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
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.”
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.”
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 email@example.com