Following the Money at the BOE: Year After Year, TPS District Bilked Taxpayers for Security, Transportation and More

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A Review of Teaneck Public School Filings Show District Overcharged Taxpayers on Several Budgetary Items, including Transportation and Security

Security

Despite significant security issues (including the removal of security guards and threats against schools), the Teaneck Public School District collected 100% of its security budget from taxpayers… but didn’t spend 25% of it.  Where did it go?

Busing / Transportation

Despite complaints about the cost of busing and the inability to meet required busing needs, records show that the District collected FAR IN EXCESS of what it spent on busing.  In fact, in the last 3 years alone, the District pocketed $3M into “Fund Balance” to use as surplus funds… all from our tax dollars.

What is happening within the Teaneck Public School Budgets?

25% of the District Security budget went to discretionary fund balance?

Over $3M in local taxes set aside for busing students, instead went to discretionary fund balance over the past 3 years?

2022/23: Teaneck Schools – $6.94M ALLOCATED  for Transportation
2022/23: Teaneck Schools – $5.73M ACTUALLY SPENT for Transportation
2023/24: Teaneck Schools – $7.67M, a 10.46% RAISE to the Transportation Tax Levy, for an unprecedented $7.67M bill to taxpayers.

You read that right — after pocketing $3M in local tax levy funds from residents that we were told would be used for busing & transportation,  the line item for busing in 2023-24 WENT UP AGAIN by 10.46% to $7.67M according to the 2023-24 Final Budget presentation,

How could that be possible?

A few days after scores of parents attended a Board of Education meeting asking about the lack of security, I found myself asking these questions to the Teaneck School District Business Administrator.

The ACFR (Annual Comprehensive Financial Report)

The Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR) is a set of U.S. government financial statements comprising the financial report of a state, municipal or other governmental entity that complies with the accounting requirements promulgated by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).

“Exhibit C” of the ACFR contains “Budgetary Comparison Schedules”.

These schedules indicate the:

  1. Final amount of the budgeted line item
  2. Actual amount spent for the budgeted line item
  3. Variance, or difference in the final amount budgeted and what was actually spent

Here are some examples from the ACFR”

Final BudgetActual SpentVariance (Difference)Year
Total Student Transportation Services$6,069,994

$4,489,077

$1,580,917

2021
Total Student Transportation Services$6,499,755

$5,736,648

$763,107

2022
Total Student Transportation Services$5,706,667

$4,975,660

$731,007

2020
Total:$18,276,416

$9,464,737

$3,075,031

Final BudgetActual SpentVariance (Difference)Year
Total Security Budget$1,134,695

$855,873

$278,822

2022
Total Security Budget$383,161

$383,161

$0

2020
Total Security Budget$548,073

545,723

$2,350

2021

ACFR Data (available on NJ State Website):

Confirmation

I reached out to the District’s Business Administrator to confirm these findings.

My email appears below:

While the difference between Final Budget and Actual is fairly small for many categories (e.g. Total instruction, which comes in at 5%), other categories seem to have a very different variance betweenfinal budget and actual expenditures.
As an example….
Security:
The original budget is listed as $516,101.00
The final budget is listed as $1,134,695.00 with $618,594.00 under “transfers”
The actual is listed as $855,873.00, leaving a variance of $278,822.00
The variance would appear to be 25% of the final budget amount.
If that’s the case, did the variance go to fund balance?
Am I missing something here?
Appreciate any feedback you can provide.
Keith

The response from the Business Administrator came on 10/19/2023:

Haqquisha Taylor <htaylor@teaneckschools.org>
Thu, Oct 19, 2023 at 4:45 PM
To: Keith Kaplan <keith@teanecktoday.com>
Cc: Andre Spencer <aspencer@teaneckschools.org>
Good Day,
Thank you, Mr. Kaplan, for your patience and for your follow up. The answer to your question regarding the variance listed in the 2021-2022 ACFR for Security is yes, the variance goes to fund balance. For Capital, $388,328 of the variance goes to fund balance. The remaining $18,600 of variance, relating to Facilities Acquisition and Construction Services, is returned to the Capital Reserves.
Let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Where did the money GO?

This is a tricky question, as once you put massive amounts of money into “surplus”, it can be spent in a discretionary manner across different expense categories.

Obviously, as per the Business Administrator, we can see that the 25% of last year’s “Security Budget” which went unused was disbursed as follows:

  1. $388,328.00 to “Capital”
  2. $18,600.00 to “Facilities Acquisition and Construction [sic] Services”

 

If you recall, Teaneck Schools spent $5.35M for Renovation of a Kindergarten Building (from Eugene Field School office space to the current Lacey School) & Admin Offices by Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

Where did an “extra” $5,300,000.00 come from without bonding?  Now you know.

Let’s start with some basic facts:

  • Value of all land in Teaneck (as of 10/01/2020): $5,188,972,400
  • Value of Average Residential Assessment: $387,405
    • Percentage of total land value: .007466%

(stats from “User-Friendly budget” available on Township website)

Share of each $5.35M project for the average homeowner = $399.43

The $399.43 can be paid through the tax levy (all at once) or bonded (at near-zero interest) to be paid back over decades.

Bonding a project or paying for it through direct levy is a policy and financial decision that affects YOU!

So what would you prefer? Pay it all now or $19.97 a year for 20 years?

This is NOT how schools are supposed to operate.  Here’s why:

If you were to move out of Teaneck today, you would have paid 100% of your share of the $5,300,000.00.  But had this been bonded, at historically low rates over 30 years, you would only pay a share of the amount that corresponded with your time living in Teaneck.

The new resident moving in would continue to pay their fair share.

That’s how bonding – which is sometimes called “generational equity” – works.

