Baraka blames potential Newark tax increase on state's 'bad decisions'

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on April 26, 2016

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, shown here in a file photo, is blaming a potential increase in city's taxpayers share of the Newark Public Schools' budget on what he calls "irresponsible" decision by the state.

 

NEWARK – Taxes may be on their way up in Newark once again, and Mayor Ras Baraka is placing the blame on "irresponsible" funding decisions from Gov. Chris Christie and the state.

Despite a small decrease in the city's state-controlled school district's roughly $1 billion proposed budget for 2016-17, the city will need to kick in $127,561,585 to help fund it – a 10.3 percent hike. The change would cause the school portion of city tax bills to jump by roughly 6.2 percent in 2016, and carry additional cost in 2017.

In a statement issued Tuesday morning, Baraka said Newarkers were "being forced to pay for bad decisions by state officials", including a $72 million deficit he attributes to the former superintendent Cami Anderson's controversial "One Newark" school reorganization plan, the creation of a pool of teachers without a classroom placement and charter schools' continued expansion in the city.

Earlier this year, city and state officials penned a letter with education advocates asking Christie to end years of flat funding for Newark schools. The group requested $36 million – enough to cut the gap in half – but the state did not fully oblige.

"We received $27 million, not $36 million," Baraka said. "That was a help in reducing the deficit but not enough to avoid a school tax increase."

Representatives for Christie and the state Department of Education did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.

In a statement, Newark Public Schools noted that the $27 million increase from the state was easily the largest in New Jersey, and that less than half of the money would be allocated to charter schools.

Newark taxpayers already faced an overall tax hike of roughly 6.7 percent in 2015, a decision the City Council laid at the feet of the state, largely for its refusal to allow official to a $13 million settlement with PSE&G to offset other lagging revenues.

Baraka said he had gone to great lengths to add revenue to the city's perpetually strained coffers, but that any progress could be erased the potential school-driven tax hike. He asked Superintendent of Schools Chris Cerf and other school officials to delay submitting the budget for final approval in order to allow the state to look for other revenues that might help keep local taxes flat.

"It is the responsibility of the State, not Newark taxpayers – to eliminate the need for a school tax increase," he said.

The district, however, suggested that the mayor should continue looking forward to address the city's fiscal issues, noting that taxes for city services have risen by 75 percent since 2009, compared to just 13 percent for the district.

"The mayor acknowledges inheriting a $93 million budget deficit, just as the current NPS administration inherited a $75 million one; rather than blame the mayor's predecessors and the city council for that deficit, we applaud him for his sound budgeting practices," it said. "We would hope for a similar sentiment."

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