$56.9M School Budget Unveiled
Here’s the best recap of this week’s Board of Education Budget Hearing you’ll find anywhere.
Hoboken BoE Budget Hearing
It was a full house in the Wallace School gymnasium Tuesday night when the Hoboken Board of Education held it’s annual budget public hearing, but days later people are still confused about how it all went down. The meeting was classic Hoboken. The teachers’ union packed the seats (mostly young vulnerable teachers, not the older, tenured six-figure types) while many parents from the Hoboken Family Alliance and school Parent Teacher Organizations came to see the action as well. The meeting got out of control more than once, and before it was over there was a police presence. Here’s a look back to read while we wait (and wait, and wait) for the district to put the video up on Channel 77.
READ ALL ABOUT IT AFTER THE JUMP.
(BoE budget recap continued…)
When is this thing going to start?
For some reason the school board meetings never start on time. This one was supposed to begin at 7pm, but it got underway 25 minutes late. This gets on people’s nerves. Once board President Theresa Minutillo finally got things started Superintendent Jack Raslowsky made some opening remarks, noting the budget total dropped from $56.9 million to $56.3 million because grant money the district may or may not receive was removed. It had little effect on the actual budget, which still came in under the state mandated four percent maximum increase in spending. Taxes will not go up because new “ratables” will pick up the slack. Ratables are mostly new condos, which are now paying additional school taxes.
Teachers Union takes over
Following a long established script, the first “public speaker” on the budget was teachers’ union president Gary Enrico, who sat in front so he could sprint to the microphone once public comment began. Enrico does not live in Hoboken. In fact, up until last year he was the President of the Paramus Board of Education before being defeated in a bid for reelection. Enrico said more than half of the Hoboken faculty was at the meeting to protest the proposed cuts and layoffs. (How many layoffs you ask? It was almost impossible to tell for most of the meeting because the board and superintendent were hardly volunteering the information.) Enrico riled up the crowd in classic union style with the knowledge that it has always worked before, driving the per-pupil expenditures to a staggering $24,949 a year.
The actual public begins to speak
Wallace school parent and former school board candidate Felicia Rubino Drasheff was among the first to speak, asking the board to stop the “Political Posturing” and pledge to “work together on this budget hot potato.”
Connors School parent Maureen Sullivan walked to the podium equipped with the budget documents and started asking about line items. Sullivan asked for specifics on the High School enrollment figures, and wanted answers about the Superintendent’s estimate of a whopping 23% increase in health care costs. Sullivan demanded to know “What’s been done to control these health costs?” and was given the stock government answer “It’s in the union contract” by the administration. Sullivan said this needed to be addressed and asked when the contract will end. It is up at the end of the school year. The independent candidate for school board also asked questions about line items associated with school sponsored athletics and transportation services that are now up over a million dollars in a city where kids can walk to school.
How many layoffs????
When pressed on exactly how many layoffs could be in this budget, Raslowsky said up to 20 teachers could lose their jobs. Finance committee chair Tricia Snyder said the agreed-to plan would reposition seven administrators back into the classrooms, and that this was done following a QSAC audit which showed the Hoboken Schools to be “Top heavy” with administrators. Snyder said the number of department chairs should also be reduced and “Special assignments” limited so teachers get back in the classrooms. Snyder said the audit showed class sizes were too small for New Jersey public school standards, some as low as 13 students per teacher. The average is 15 to 18 students, and under the budget proposal no class would exceed 21 students. Snyder seemed to be the board member who knew the most about the budget, as you would expect from an economics professor.
First Sullivan, then Rosenberg
The second challenger to speak about he spending plan was former board member Ron Rosenberg, who said he “Didn’t know if this was a good budget or a bad budget, but it is a budget that comes without a vision.” Rosenberg noted it was the first budget for Raslowsky and Snyder, but it needed to be “put into context of direction and vision” for the school system, adding the board needs to come up with a direction and endgame for what the district will be like five to ten years down the road, and then “we can see if we are achieving our goals”. After Rosenberg, union president Enrico got up again to rebut some points (he seemed to think it was his meeting, and wasn’t stopped by the board president). Sullivan and Rosenberg were the only board challengers who spoke about the budget. Others were in the audience, but did not weigh in during the public hearing.
Jim Farina weighs in
Jim Farina then said he takes “Full responsibility for every school budget since 1974” (when he was first elected to the board). The City Clerk said the budget process should not be “Cut! Cut Cut!” because “We need more money for teachers!” Farina disputed the per-pupil costs, and said “based on ratables I don’t see why we have to put it on the backs of the students.” Farina added, “I’ll raise taxes if it’s what the public says at the ballot! You can dilly-dally with the numbers all you want, if it costs us more money, so be it!”
