Hoboken School taxes UP! Why?

Why are Hoboken school taxes going up with declining enrollment?

You ever wonder why school taxes in Hoboken are so high? You ever wonder how each year the administration promises increased enrollment (to justify such high taxes), yet enrollment keeps going down? You ever wonder why no one is making a stink about it?

If you think it’s because we have the No. 1 school in the state, well you’re wrong. Former Board of Education member Maureen Sullivan finds the proposed increases to the 2013-2014 budget suspicious, as she explains in today’s letter to the editor:

Hoboken School Taxes too high

Letter: Hoboken school taxes increase double state cap!

“On Wednesday the school board plans to raise the school tax levy by an astounding 4% beginning July 1, to $38 million. After four years of keeping the levy flat, this board now will not only raise taxes, but by double the amount allowable under the 2% state cap.

How does this happen? As a board member from 2009 until this past January, I objected to any tax levy increase suggested by administrators (who didn’t pay taxes here), as did my fellow former member, Theresa Minutillo, though I always wanted to go further with actual tax cuts. Now, the Kids First majority is without a flat-tax advocate. And the public no longer is allowed to vote on the budget. As part of the Kids First decision last year to move the election to November, the annual referendum on the budget has ended and the weeks of discussion and debate have disappeared. Whattaya know? Taxes go soaring.

Hoboken School Taxes going up Hoboken411 letter to the editorLet’s not forget that Hoboken is already spending an unfathomable $23,716 per pupil this year, according to “official figures” that don’t take into account a number of line items. That’s the second-highest of any of the 220 K-12 districts in the state, and that includes high-flyers such as Princeton and basket cases like Camden. A similarly sized district such as Roselle Park, which Hoboken beat in December’s football championship, spends $13,836 per pupil, about the state average. Their state aid will stay flat this year, while Hoboken’s will jump 8.3%, to $10.5 million.

But somehow it’s never enough.

Every year the administrators promise a dramatic increase in enrollment – next year they are projecting almost a 14% jump! Yet the new influx in students never materializes, and enrollment continues to slide: This year they enrolled nearly 100 fewer students than predicted. But over-estimating sure helps the per-pupil amount look better when you advertise the budget.

Without any media coverage, it’s nearly impossible for the public to know where all the money is going. Roselle Park, for one, held a public budget workshop for the community a month ago and posted the video online. Hoboken revealed the often confusing and contradictory budget numbers just days before Wednesday’s budget hearing. The public will get one chance to ask questions, and then the board will vote that night on final approval of the total $64,789,691 budget.

Superintendent Mark Toback and the board owe it to Hoboken’s hard-working taxpayers to try harder to cut our wasteful spending. Remember, we spend $10,000 more per pupil than the average district. Even with flat tax levies, the dip in rateables has meant our school taxes have actually gone up 5.27% since 2009.

Jeff Spicoli loves hoboken school taxes highAdministrators and board members will have you believe there’s not a dime to save in this budget. Consider that the board loves Sodexo, the cafeteria company contracted to supply better meals and cut the lunch program’s red ink. Nevertheless, it won’t even consider contracting out other non-educational services, which could offer us better service and enormous cost savings. Union City just outsourced their bus service. Guess who spent $78,000 buying two of their old buses? And do you wonder what happens when a teacher fails to show up in the classroom day after day? The district pays that person plus two other teachers to offer make-up classes for the students. Last year the board granted the unionized teachers, clerks and bus drivers a 10.8% raise over three years. Wondering who foots the ever-growing bill? As a friend of mine says, look in the mirror.

Before the November election, the Kids First candidates campaigned on the boast that the school tax levy had remained flat for three years (it’s actually four years.) In fact, Mayor Zimmer wrote an endorsement letter that trumpeted that information.

The good news is that the Mayor has introduced a new city budget that reportedly won’t raise our municipal taxes (411 note: until after the election).

The bad news, of course, is that her friends on the school board are raising our taxes the first chance they get.”

