A Hoboken Drama: Saving Mrs. Ohaus

TONIGHT: Last chance for Ohaus & Hillenbrand to appeal to the board

Supporters of two of Hoboken’s most respected teachers are expected to be out in force tonight to ask the School Board majority to reinstate them.

The regrettable Hoboken saga of Rose Markle and Theresa Minutillo’s personal jihad against Paula Ohaus and Chen-Yen Hillenbrand comes to a legal crescendo tonight as each is granted their mandated “Donaldson Hearing” to state their case directly to the board about how they should not accept the “non-renewal” status recommended by new Superintendent of Schools Mark Toback.

Public: a chance to speak in support of Ohaus and Hillenbrand

A regular board meeting will begin at 7pm, and members of the public who wish to address school issues can sign up for the public portion to address the board.

After the regular meeting concludes, the Donaldson hearing will begin.

Members of the public can only speak before the close of the regular meeting, not during the hearing. In fact, Toback is also not supposed to speak during the Donaldson hearing, which state law says is not designed to be “an adversarial hearing.”

Markle is used to making up her own rules at board meetings, and is likely to ignore the procedure and allow Toback to offer counterpoints to the board. Ohaus is not accused of breaking any law, but has run afoul of certain egos in Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s Board of Education majority.

The meeting begins at 7 in the windowless basement lair of the School Board at 1115 Clinton Street.

Kids First continues hate; community shows strong support for Ohaus

Local Television Media adds coverage

While the low-turnout City Council election was taking place yesterday, there was a marathon session at the Board of Education last night.

For your review – here are prepared remarks from Hoboken Republican Nathan Brinkman – as well as a TV News Segment from MY9 News:

“Don’t cast treasured Hoboken teachers aside”

“I am a Hoboken resident. And I am also the father of a small child.

And so I feel more personally invested than ever in our community—and in our community’s schools in particular. Like many young families, we’ll soon be faced with a question: do we trust our public schools to provide our son with the education he needs and deserves?

And if the answer is no, we’re faced with a second dilemma. That is, can we afford to stay in a town we’ve come to know and love? And so it’s with that perspective that I’ve come here tonight, to simply and respectfully implore you to reconsider your plans to fire two of our best and most beloved educators: Paula Ohaus and Cheng-Yen Hillenbrand.

I am not opposed to firing employees for cause. But in this case, it seems like Ohaus and Hillenbrand are being punished for their success. As you may know, I am all in favor of modernizing, streamlining and, yes, downsizing our district’s workforce, so we can allocate resources more wisely to the classroom and provide some much-needed tax relief.

But that’s not what’s happening tonight. That’s not what’s at stake here.

Markle and Toback move to FIRE Paula Ohaus

May 9, 2011:

Still stinging from their overwhelming election defeat two weeks ago, Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s faction on the Board of Education is moving to take vengeance on popular teachers who don’t tow their party line. In a move that required an eleventh hour change to official district policy, nationally acclaimed Hoboken High School Theater Program Director Paula Ohaus is on a list of teachers to be fired at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting.

Board President Rose Markle and Vice President Theresa Minutillo, who are close allies of Zimmer, have targeted Ohaus. They are also firing Cheng-Yen Hillenbrand who founded the district’s Johns Hopkins Program for Gifted Students and 4 other teachers. Here is an update on the situation posted on the blog of the Hoboken Republican Club:

War on Excellence: Continuing Persecution of Highly Effective Teachers

“On Tuesday night , our school board plans to vote on firing six district employees. Unfortunately, two of our district’s best and most beloved educators—Paula Ohaus and Cheng-Yen Hillenbrand—are on the list of the doomed.

Ever since the “Kids First” faction assumed control, they have seemed determined to root out our schools’ few remaining centers of excellence (they’ve already abolished the International Baccalaureate). Tuesday’s vote comes after two years of hostility towards Ohaus from the Kids Firsters and their hand-picked superintendents. Evidently, they’ve been egged on by jealous educators who resent high achievers in a unionized culture that doesn’t especially prize hard work, excellence and merit. And now it appears that Hillenbrand has fallen victim to the same mistreatment.

In order to pull off these firings, Superintendent Mark Toback had to fashion a secret deal with Board President Rose Markle and local teachers’ union head Gary Enrico. Toback, who started his job in March, missed the April 30 deadline for not renewing teacher contracts for the next school year. So he negotiated with Enrico and Markle to amend the teachers’ contract and retroactively move the deadline to May 15. It is not known what Enrico got in return for selling out Ohaus and Hillenbrand.