Snyder defends budget, board responds
Snyder again noted the district is capped at a four percent spending increase by state law, and that increase “shouldn’t be spent on administration.” Snyder said a spending freeze “would be too severe.” Minutillo then called this budget “The first step in a very long process.” Anthony Romano said, “Personnel is the most important resource of any organization”, adding “we must save jobs if we can.” Carmelo Garcia lashed out, saying the finance committee “Needs to find the money for all the teachers”, demanding to know whether they looked “across the board at every department line by line.” Snyder said they did. Frank Raia is also on the finance committee. He said it was time to approve the budget and let the Superintendent do his job managing the money.
The unsinkable Rose Marie Markle speaks up
Rose Markle said, “We brought up other options for cuts (in the budget) and they were not considered.” Prior to being elected to the board last year, Markle was a frequent critic of the district’s extra-curricular spending practices. As the mother of a child in Hoboken High School Markle said more money needs to be directed there. The focus seems to be on younger students while older students are left to their own devices since the political elite in Hoboken manage to get their kids into Hudson County’s High-Tech High School or send them to one of the Catholic High Schools, leaving HHS kids and teachers to suffer. Markle noted putting two more kids in each classroom is ok, because “With declining enrollment, what are these teachers doing?”
The voting begins!
Farina said the budget does a “great injustice to newly hired teachers, and will set the schools back ten years”, before he voted no. Garcia was next, saying he could not vote for the budget as it stands – another no. Carrie Gilliard’s vote was next. Gilliard was first elected to the board in ‘90’s with the support of former Mayor Anthony Russo. After losing a bid for re-election Gilliard began to circulate with supporters of Minutillo, and was ultimately returned to the board as part of the Kids First slate last year. It was a shocker when she turned on her running mate Snyder and voted no on the budget. There was a gasp heard after Gilliard said they needed to “revisit what was in the spending plan.”
Jack moves to save the budget, Rose stops the bleeding
The superintendent spoke up to remind the board that if they reject this budget, they couldn’t come back and add any money to it later, stressing “The largest budget you can approve is before you now.” Markle said, “No one wants layoffs, but this is the budget before us,” noting she still wanted Raslowsky to reconsider the cuts she had offered in order to save teachers. Raia said, “I want to pass the budget with no layoffs”, noting it was not possible, but “We’re going in the right direction. After Markle and Raia voted yes, Snyder evened up the vote. Romano, Frances Rhodes-Kearns, and Minutillo followed with yes votes, and the budget passed 6-3.
Other Meeting Notes: Russo vs. Lenz
Between Gary Enrico’s acting like the meeting was a union rally, the often inaudible sound system, and several out of order outbursts from the board, the meeting often seemed out of control. The big showdown of the night was between (who else) 3rd ward Councilman Michael Russo and former city acting CFO Michael Lenz. Russo wanted to address the board about the budget, but arrived after the public hearing was closed. Russo came up to the microphone and demanded to be heard, ignoring President Minutillo’s gavel and call that Russo was out of order. When Russo continued speaking, Lenz started yelling from the back of the room. When that didn’t work Lenz charged Russo and started screaming at him to leave the podium. Lenz is a former school board President known to counsel Minutillo. After several tense moments, both Mikes left the mic, but the room was on edge waiting for a punch to be thrown. After the showdown a police officer was called to the meeting just in case things got out of hand.
Other Candidates show up, too
“Kids First” candidate Brian Assadourian was also at the meeting, and asked a question during the public portion. Though generally not well known, you can’t miss him because he is the only candidate with a pony tail (and a first grader at Wallace). His running mate Phil Campbell showed up late to the meeting and didn’t speak.
“Parents for Progressive Education” candidate Phil DeFalco came to what was believed to be his very first school board meeting. The Hoboken born, Scotch Plains-raised CPA sat next to longtime Hudson County political consultant Anthony Amabile, who has done a lot of work over the years for Dave Roberts (much of it at taxpayer expense). When not sitting with Amabile, DeFalco spent his time with former board President Perry Belfiore. Neither added anything to the budget discussion.
Next up: Your vote! Polls open April 15th from 2pm to 9pm.
School Budget Hearing Tonight
The public hearing on the proposed $56.9 million dollar Hoboken School Budget gets underway tonight at 7pm. Following not-so-veiled threats from teachers union President Gary Enrico at the last board meeting that he would get his membership out to protest any budget cuts, the district is moving the meeting to a larger location. Instead of the dingy basement board meeting room (a windowless cement fallout shelter), the meeting will be held in the larger Wallace School gymnasium on Willow between 11th and 12th.