Maureen Sullivan

14 Responses

  1. HOB424 says:

    The budget is high. However the HBOE budget does not represent only one public school district. It represents 4 separate public school districts, which includes a duplication of services on the administration level. The 3 other districts (Hob. Charter, Elysian, Hola) send the HBOE a bill each year. It’s approximately between 7-8 million that goes to these other “separate” entities. Then about 10 million comes in the state in aid for the “free” preschool program for 3 and 4 year olds. Sutract those two figures and you’re down to about $46,000,000. Also included is federal grants the HBOE receives, such as Title I funding. Still high. But breaking it down you can see exactly what the expenses are for and gives a more detailed account versus just looking at the total?

    • OpenEyes says:

      after the cost of charters

      $46,000,000 divided by 1600 students = $28,750

      best schools in the state cost $14,000[quote comment=”219989″]The budget is high. However the HBOE budget does not represent only one public school district. It represents 4 separate public school districts, which includes a duplication of services on the administration level. The 3 other districts (Hob. Charter, Elysian, Hola) send the HBOE a bill each year. It’s approximately between 7-8 million that goes to these other “separate” entities. Then about 10 million comes in the state in aid for the “free” preschool program for 3 and 4 year olds. Sutract those two figures and you’re down to about $46,000,000. Also included is federal grants the HBOE receives, such as Title I funding. Still high. But breaking it down you can see exactly what the expenses are for and gives a more detailed account versus just looking at the total?[/quote]

  2. keenobserver says:

    This letter fails to also single out the new board chairman, Leon Gold for criticism. Gold has been a consistent advocate of raising taxes and spending more money, and this year he may get his wish–unless the public comes out on Wednesday night and rejects this budget. There’s a letter from Gold on the district website that lists three reasons why he thinks taxes must go up, and all three are utterly dishonest.

    First, he says there’s “an unexpected loss of $450,000 in federal funds as a result of sequestration.” But the federal government has not notified any district of any such loss. The loss–close to 20%–is hypothetical and it’s doubtful it would be as high as 20%, if it happens. In any event, it’s routine for districts to follow good budgeting practices and count on getting only 80% of their current federal and state funds in budgeting for next year. So Gold is pushing for a massive tax hike for something that is standard practice each year.

    Second, Gold claims there’s “a requirement to pay down a deficit that built up over many years in the district’s Food Service program.” But there is no such requirement. The audit report noted this “deficit” but it’s a bookkeeping matter, not an actual deficit. The alleged “deficit” is called the result of some parents not paying their kids’ lunch bills, but record-keeping was terrible for many years and many of these parents did, in fact, pay. In any event, any unpaid bills were absorbed in previous years and there is no “deficit” that’s owed to anyone. The district doesn’t owe any vendors for bills from past years. It would be nice if any parent owing money from past years stepped forward to pay up. But if any did, that would just be extra cash, not something that’s crucial to the budget. Page 3 of his letter claims that these “accumulated losses [are] approaching $1 million.” This is complete nonsense. Most kids get free or reduced-price lunches and the money comes directly from Washington. Even if every other kid got the school lunch (when, in fact, most bring their own lunch), it would take six or seven years of none of these kids paying for lunch every single day to run up a deficit that large.

    Third, Gold claims the district must pay an extra “$553,000 in charter funding due to the addition of a new grade” at Hola. This is also fabricated. The district must pay roughly $12,000 for each Hoboken resident (not out-of-town students) attending a charter, as was reported last year. At the very most the new 5th grade at Hola would have 15 or 20 Hoboken kids. That’s $180,000-$240,000, not $553,000. And, of course, each kid attending a charter school who would’ve attended a public school saves the district money because charter kids cost the taxpayer $12,000 each while the district spends $24,000 on each public school kid, as Sullivan’s letter points out. Gold’s budget breakdown also claims that the district must pay a total of $7.81 million for all three charters. But that number is very fishy. At $12,000 a kid, that would mean there are 650 Hoboken kids in the charters, when the real number is closer to 250 or 350. Someone needs to ask about this at the hearing.

    So Gold’s official “reasons” for this big hit to taxpayers are all bogus. What are the real reasons? The word is that Gold screwed up contract negotiations with the teachers’ union and didn’t realize the district owed as much as it does. There’s also a rumor that the district is expanding its already gold-plated health insurance to more staffers and making it even more gold-plated, but it certainly didn’t want that to be made public.