But to do that, the Schools would have to go to the public with a bonding referendum on a ballot.  And the fear is that the public would vote down a bonding referendum because they think the schools ALREADY have enough money.  So rather than chance a defeat (which also acts as a barometer on resident satisfaction with the district), they inflate certain line items, year after year after year, in order to have you, the taxpayer pay MORE THAN YOU NEED to ensure a free and appropriate public education.

This is NOT how schools should function and the public should be incensed at how they are treating us at the Teaneck BOE.

What does a “Zero-Budget” mean?

A Sixth Straight ZERO

At last night’s Teaneck Council meeting, the Council voted to introduce a SIXTH straight budget with a 0% tax levy increase on the Municipal side of the tax bill. At a time when many Teaneck residents are struggling with financial uncertainty, Teaneck’s Council remains mindful of its residents’ needs.  Without a reduction of ANY municipal services, we will even will be paving more roads (including Windsor Rd).

The 0% tax levy was the result of proper management, and was made possible, in large part by Council’s use of smart development, which maintains the quality of life Teaneck expects.


But, my taxes went up!

I get it – mine went up too.  But the tax bill you receive has a few different parts and not all of them have been going up.
So, let’s break down what is happening.


Breaking down your bill

The tax bill each home receives has a few parts.  Here is an example for the average Teaneck home:

The average residential assessment for 2019 was $384,308.15.

  • Municipal portion: $4,039.08
  • Board of Education Portion: $6,979.04

 

*** Click here to see how the bill breaks down in each category ***:

The tax bill for the average assessment breaks down as follows (approx):

Board of Education 56.8% $6,979.04
Municipal 32.87% $4,039.08
Municipal Open Space .31% $38.43
County 8.48% $1,041.48
County Open Space .31% $38.43
Library 1.22% $149.88

Municipal and BOE Portions

  • The municipal portion of the tax bill is controlled by the Township Council and the Board of Education portion is controlled by the School Board.

Here is what the Township (municipal) and BOE budgets have looked like over the last have decade+:



What could it have been without a Zero-Budget?

Municipalities are constrained to operate within a possible increase of 3.5% over the previous year’s tax levy. (see NJSA 40A:4-45.14 Permissible increase in appropriations)

What would tax rates look like if Teaneck increased them on the municipal side instead of fighting for a zero?

The chart below shows what the budget levy has been for each year in the graph above.  The “Cap Bank” represents what we could have increased the levy by, had we gone to the full 3.5%.
Each of the links goes to the Ordinance that shows the amount in the “cap bank”.

By remaining at a ZERO budget levy increase, the Township Council has kept the municipal portion of your tax bill flatNote: Others portions of your bill may have increased, however.

Year Budget Cap Bank Link
2020 $54,012,908 $2,067,879 11-2020
2019 $53,591,618 $2,022,909 15-2019
2018 $53,004,585 $2,025,023 7-2018
2017 $53,032,800 $1,946,929 9-2017
2016 $53,056,956 $1,972,735 8-2016
2015 $53,302,262 $1,949,474 18-2015
2014 $53,286,843 $1,916,714 24-2014
Totals $13,901,664

The Average Homeowner:

For the Average assessed home in Teaneck, this would have meant an additional $1,047 in municipal taxes per year.

Instead, the Township Council introduced a 6th straight year of ZERO-PERCENT tax levy increases for 2020.


Related: Bonding

In addition to the yearly tax bill, the Township also issues debt for road, building or other capital expenditures.  To see how we have been doing with regards to controlling our debt levels, you can click below and see where we stand, as well as a comparison to other towns around us.

Bonding: How does Teaneck compare?

Superintendent’s Letter on Preschool & District Office Plans

The following letter (link here) was received via email today from the Superintendent of Teaneck Schools, Dr. Irving:

Dear Teaneck Community,

On Wednesday, August 21, our Board of Education approved two resolutions that are essential to moving this district forward for our children and this community.

The first resolution solidifies our commitment to the expansion of preschool education Continue reading “Superintendent’s Letter on Preschool & District Office Plans”

2019 Public Budget Hearing Information

Teaneck New Jersey News

2019 Public Budget Hearing

INTER-OFFICE MEMORANDUM

To:       Department Heads

From:   Dean Kazinci, Acting Township Manager                       

Date:   October 24, 2018

Re:       2019 Department Budget Requests Public Hearings

 

NJSA 40:69A-96 requires all Department Heads to submit requests for appropriations for the ensuing budget year and to appear before the Township Manager at public hearings during the month of November.

The 2019 Department Budget Public Hearing schedule is as follows:

DATE DEPARTMENT SCHEDULED TIME  
Monday, November 5 Fire Department 9 am – 10 am
Monday, November 5 Purchasing 10:30 am – 11am
Monday, November 5 Township Assessor 11:30 am – 12 pm
Monday, November 5 Township Clerk 1:30 pm – 2 pm
Monday, November 5 Building Department 3 pm – 3:30 pm
Tuesday, November 6 Police Department 9 am – 10 am
Tuesday, November 6 Finance 11 am – 12 pm
Tuesday, November 6 Human Resources 1:30 pm – 2:30 pm
Tuesday, November 6 Municipal Court 3:00 pm – 3:30 pm
Thursday, November 8 DPW & Engineering 9 am – 10 am
Thursday, November 8 Health Department 11am – 12 pm
Thursday, November 8 Recreation 1 pm – 2 pm
Thursday, November 8 Library 3 pm – 4 pm
Tuesday, November 13 Legal Department 9 am – 10 am

All budget hearings will be held in the Manager’s Executive Conference Room, located at 818 Teaneck Road, 2nd Floor.

Thank you for your anticipated cooperation in this matter.

cc:  Council

Teaneck New Jersey •  818 Teaneck RoadTeaneckNJ 07666
http://www.teanecknj.gov/