The story so far follows a familiar script. Superintendent introduces budget, trustees protest budget is too large and demand cuts, teachers union threatens board during election season, and brings out a large crowd of district employees whose jobs may be effected. In response to criticism about the proposed $4 million jump in spending, Superintendent Jack Raslowsky will announce he and his staff have found new places to nip and tuck. Some board members will also make suggestions (last year the board majority “found” a million dollars to cut, though the budget continued to grow) and members of the public will also speak out on the spending plan on the ballot April 15th.
Read all the rest after the jump. Still waiting on the corrected budget PDF.
Wethepeoplereports.com has the school budget “copy” that they were provided. The school board office apparently refused to provide it in electronic format and the copy had lines cut off.
Hoboken Schools Superintendent Jack Raslowsky unveiled his first budget proposal last night for funding the schools in the 2008-2009 school year. The $56.9 million dollar spending plan is up $4 million from the current budget. Instead of pointing out the increase in overall spending, Raslowsky focused on how the budget does not include an increase in individual taxes.
Spending up, but taxes flat
Raslowsky gave a brief presentation on the budget, saying he had “no interest to have an increase in the tax rate” and wants to “reign in costs in the future.” He said no increase in the tax rate was his “starting point” for the budget, and that he wanted to do “different things to increase opportunity” for students. Among the new programs, the superintendent wants to:
- Expand an artistic program for 3 to 5 year olds to include 6 to 9 year olds.
- Hire a director of production to help students utilize the district’s TV studio for extra- and co-curricular activities
- Expand the curriculum at the maligned “alternative” school to include vocational training, including cosmetology, audio engineering, and culinary arts studies
Raslowsky also said he wants to “rightsize” the district staff, noting there are “extra” staff on the payroll as well as staff in “wrong” areas, but said there are “tenure and seniority” issues that “come into play” and make this difficult (read: entrenched union staffers). Raslowsky wrapped up his comments by saying this was a “solid budget” that puts the district “on the road to doing good things”.
The School Board weighs in
Trustee Carmelo Garcia said he wanted to see a reduction in the budget, because the board “gets beat up” on its per-pupil costs, which are among the highest in the state of New Jersey. Garcia asked for a 3 to 5 year plan to cut the per pupil costs. The two-term trustee is up for re-election in April. Raslowsky admitted the per-pupil costs are high and “need to be addressed” (isn’t that why they have these meetings?) but that there is “no quick and easy answer,” (another way of saying no way) noting the bulk of the expense is in salary and benefits and the only way to cut the budget is to eliminate positions.
Trustee (and Hoboken Police Captain) Anthony Romano again suggested the administration look into saving money by eliminating the middle schools, re-establishing K-8 buildings and “unifying” the High School. Trustee Tricia Snyder (up for re-election after securing a one-year term last year) mentioned the district’s facilities needs, and noted enrollment in the 3-4 year old program is projected to rise by 100 students next year.
Trustee James Farina (on the board for 30 long years) downplayed discussion of the amount of money the district was spending, choosing instead to note that “Hoboken taxpayers always vote to approve the budget” and that whether it is a per-pupil rate of $19,000 or $29,000 it’s fine as long as “that’s what the taxpayers want.” The board voted unanimously to accept the budget, though Frank “Pupie” Raia and Rose Markle were not in attendance. Markle was wished a “speedy recovery” for an undisclosed illness by Board President Theresa Minutillo. A budget hearing is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, March 25th with a public vote on April 15th.
Maureen Sullivan has questions
Active parent and independent candidate for school board Maureen Sullivan rose to ask questions about the list of expenditures released by the administration. Sullivan asked about a $4 million line for charter schools, and was told the money comes from the state through the district to the charters. Sullivan also inquired about a $118,800 line for the Wallace after-school program, as well as a $200,640 line for “tuition fees.” The administration said the money comes from students “accepted from three other districts” that attend Hoboken Schools. Sullivan asked how many students were accepted and how much was the district being reimbursed for teaching them. They responded there were about 8 students involved, with tuition reimbursement of between 20 and 30 thousand dollars a year. Sullivan has called the district out for accepting many non-Hoboken students into the district. Some say the district does this in an attempt to keep enrollment high enough to justify current staffing levels.
Other notes from the meeting
- Today names will be drawn to determine where each of the names of the eight remaining candidates for school board are placed on the ballot. As Hoboken411 predicted first, Patrick Ricciardi got out of the race just days after submitting his petitions to run.
- Along with Maureen Sullivan, two other challengers were at the meeting. Former board member Ron Rosenberg and newcomer Brian Assadourian.
- The meeting began with Raslowsky pointing out a new state of the art sound system has been installed in the meeting room as part of the district’s open public meetings settlement with Councilwoman Beth Mason. The system will make it easier for people to hear what is saying at the meeting both in the room and on Channel 77.
- Raslowsky also informed the board that the district located one case of that potential contaminated school lunch meat that has been making headlines and that it has been disposed of.