The full board will vote Tuesday night on switching the deadline. Passing this measure would clear a path to vote on the list of teachers to renew for the coming year. Ohaus, director of the high school’s widely-acclaimed theater productions, and Hillenbrand, who founded the district’s Johns Hopkins Program for Gifted Students, are not on the list. So approving the list means, in effect, firing the two.

To save these teachers—and their respective centers of excellence—please attend Tuesday’s 7 PM meeting, located on 1115 Clinton Street. For more information, please contact us via info@hobokenrepublicans.com.

It’s also worth noting that Markle and Toback scheduled this news to break AFTER the Board of Ed election, and be considered at a meeting that begins when many concerned citizens will be busy with the City Council elections tomorrow.

Hoboken Theater Director claims district harassed her into resignation

4/15/2011:

Nationally recognized Hoboken High School theater program director Paula Ohaus had the audience cheering at Tuesday’s school board meeting as she agreed to discuss her last two years of “enduring harassment” from Interim Superintendent Peter Carter. Leaders of the Board of Education majority who made it clear they wanted Ohaus gone apparently directed those actions.

Board President Rose Markle and Vice President Theresa Minutillo, who critics say have acted on personal vendettas since obtaining majority rule of the board, have apparently targeted the popular teacher.

While the crowds never materialized at the first city council candidates’ debate across town, dozens of parents and students stormed the small meeting room to hear new Superintendent Mark Toback and the board hash out Ohaus’ decision to resign her position and then rescind that move just hours before the monthly meeting.

At times the meeting turned hostile as Jean Marie Mitchell and her allies traded barbs with Carmelo Garcia and Frances Rhodes-Kearns, her opponents in the April 27th Hoboken Board of Education election.

Standing room only at the Board of Ed

Students, alumni and parents rose to praise “Mz. O” and her skill as a teacher, mentor and cheerleader. “The students have been lost in all of this,” said sophomore Ariel Cruz. The Hoboken Fire Department was even called in to investigate capacity issues at the meeting, but found no violations.

The turmoil began earlier this month, just a week after the curtain came down on the acclaimed production of “Hairspray.”

Toback called Ohaus into a meeting with him and interim assistant superintendent Walter Rusak. Ohaus was told to bring her union representative, so teachers’ union president Gary Enrico also attended. She said she was quizzed about 24 items.

“It was more of an inquisition than a meeting,” a subdued Ohaus told the crowd in her slight Irish brogue. “I felt interrogated. I was devastated, unprepared, demeaned and in tears.”

While acknowledging that he had on hand a thick file of issues regarding Ohaus’ alleged mis-management of the theater department, Toback said that meeting was merely informational. He wanted to go over some issues before the next production, “Alice in Wonderland,” scheduled for late May. After starting just a month earlier, he said he had no intention of asking for her resignation. With all the issues facing the poor-performing Hoboken Public Schools, some wonder why Markle and Minutillo directed Toback to go after Ohaus and her successful program as one of his first priorities. Others say it is indicative of a high level of jealousy of her success and popularity.

Ohaus arrived about 20 minutes after the board meeting began and got a standing ovation when she was introduced by Garcia. In a rare move for a school staff member, she waived her right to have her personnel issues discussed only in closed session in order to address the open meeting.

Minutillo denied that the board had been anything but supportive of the theater program, ticking of payments to professionals who help put together the show, such as musicians
and seamstresses. Ohaus, however, said she had felt harassed by Peter Carter, who served as interim superintendent for a year and a half. “There was an environment of fear,” she added.

Petty nitpicking & harassment plague Ohaus

One complaint from Toback was that Ohaus had set up a Facebook page for the production, a charge she denied. Liz Markevich, whose daughter had a lead role as a freshman, told the crowd that she had set up the Facebook page and got a backstage blog going in order to market the play to a wider audience. “I got permission from every parent,” she said. “Mr. Carter wouldn’t let Paula promote the shows.”

Board member Maureen Sullivan questioned Toback on why Ohaus was expected to be on top of every aspect of the production, from selling tickets to filing paperwork, when the football coach has an Athletic Director (A.D.) to handle such issues. Ohaus asked A.D. Mo DeGennaro about the number of athletes who play sports at HHS. He said about 250 individuals participated in the athletics program. It was noted that the yearly athletic budget is $700,000, compared with $36,000 for “Hairspray,” which had 120 students involved (another 100, including children from the primary schools, are expected to participate in “Alice.”)

