Three Hoboken moms who have challenged the school administration on several fronts were elected to the Board of Education on Tuesday night. The school budget also passed by a slim margin.
Incumbent Theresa Minutillo earned another three years on the board, and Maureen Sullivan avenged a school board loss in 2008. Newcomer Ruth McAllister rounded out the “Kids First” slate. The three will be sworn in at the board meeting this Tuesday.
Former Board President Frank Raia lost his seat and slate-mates Anthony Oland and Hector Irizarry pulled up short in their first campaigns.
Minutillo, Sullivan, and McAllister may now have a majority for most board votes, since they have allies on the board in trustees Rose Markle and Carrie Gilliard.
“As a minority board member, I was kept out of the loop on many things,” Minutillo said last week. “Do I expect that to change? I do. Many things are going to have to change.”
With Raia and former board member Anthony Romano – who left in January to take a freeholder position – off the board, the administration of Superintendent Jack Raslowsky is left with few faithful supporters.
However, the new board members vowed to work with their colleagues when the board reconvenes this week.
Board members Carmelo Garcia, Frances Rhodes-Kearns, and Jim Farina have been generally supportive of Raslowsky, while board member Phil DeFalco has been more of an independent voice in his first year on the board.
“The whole idea is to work together,” Sullivan said. She has had an adversarial relationship with some of the board members and administrators in the past, but Sullivan said it’s time to work side by side.
“It’s all strong personalities up there,” she said of the school leadership. “There are no shrinking violets. I don’t think we’ll agree on all the issues, but I think we’ll all work together.”
Minutillo was the top vote-getter, receiving 2,958 votes, according to the final tallies provided by Farina, who is the city clerk as well as a member of the board. The numbers did not include provisional ballots, but the provisionals are not numerous enough to change any outcomes.
Sullivan received 2,792 votes and McAllister received 2,689. Raia was fourth with 2,373 votes.
The $59.1 million budget – or rather the $36.5 million taxpayer portion of the budget – was approved by voters, but by only a very slim margin. Voters passed the school spending plan by only 114 votes, 1,999 to 1,885.
Had the school budget failed, the City Council would have had the duty of reducing the total taxpayer cost, although some insiders were worried that state Fiscal Monitor Judy Tripodi would have been the person reviewing and amending the budget. Ultimately, the state Department of Education would have the final say.
Some initial confusion about the budget approval was caused on Tuesday night by the county’s website, which posted tallies that did not include absentee ballots.
Big voter turnout…relatively
Board of Education elections do not normally draw a large turnout, but an influx of voters showed up at the polls last week to cast ballots. More than 5,600 people voted, a 36 percent increase from last year, when roughly 4,100 cast their ballot for the school board. In this mayoral election year, more people were paying attention to Hoboken politics.
“I was really nervous it was going to rain, because I knew the turnout was very important for us,” McAllister said last week. “I think people are interested because of the property tax increase. I think people are fed up with how the city and the schools are run. 5,600 people voted. I want to see how many go to the board meetings. I want people to come. I want them to hold us accountable.”
“It was really viral, people e-mailing other people.” – Maureen Sullivan
“It was really viral, people e-mailing other people,” Sullivan said. “Campaigns have changed. No more stuffing envelopes.”
A new agenda
The three winners agreed that their first priority is to sort out the district’s problems with state standardized tests. Several grade-levels fared poorly last year.
“Test scores are our first priority. We want to make sure the district is doing the outreach that is necessary,” McAllister said. “As the children get older, it’s harder to get them caught up.”
“We didn’t have the machine behind us, just involved neighbors and parents.” – Theresa Minutillo
“We didn’t have the machine behind us, just involved neighbors and parents,” Minutillo said. “And not a lot of money. I feel like we moved a mountain.”
The “Kids First” slate credited their campaign volunteers with hard work. All three also thanked mayoral candidate Dawn Zimmer, who had donated her headquarters on Washington Street to them and had publicly endorsed them.
“We all came together as a bunch of moms,” Sullivan said. Then she added, “And dads.”
Minutillo said it didn’t help Raia that he never showed up at the public forum organized for the candidates.
Raia disappointed in loss
Raia said he was disappointed, but glad that the budget he helped mold passed.
“I wouldn’t have done anything different,” he said.
What’s next for Raia, who has run for several offices in Hoboken?
“I’m going Disney World,” he joked. “I don’t know. I think the town is way out of whack. I don’t know what’s going on anymore.”
Raia said he is anxious to see how the winners perform.
“Now that they have the majority,” he said, “let’s see if they can do anything with it.”
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at email@example.com.