A gesture of faith
School district breaks early childhood contract, but hires back some teachers
by Dean DeChiaro
Reporter staff writer
Jun 23, 2013 | 8411 views | 8 8 comments | 225 225 recommendations | email to a friend | print
KEEPING STOCK – 13 teachers in Brandt Elementary School’s early childhood program lost their jobs as a result of the district terminating its contract with Catapult Learning, but the district rehired seven of them.
KEEPING STOCK – 13 teachers in Brandt Elementary School’s early childhood program lost their jobs as a result of the district terminating its contract with Catapult Learning, but the district rehired seven of them.

The Hoboken School District terminated its contract with Catapult Learning last week after continued issues with the Camden-based early childhood education company’s contract, according to Superintendent of Schools Mark Toback. The company, which handled the early childhood program at Brandt Elementary school, was one of the three outside companies which the district has contracts with to run the program.

As a result of the contract termination, Catapult dismissed its early childhood teachers at Brandt, leaving 13 teachers unemployed for the upcoming school year, though Toback said in an interview last week that seven had been hired back by the district. He said that the district will continue to execute contracts with HOPES CAP, Inc. and Mile Square Early Learning, but would absorb Catapult’s share of the program.

“Catapult has had more than its share of problems,” said Toback. “Once they lost their contract, we advertised the openings looking for people to replace the teachers they had dismissed, and were able to hire back a number of them.”
“Obviously we don’t want to see anyone without a job.” - Mark Toback
Toback called the move “making something good out of an unfortunate situation.”

The district’s early childhood program is spread throughout all of Hoboken’s elementary schools, including Brandt, and encompasses pre-kindergarten and kindergarten-aged students. Despite the school board’s recently-passed $63 million budget, the program operates outside that budget and is funded by a $9 million annual grant from the federal government due to Hoboken’s status as an Abbott “special needs” district.

There are free pre-K programs for 3- and 4-year-olds in the Hoboken schools.

Toback said that because of the grant’s constraints, the district was unable to rehire all 13 of the teachers.

“We have to operate within the grant,” he said. “We try to fit as many teachers as we can into that budget, but we can’t overspend because we don’t want this grant to be supplemented by taxpayers.”

Master’s degrees

Many of the teachers that were dismissed by Catapult had master’s degrees, a qualification which typically adds anywhere from $7,000 to $8,000 to a teacher’s salary. Of the seven teachers the district re-hired, only two have master’s degrees. Toback said that hiring teachers with master’s degrees often burdens the budget to the point where it can’t be balanced.

“It’s a big difference in salary,” he said. “There are lots of teachers with master’s degrees, but within that $9 million grant, we just can’t afford them.”

However, Toback spoke highly of the rehired teachers, especially those with higher qualifications.

“We take a lot into consideration when hiring and that includes experience,” he said. “The teachers that we rehired have experience in Hoboken, and that counts quite a bit.”

Toback did lament the loss of the six teachers that the district could not rehire, but characterized the situation as “unfortunate.”

“Obviously we don’t want to see anyone without a job,” he said. “Unfortunately this wasn’t really in our control.”

Positive outlook

Toback said that he thought terminating Catapult’s contract with the district would bode well for the future of Hoboken’s youngsters, many of whom will now be directly under the tutelage of the district, without the interference of a third-party company.

“It gives us more control over spending, it gives us more control over the curriculum,” he said. “There are a lot of opportunities now.”

The section of the $9 million grant that was earmarked for Catapult will now be absorbed into the district’s overall budget, and will be controlled by the Board of Education, who may choose to use it for capital improvement projects, said Toback. The district’s other early childhood education contractors will maintain their share of the grant to continue operations.

“Because we’re not going to be paying Catapult for its services, we can use that money in different ways,” he said.

While the majority of the funding will have to go to the early childhood program as before, other projects can be undertaken as well, including a long-overdue replacement of Demarest School’s main staircase.

Dean DeChiaro may be reached at deand@hudsonreporter.com

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a - nonymous
June 26, 2013
Shame on those educational leaders who bend to the pressure of cost and let go bright, capable, highly educated personnel as their solution to an economic problem! These leaders show little resourcefulness and problem solving skills themselves if they see such a move as an educationally sound solution. I have an idea. How much do they make?
June 30, 2013
What's truly stunning is the overall sad state of the Hoboken public school system given the resources that it consumes. We have a "Top 300" system for which we pay "Top 10" prices, which is pathetic. As a Hoboken taxpayer, I care a lot less about the price and a lot more about value.

There's absolutely no way to justify the Hoboken public school budget given the system's inability to compete academically at even the state level, never mind the national level. For the amount that we are spending, we should have Westchester schools.

Given the size of the budget being wasted on a subpar system, we could probably privatize the entire system, shed a ton of long term future pension liability and do better. Or at least pay less for less and slash taxes. If we can't do it better, we should do it cheaper.

I recently noticed an article trumpeting the graduation of about 130 students from Hoboken High School. It speaks volumes that in a city of 50,000 people there are only 130 students graduating from the public high school in town. My high school, which was one of two in my town, had over 400 per class from a similarly sized population. In other words, there were 800 graduates each year. Basically, people are doing anything and everything that they can to avoid enrolling in the Hoboken public system. With this kind of performance, there should be no sacred cows, the entire system should be restructured aggressively.

I wish Mr. Toback much success in this endeavor. He should be empowered to slash and burn aggressively so that he can plant seeds and grow something worthy in the ashes. And both he and the Board should be held accountable for the progress and results. When you have 130 graduates in a city of 50,000 you have very little at risk while making radical changes.
June 25, 2013
So they've cut the skills of the teachers to save money - those poor kids. But what a relief this must be for Catapult. Tobak refused to pay their overdue bills, then begged again for their help. Now that the bill comes due again, he makes up some excuse to terminate. I've heard the company is absolutely relieved to be nowhere near Tobak any more. What a terrible school district. Poor kids.
June 24, 2013
From the article: "The section of the $9 million grant that was earmarked for Catapult will now be absorbed into the district’s overall budget, and will be controlled by the Board of Education, who may choose to use it for capital improvement projects, said Toback"

Translation: Instead of the funding being restricted to the very popular and successful pre-k program, the Hoboken superintendent can use it for pet projects or whatever he wants, so obviously he was not interested in hiring the more qualified teachers who would demand higher pay. Toback and his rubber stamps on the board of ed would rather let the money go into the black hole of their bloated budget.
June 24, 2013
Some of the very best teachers from Catapult were not asked back simply because they had a masters degree. That is such a huge loss for the program and the students. It is very sad and discouraging that in a district like Hoboken where they are struggling to improve test scores, improve its image and retain students that the quality of education is not the top priority.
June 23, 2013
Strike another one up for the corrupt town of Hoboken. Obviously the superintendent approached the Hudson Reporter to twist this story and hide the truth. Yes, Catapult was a terribly run program, but Hoboken has lied and gone out of its way to nickle and dime this opportunity to cut funds at the price of its best teachers. No wonder everyone moves to the burbs once their kids become of age. Hope all that work in an administrative role at these schools and for the Board of Ed can sleep well at night, because you have some serious character flaws for which you will one day hopefully pay the price.
June 23, 2013
This is not true... It is general knowledge that no teachers with Master's Degrees were hired by the district. Check out the Board Minutes to confirm. The Superintendent is lying.
June 23, 2013
It is my understanding that, with the exception of one or two, the only Catapult teachers who were NOT hired back by the district were those with Master's Degrees. Doesn't say much about the fate of this program.