The show also took in $12,000 in ticket sales. Most athletic events are sparsely attended and collect little if any revenue.

Markle – who’s son played football and baseball at Hoboken High – said comparing the musical with the sports program was comparing “apples with oranges.” She was met with a chorus of boos.

That’s the way much of the evening went for the Markle/Minutillo majority and its supporters. Toback was to meet with Ohaus again Wednesday to iron out some issues.

Patricia Waiters, an independent candidate for school board, broke some of the tension in the room when she charged the microphone while Toback was speaking and offered to be an intermediary between the parties.

President Markle has a tendency to delay the release of information to the public that doesn’t suit her politically. Critics say she may secretly order last week’s meeting not be shown on Channel 77 until after the Board of Education election.

22 Responses

  1. jonsie says:

    High School politics in Hoboken, amateurs, blind leading the blind!

  2. 4th Ward Guardian says:

    Test scores tumble and Connors School crumbles while the Board of Ed majority spends it’s time trying to dismantle the highly acclaimed theater program. All because Paula Ohaus won’t kiss Minutillo and Markle’s rings? This is no way to run a school district.

    • 4th Ward Guardian says:

      Ro Markle’s revenge! PAULA OHAUS FIRED! Before the election everybody was trying to make nice, after the election Markle and Toback throw Ohaus under the bus. Political payback for the Kids First loss. I said it before and I’ll say it again: [quote comment=”205860″]Test scores tumble and Connors School crumbles while the Board of Ed majority spends it’s time trying to dismantle the highly acclaimed theater program. All because Paula Ohaus won’t kiss Minutillo and Markle’s rings? This is no way to run a school district.[/quote]

  3. mooshu says:

    Wow. Look at those fugly mugs on the bottom right. Jealousy front and center. That’s what it looks like, folks. Take it all in, see that it doesn’t pay.

    Kudos to Ohaus for coming forward with this stupidity.

    • westcoastbound says:

      And this, my friends, is a perfect example of wise and sophisticated political analysis. 😉 [quote comment=”205864″]Wow. Look at those fugly mugs on the bottom right. Jealousy front and center. That’s what it looks like, folks. Take it all in, see that it doesn’t pay.Kudos to Ohaus for coming forward with this stupidity.[/quote]

      • mooshu says:

        (Told you so.)

        [quote comment=”205866″]And this, my friends, is a perfect example of wise and sophisticated political analysis.

        [/quote]

  4. HearditallB4 says:

    Kudos to Dr. O’Haus. She is a brilliantly talented and dedicated professional!! I’ve attended many of her productions and it is the closest thing to Broadway I’ve seen. Trying to strong arm people is so “old time politics” in Hoboken. I’m thrilled she took a stand against the harassment!!!:)

  5. HearditallB4 says:

    It is now time to give the Board of Education back to the people who have stayed and continue to stay despite the overt criticism and covert praise that prevails in Hoboken. IMPO, Ms. Markle and Ms. Minutillo just sealed their own fate!! Bye Bye! 😐

  6. HearditallB4 says:

    On a side note, both of these trustees were backed by Ms. Zimmer and her entourage! Just wondering how many more “surprises” will be revealed out of necessity. This administration criticized their predecessors (believe me there was so much political patronage, and all involved went to jail for their actions), but the revelations that are coming forth now are out of necessity, not morality. JMPO, of course. Sad to say that we have hit rock bottom, and the only way to go is up. We need a “clean sweep”!! :(

  7. Kaiser Sosay says:

    for all these violations that they have brought to light you would think that the approiate action would be taken to suspend if not draw up paper work to fire her,but no it turns into a shit show,atleast there consistent..maybe they dislike her,maybe they want to put a friend into her position i have not a clue.what bothers me a little bit is past boards have benn ripped apart for there actions and deservedly so.most of the supporters of KF and the administration feel they are above you and know whats best for the masses and they do it in such a smug and elitist manner just like the guy in the white house…do as i say not as i do

