10/14/2008 Board of Ed recap
The Hoboken Board of Education meetings have been quite the busy stories on Hoboken411. The latest hot-button topic is the teachers contract, as well as the intense meeting two weeks ago.
Maureen Sullivan, who recapped the previous meeting – chimes in again with her observations from this weeks meeting:
Teachers still don’t have a contract
More out-of-town kids on the way
By Maureen Sullivan
Police did not need to be called to Tuesday’s school board meeting. The 100 angry teachers, clerks and drivers who jammed the meeting two weeks ago were absent and teachers’ union president Gary
Enrico struck a conciliatory note. Negotiations for the new contract, which may hand teachers raises of nearly 6% a year for the next three years, drag on after it was unexpectedly shot down in September.
Enrico called the two weeks following the fiery meeting a “good cooling-off period.”
Superintendent Jack Raslowsky said board attorney Joe Morano was sick and therefore negotiations had stalled. The old contract expired June 30.
The union and its supporters on the board – President Frances Rhodes-Kearns, Carmelo Garcia, Anthony Romano and Frank Raia – missed their chance to ram through the sweetheart deal at the last meeting. They were blocked by their teammate Phil DeFalco, who unexpectedly joined the Kids First crew of Theresa Minutillo, Rose Marie Markle and Carrie Gilliard in rejecting the agreement. Jimmy Farina had to abstain because his wife is a clerk in the district.
Negotiations now have to be conducted with the knowledge that city taxes are set to go up 47% almost immediately.
When resident Lane Bajardi attempted to point out that it wasn’t wise to hand out big raises when the city is facing a financial meltdown, Raia objected to any comparison with city hall. “We know how to count,” he said.
The majority on the board has made it clear that it has no interest in cutting spending, so they moved ahead with a plan to bring in more revenue: recruiting kids from other towns, specifically Jersey City. Instead of plotting strategy to make the public schools more attractive to local families, the board is planning to entice out-of-towners in an effort to prop up declining enrollment.
The state program known as School Choice lets districts with empty seats fill them by allowing out-of-district students to enroll legally, meaning the state funding follows the student. In Hoboken’s case, each new student would come with about $15,000 attached, minus the cost to transport the child back and forth to his home town. Bring in 100 kids, $1.5 million follows. Currently, there are about a half dozen children enrolled in the program.
In a non-binding poll of board members, Rhodes-Kearns, Romano (soon to be a freeholder representing part of Jersey City), Markle and Raia supported the plan, in part because they favor allowing former residents who were “forced out” to be able to attend schools. DeFalco and Minutillo said they wanted more information. Jimmy Farina voted NO. (Garcia and Gilliard were not present.)
Farina is the only current member who was on the board back in the late 90s when Hoboken got the School Choice designation (it goes to only one district in each county). On Tuesday, Farina said he had “strong reservations” about the program, adding that it had led to discipline problems and that it doesn’t help our schools.
Theresa Burns, a former board member who lobbied to get the program 10 years ago, said she supports reviving it although she also acknowledged that it had lots of problems, like being used to enhance the athletic department, which is against the program’s regulations.
Raslowsky said there are only a few spots to offer at the elementary level. Wallace and Calabro are nearly full and Connors is scheduled to close for a two-year renovation in June and so far the administration has not come up with a place to house those students. So most open spots would be at the woefully underused high school, with as many as 20 new students added at both the freshman and sophomore levels.
The program mandates that the receiving districts cannot screen the applicants for academic readiness or past behavioral problems. And they cannot ask students to leave once they have enrolled. Once they are in, they are in, even if a district ultimately opts out of its “choice’ status.
A “choice” district also cannot accept tuition-paying students. Assistant to the superintendent Mary Tremitiedi said parents sometimes call and ask about paying out of their own pockets to come here, but we can’t let them in. (We are reimbursed by towns that send their special education children here.) Teachers already get free tuition for their children. In contrast, Jersey City recently substantially upped the tuition it charges employees who don’t live in the city but whose kids go to McNair, one of the state’s top high schools. It also won’t allow new out-of-town kids to apply there.
Former freeholder candidate Ines Garcia-Keim, whose son attends HHS, suggested “school choice” could be a “job preservation” plan for teachers and administrators. She also asked the board to seriously reconsider a plan that would undoubtedly change the “culture” of the classroom by bringing in so many out-of-towners.
Over the years, the vast majority of the “choice” students have come from Jersey City and it’s expected that would hold true in the future.
It’s estimated that 10-15% of the public school population – easily 300 students – don’t live in Hoboken and don’t bring in any funding from their home districts. Each day, myriad children come into Hoboken on the 22 bus from Union City, the elevator from the Heights, and cars suspiciously lacking our coveted parking stickers. The administration and board look the other way and refuse to weed them out using tactics common in other districts that keep a tighter rein on their budgets. At an earlier meeting, when asked to consider a proposal that would send letters home to families telling them to bring those letters in as proof that they actually live at that address — no different from what the parking authority does every year — Romano and Markle said they would crumble up any such letter that came to them and throw them away. They said they and others shouldn’t have to prove they live in Hoboken.
The next meeting is Tuesday, November 18, at 7 p.m.