More than a quarter of students in Paterson, N.J., speak limited English, a statistic that has increased by 3% or nearly 1,000 students in just the last year.

“It’s a huge challenge for the district,” Paterson school board member Kenneth Simmons recently told NorthJersey.com. “We already have a shortage of teachers, especially in the ESL (English as a Second Language) category.”

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The number of students with limited English proficiency in Paterson Public Schools jumped from 6,395 during the 2022-23 school year to 7,384 this year, a 15.5% jump that translates to 989 students. The surge boosted the total percentage of limited English students from 23% of total enrollment to 26% for 2023-24.

While the vast majority of those students speak Spanish as their main language, others speak Bangladeshi, Arabic, Turkish and other languages. In total, more than 40 different languages are spoken in Paterson classrooms, while nearly 57% of all students speak a primary language other than English, according to a district leadership profile report.

How the influx of non-English speaking students is impacting the district is less clear.

District officials ignored questions from NorthJersey.com on Friday about whether additional funding will be necessary to accommodate them.

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While Paterson board of education president Manny Martinez told the news site the district was “able to absorb many of these students in the current programs” for the 2023-24 school year, Paterson Education Fund Executive Director Rosie Grant contends the district will need to “put more resources into programs to educate these kids who are Limited English Proficiency.”

Those needs are competing against staggering infrastructure needs in a district with a property tax base that is insufficient to support nearly 25,000 students across 40 school dilapidated school buildings, despite more than $500 million from taxpayers in the past two decades.

Officials contend the problem stems in part from tax incentives for new apartment buildings in the city in recent years that have attracted Spanish speaking families, while delaying revenues for 20 to 30 years. Simmons blamed the new developments for recent school tax increases needed to cover additional expenses from new students without the extra revenue.

City Council Vice President Louis Velez believes Paterson’s influx of immigrants is tied directly to New York City’s surging migrant population, with some leaving and looking to live elsewhere.

“Now we have to deal with it,” he told NorthJersey.com.

A $710.4 million preliminary budget unveiled on Friday would increase spending in the district by $53.7 million and include an 8% tax increase, TapintoPaterson reports.

“We’re projecting a budget gap of $26 million, and state aid is an opportunity to close that gap,” said Richard Matthews, the district’s business administrator, adding the budget presumes the state will increase funding by $34 million.

The biggest budget items include $371.9 million for salary and benefits, and $145.6 million for charter schools. Security, maintenance, vocational programs, transportation, substitute teacher costs, and other expenses are also significant, according to the news site.

“We’ve explored potential avenues for reducing costs, particularly focusing on health benefits,” Matthews said. “Even though we’ve set a budget, our experience with insurance claims has been positive. This means we can use some of the money we’ve saved to pay for future expenses, like medical bills for next year.”

The tax increase would be the sixth annual increase in a row, and district commissioners are raising concerns about overburdening taxpayers, especially considering the district’s dismal academic performance.

Only 26% of Paterson middle schoolers can read at grade level, while it’s 25% for elementary and high school students. Math proficiency is at 7% for elementary students, 8% for middle schoolers, and 7% for high schoolers, according to U.S. News and World Report.

“Is this the only option we have for taxpayers, or are there alternatives to consider?” Commissioner Della McCall questioned last week. “Last year, we saw an 8% increase in taxes, and while it’s not as high as the 14% increase from a few years ago, it still places a significant burden on our residents. I’m concerned about the impact of these taxes on our taxpayers, especially when there’s little improvement in academic outcomes for our children.

“As taxpayers, we have a responsibility to ensure that our investments lead to tangible benefits for our community’s future,” McCall said.