  8. HearditallB4 says:

    IA somewhat, past boards have been taken to task and these board members are quick to take credit for that. As far as Dr. O’Haus, if rumors are true that it was an insurance issue than so be it, do not use people who are outside the district in the productions. But IMPO the current board members knew of this why did they not do something about it before? I am assuming that Dr. O’Haus knows about the insurance issues and has to clear productions before she undertakes the task. It just appears that violations such as these are being brough to light, so to speak by
    the very trustees that allowed them to pass in the first place. A twinge of conscience (sp) or a strong arm tactic to clean up their acts before they are investigated as well. At a crucial point in Ms. Zimmer’s administration, she is “cleaning house” before her next run. Is it an attempt to correct things to clear her administration’s name or a true desire to run an honest government? MPO it is the former. A little late for that, that should have been done as soon as she took office. Again, this is truly my personal opinion, not posted to incite argument but to question the true motivation. Very confusing and very disturbing. :(

  9. HOB424 says:

    Hasn’t she been there for about 15 years? In all that time, why didn’t she do what needed to be done to get tenured? That would have involved teaching in the classroom. Had she started that process earlier, she might not be dealing with this now and some of the political theatre could have been avoided.

  10. OpenEyes says:

    Ms OHaus was the theater coordinator until last year when Carter cancelled coordinator positions. Carter told her to teach in the classroom , which she loves.
    Everyone keeps talking about Charges Rules broken.
    There were no charges – Not one example of rules that Paula violated.
    NOT A SINGLE ONE. Toback raises questions and concerns, but these are all resolved or explained either in his meeting with Paula–as the letter points out–or at the BOE meeting after the letter was written. Not one charge has held up.
    No money was missing – there was more money
    The school should administrate some of the things –if students are academically ineligible, then the school needs to tell her which ones; she doesn’t have access to everyone’s report card.
    Certainly there are some issues of liability and perhaps some procedures should be tightened up and she should get some help with operations.
    The Theater budget is 60k and the athletic budget is 700k
    The board could pay for insurance on her car like other districts do.

    But to repeat that rules were broken for rules she never broke is a propaganda trick.
    To suddenly charge the Theater department with following procedures that none of the other departments do is Discriminatory
    To suddenly change rules and then let no one know rules were changed (regarding Charter Schools allowed in play)
    Is capricious and arbitrary.

    • HOB424 says:

      I remember that meeting, Carter pointed out that a theatre director is not a recognized full time teaching position in NJ. So for a long time, Hoboken was not following this rule.

      Why would anyone pay for insurance on an employee’s personal vehicle??? Exactly which other districts that you refer to, pay for insurance on an employee’s peronal vehicle. Exactly which other departments are not following procedures???? What rules were suddenly changed? Is it possible, the rules were there, but until recently, noone bothered to enforce them.[quote comment=”206835″]Ms OHaus was the theater coordinator until last year when Carter cancelled coordinator positions. Carter told her to teach in the classroom , which she loves.
      Everyone keeps talking about Charges Rules broken.
      There were no charges – Not one example of rules that Paula violated.
      NOT A SINGLE ONE. Toback raises questions and concerns, but these are all resolved or explained either in his meeting with Paula–as the letter points out–or at the BOE meeting after the letter was written. Not one charge has held up.
      No money was missing – there was more money
      The school should administrate some of the things –if students are academically ineligible, then the school needs to tell her which ones; she doesn’t have access to everyone’s report card.
      Certainly there are some issues of liability and perhaps some procedures should be tightened up and she should get some help with operations.
      The Theater budget is 60k and the athletic budget is 700k
      The board could pay for insurance on her car like other districts do. But to repeat that rules were broken for rules she never broke is a propaganda trick.
      To suddenly charge the Theater department with following procedures that none of the other departments do is Discriminatory
      To suddenly change rules and then let no one know rules were changed (regarding Charter Schools allowed in play)
      Is capricious and arbitrary.[/quote]

  11. iforgotmymantra says:

    The worst part about this is the way they are attempting to fire these exemplary educators – by simply leaving them off the list of teachers to renew. Another deceitful move by the Administration in this City!