    In the end, Gold is a tax and spender and Superintendent Toback is a bureaucrat interested only in controlling bigger budgets and building bigger empires. He doesn’t live here, he doesn’t owe Hoboken anything. Gold claims there are a few budget cuts here and there, but it’s much easier for Toback to stick it to Hoboken taxpayers than to roll up his sleeves and really root out the waste in a budget that spends nearly twice as much per pupil as the state average.

  3. OpenEyes says:

    Interesting
    “At $12,000 a kid, that would mean there are 650 Hoboken kids in the charters, when the real number is closer to 250 or 350. Someone needs to ask about this at the hearing.”

    Also Kids First used to complain how much money they spent on the Theater program under award winning Paula OHaus – criticizing how many experts they are paying . Well now they are not only paying stipends to zumba instructor aka theater teacher but they are paying more to experts but instead of 120 students involved in each play we only have around 30-35
    and now they do not make over $20,000 in tickets sales anymore

    • HOB424 says:

      There’s about atleast 200 kids in each charter. So the number is close to approximately 600. Hola has two classes per grade (22 kids in each). Hob charter has 20+ kids in each grade. I think Elysian has two classes per grade. Add that up K-8 (and high school for Hob Charter) and you will get close to the 600+ number. Since the charters are publicly funded shouldn’t their budget be relased to the public for review? They do not have to let nonprofit groups use their facilities for free. [quote comment=”220007″]Interesting “At $12,000 a kid, that would mean there are 650 Hoboken kids in the charters, when the real number is closer to 250 or 350. Someone needs to ask about this at the hearing.”Also Kids First used to complain how much money they spent on the Theater program under award winning Paula OHaus – criticizing how many experts they are paying . Well now they are not only paying stipends to zumba instructor aka theater teacher but they are paying more to experts but instead of 120 students involved in each play we only have around 30-35 and now they do not make over $20,000 in tickets sales anymore[/quote]

      • OpenEyes says:

        Public schools (non charter ) spends $23,000 depending on who numbers you believe
        the charters are spending 12,000-14,000 per student and are more successful in state grades than The Hoboken School district

        Hoboken is school choice which means students in other towns may pay to come to Hoboken but they pay only half of cost

        there are some excellent teachers and people in the schools but there is so much waste and
        poor management – Great teachers hide and A$$ kissers thrive

        [quote comment=”220010″]There’s about atleast 200 kids in each charter. So the number is close to approximately 600. Hola has two classes per grade (22 kids in each). Hob charter has 20+ kids in each grade. I think Elysian has two classes per grade. Add that up K-8 (and high school for Hob Charter) and you will get close to the 600+ number. Since the charters are publicly funded shouldn’t their budget be relased to the public for review? They do not have to let nonprofit groups use their facilities for free.[/quote]

      • HOB424 says:

        Charters are preceived to be more successful, however this is not always the case.[quote comment=”220020″]Public schools (non charter ) spends $23,000 depending on who numbers you believe the charters are spending 12,000-14,000 per student and are more successful in state grades than The Hoboken School districtHoboken is school choice which means students in other towns may pay to come to Hoboken but they pay only half of costthere are some excellent teachers and people in the schools but there is so much waste and poor management – Great teachers hide and A$$ kissers thrive[/quote]

      • CityGirlinHoboken says:

        Charter schools are public schools, they just are allowed to also take donations. But they are TOTALLY public in every sense of the word. [quote comment=”220020″]Public schools (non charter ) spends $23,000 depending on who numbers you believe the charters are spending 12,000-14,000 per student and are more successful in state grades than The Hoboken School districtHoboken is school choice which means students in other towns may pay to come to Hoboken but they pay only half of costthere are some excellent teachers and people in the schools but there is so much waste and poor management – Great teachers hide and A$$ kissers thrive[/quote]

      • OpenEyes says:

        Yes I know they are public – but they have their own board and spend half of what the Hoboken Public District -non lottery school spend – What language do you use to separate them?

