 million aid cut in 2011, the proposed 2014-15 State Budget provides the district with only a minimal increase in state aid over 2009-10 levels.
At the same time, with enrollments on the rise and a growing population of at-risk students, Bayonne’s adequacy budget has continued to climb from $139 million in 2008-09, to $180 million in 2014-15. The gap between actual district spending and the adequacy budget is projected to more than double to $67 million next year.
A Diverse and Growing School District
Over the past fifteen years the Bayonne schools have added 1500 new students to their rosters. Over 80 countries of origin are represented in the school population, and the number of Spanish- and Arabic-speaking students has grown considerably in recent years. Over 1300 city children would be eligible for, but are not currently enrolled in, full-day, high quality preschool, a program the district is entitled to under the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) passed in 2008. Sixty-five percent of Bayonne students receive free and reduced price lunches.
District schools are truly doing more with less. They have a low administrator to student ratio, wireless internet access in all school buildings, and a new academy program in the high school.
But district leadership knows they need to do more to meet the needs of their diverse student population. More and expanded bilingual programs are needed for ESL students, many of whom also need academic supports as they adapt to a new language.
Currently, each district case manager is assigned approximately 100 students. Two additional Child Study Teams in the district would mean more and better attention paid to the needs of special education students. Bayonne students would also benefit greatly from academic coaches, reading specialists, behaviorists and more guidance counselors.
The work of school staff – and by extension, student outcomes – would be improved by increased and upgraded professional development opportunities on inclusion, technology integration, PARCC readiness, the new Common Core standards, Next Generation Science standards and more.
School facilities are in desperate need of upgrades. The average age of district buildings is 85 years old, and many require renovations and repairs. The age of the buildings means they lack modern classroom spaces, including updated science laboratories that are essential for 21stcentury learning. The growing student population means that school buildings are overcrowded with no space left unused. The district has been able to secure support from the Schools Development Authority to complete much needed health and safety projects, but the physical plant still requires significant investment.
The district would also like to expand or create programs for the benefit of students. There is discussion of establishing an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course for high school students that would prepare them for a career after graduation. Given the early success of the academy program, the district would like to provide more specialized learning environments for students. Funding for extended day opportunities would help address the achievement gap and provide social activities for at-risk children.
But providing the programs, supports and services that students need to be successful requires resources. Even in a district where efficiency and creativity is a watchword, dollars can only be stretched so far. As student need increases, so do the demands on limited resources. Next year Bayonne will receive a mere $186,000 increase in state aid over what the district received this year. That money is hardly enough to cover inflationary increases in fixed costs and certainly is not enough to provide preschool, adequate facilities, or enhanced programs.
“We have made an art and a science of doing more with less,” said Bayonne Superintendent Dr. Patricia L. McGeehan. “But we know we can do more to support our students and staff and provide the kind of learning environment that lifts everyone up. We don’t want to continue to be known as one of the most underfunded districts in the state – we want to be known as one of the very best.”
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