    • mooshu says:

      Deceitful, yeah. Shocker, no. The best teachers get fired in this city, or they grow a pair and leave on their own. [quote comment=”206840″]The worst part about this is the way they are attempting to fire these exemplary educators – by simply leaving them off the list of teachers to renew. Another deceitful move by the Administration in this City![/quote]

  12. keenobserver says:

    The word I’m hearing from the theatre crowd is that Minutillo not only has long favored dumping Ohaus but that she deliberately manipulated Toback into unwittingly making it happen. Minutillo and other Kids Firsters supposedly got two people to make bogus complaints to Toback about Ohaus in the past few weeks. One is a woman who has a daughter in a hip-hop dance class with Minutillo’s daughter. The other is Barbara Bravo, who campaigns for Kids First and is a regular at their events. Their trumped-up complaints–so flimsy that they’re not even worth repeating here–are the only things making up Toback’s case against her because all of his other nitpicky charges fell apart at the last board meeting. Toback is so fresh off the turnip truck from Sussex County that he doesn’t realize he’s being used by Kids First as a total dupe. What was that KF slogan again? Let’s keep the progress going?

    • HOB424 says:

      There has to be more to the story. Minitullo has a preschool aged daughter, so are you saying another parent with a preschooler made a complaint about this High school teacher. does Bravo have any kids in the high school? People complain all the time. I can’t believe, that two random people, one with a preshooler, said something bad and the new super, says you’re fired. It can’t be that simpe. The drama surrounding this theatre program has come up in the past. Why didn’t any of the previous administrators at the BOE, ever explain to her about the need to be in the classroom, to start qualifying for tenure, if they care so much? Why didn’t the union, explain this to her and encourage her to do this for herself to get more job security? Why isn’t the union, maybe finding some way to avoid this?

      If there are these supposed “trumped-up complaints”, they should atleast be shared with OHaus, which I’m sure would have no problem, stating them publicly.[quote comment=”206832″]The word I’m hearing from the theatre crowd is that Minutillo not only has long favored dumping Ohaus but that she deliberately manipulated Toback into unwittingly making it happen. Minutillo and other Kids Firsters supposedly got two people to make bogus complaints to Toback about Ohaus in the past few weeks. One is a woman who has a daughter in a hip-hop dance class with Minutillo’s daughter. The other is Barbara Bravo, who campaigns for Kids First and is a regular at their events. Their trumped-up complaints–so flimsy that they’re not even worth repeating here–are the only things making up Toback’s case against her because all of his other nitpicky charges fell apart at the last board meeting. Toback is so fresh off the turnip truck from Sussex County that he doesn’t realize he’s being used by Kids First as a total dupe. What was that KF slogan again? Let’s keep the progress going?[/quote]
      [quote comment=”206832″]The word I’m hearing from the theatre crowd is that Minutillo not only has long favored dumping Ohaus but that she deliberately manipulated Toback into unwittingly making it happen. Minutillo and other Kids Firsters supposedly got two people to make bogus complaints to Toback about Ohaus in the past few weeks. One is a woman who has a daughter in a hip-hop dance class with Minutillo’s daughter. The other is Barbara Bravo, who campaigns for Kids First and is a regular at their events. Their trumped-up complaints–so flimsy that they’re not even worth repeating here–are the only things making up Toback’s case against her because all of his other nitpicky charges fell apart at the last board meeting. Toback is so fresh off the turnip truck from Sussex County that he doesn’t realize he’s being used by Kids First as a total dupe. What was that KF slogan again? Let’s keep the progress going?[/quote]

  13. oceanbloo says:

    So…Hoboken High school ranks low in academic performance and high in money spent per pupil.

    And everyone’s bickering about the drama program?

    Let’s get our priorities straight, folks. Drama is great – but it is only going to pay the bills for a handful of students.

    • john14 says:

      Just because there are other priorities, doesn’t mean that this isn’t important. You need to watch what the other hand is doing, and it’s shameful our educational system is in the hands of such inept, petty, incompetent bitchez. :mrgreen: [quote comment=”206860″]So…Hoboken High school ranks low in academic performance and high in money spent per pupil.And everyone’s bickering about the drama program?Let’s get our priorities straight, folks. Drama is great – but it is only going to pay the bills for a handful of students.[/quote]

      • oceanbloo says:

        True – except the district was faring poorly even before Kids First came around. So to blame just them isn’t exactly telling the whole story.[quote comment=”206861″]Just because there are other priorities, doesn’t mean that this isn’t important. You need to watch what the other hand is doing, and it’s shameful our educational system is in the hands of such inept, petty, incompetent bitchez. [/quote]

  14. OpenEyes says:

    The test scores improved a great deal under Gagliardi- which is why there is a bronze award for most improved in 2008
    But when Raslowski came in they went down for 2 years
    and have dropped even further under Carter /Kids First.
    Gagliardi hired some great teachers but he had other problems

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