        yes there are some excellent aspects of the Hoboken district that operate against all odds and despite the moronic leadership from Kids First. You have to fly under the radar or kiss the ring finger or else you may be fired

        [quote comment=”220026″]Charter schools are public schools, they just are allowed to also take donations. But they are TOTALLY public in every sense of the word.[/quote]

  4. CityGirlinHoboken says:

    I work in a Hoboken school and all I can tell you is that the waste is outrageous. For example, the classrooms were kept at over 80 degrees all winter (I’m not guessing; we had thermometers), and the teachers had to turn on the air conditioners all day to keep the rooms at a reasonable temperature. I’m not sure what a barrel of oil costs, but it has to be tens of thousands of dollars of waste every winter. The whole issue is disgraceful….there are a million things that could be done to save money in those schools!!!

  5. keenobserver says:

    Hob424–

    Hoboken and Elysian do have around 200 each, I believe, but Hola has at most 125 or 130–it goes up to only 4th grade now, 5th next year, I believe. But a third or more of those kids are not Hoboken residents so the Hoboken school board doesn’t fund them; their own school boards do. So the actual number of Hoboken charter kids that we fund is somewhere between 250 and 350. We also fund Hoboken kids who go to charters in Jersey City or elsewhere, but that’s a very tiny number. The $12,000/student number was stated by the business administrator at a board meeting last year, so that number is probably right. So something doesn’t add up here.

  6. keenobserver says:

    Hob424 — I checked into this further and you’re right, the charter schools do have more kids than I thought. Elysian and Hoboken Charter have around 300 kids. Altogether they three schools have just over 600 Hoboken residents enrolled, though not quite the 650 that the district is budgeting for.

    But here’s a bigger problem. Leon Gold’s budget breakdown says the district will pay $7.81 million next year for charter kids, up from $7.2 million this year. That’s an extra $553,000 next year to pay for the extra charter kids. But that $7.2 million was the amount budgeted a year ago–it’s not the actual figure paid out after school started and the actual number of kids was counted. According to the district website, the actual amount spent on charter school kids this year is $6.8 million. The charter schools tend to overestimate how many kids will actually attend and so the enrollment is always lower each year than projected.

    So the bottom line here is that Superintendent Toback is budgeting a whopping $1 million more for charter school kids this year–even though the only increase in enrollment will be the new 5th grade at Hola, which may have at most 30 students from Hoboken (and 10 or 15 of those probably would be going to the public schools here if Hola wasn’t there). The district pays Hola $10,500 per student, according to the website, so that’s an extra $315,000 — not $1 million!

    Toback is using the oldest bureaucratic trick in the book — use year-old budgeted figures rather than current, actual figures to make the increases look smaller than they really are. And he’s charging this extra money to the taxpayers! It’s completely dishonest and someone needs to ask about this at the meeting tonight.

  7. briank says:

    Maybe I am simplifying things a little too much, but I dont care if a kid goes to a charter school or a public school- hte kid is being educated by our tax dollars here in Hoboken. However you may do the math, we spend entirely too much on the BOE budget with disgustingly poor results. I respect the rights of teachers to have unions, and I know education is an investment in our future, but this is such a collosal waste of money for such poor results it would never stand in the corporate world. Why do we let it stand here?
    As for voting on budgets, I used to vote against them. However, i don’t think voting on budgets is the right way to do this because guess who goes and votes? Thats right- the BOE employees and their families who live in town. Many municipalities got rid of residency rules for public employees purely because they could vote themselves pay increases, as has been the case here in Hoboken for many years. And the more aides and recpetionists they hire, the more voters they have to apporve this ridiculous budget.

  8. MauiM says:

    Shocks me that nobody brought up the fact that a huge number of the “Hoboken” students are from Jersey City. If you ever see the elevator by the 9th street light rail on a school day, scrores of Jersey City students coming down from the heights. …. I was actually hoping we would see BOE spending CUTS, not the contrary. For someone to stand on the podium and ask for more money to produce some of the lowest state testing and enroll students from neighboring towns is downright insulting. But this is Hoboken.

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