Five years ago I wasn't yet a parent. But I was a Hobokenite, and I cared about kids, so I created a volunteer program - The Senior Prep Day - to help our High School Seniors step into the real world after graduation. From getting to know our great young people it was a short step into wanting to involve myself in improving our district's education.
I ran for the Board of Education as an independent in 2005 and narrowly lost to Mayor Roberts' well-funded slate. I stayed involved by attending the board meetings, requesting payroll and overtime lists to figure out why more money wasn't being spent in the classrooms or to support our teachers. I uncovered an extraordinary expense; $1.5 Million of custodian overtime. Some favored custodians were making six figures, more than any of our teachers. This information made me want to pay more attention to how the money flowed and how the budget is created.
I ran again in 2006, but this time supported by a team dedicated to the goal of being fiscally responsible and putting our money into the classrooms - in short putting kids first. That name described what we were about, so we kept it. I was the lone Kids First candidate elected that year. My first year on the board was a lonely one. I often seemed to be the only vote against the status quo and the only advocate for the Kids. In 2007 I supported a four-candidate slate of Kids First members, and we won three seats; Tricia Snyder, Carrie Gilliard and Rose Markle. The four of us have fought long and hard this year together to cut wasteful spending and demand accountability. And to put our money back into the classroom.
This year we only had four Kids First Board Members so each success was a compromise and a struggle. We were proud to pass a nepotism policy, which prohibited the Superintendent and all board trustees from hiring family members. Passing this state mandated plan also helped protect our pre-K funding. Another success was establishing a policy that all professional service contracts would be fairly bid. But our greatest success, without question, was working with the Superintendent to eliminate 12 administrative positions and to put that money back into the classroom.
Next year? You decide. Carrie, Rose and I need help on the board to preserve our gains and continue our progress. The loose coalition of parents, teachers and other committed Hobokenites that call itself Kids First is running candidates Phil Campbell 4A and Brian Assadourian 7A and supporting Finance Chair Tricia Snyder 8A for re-election. There are committed independents running as well, but I know from personal experience how tough it is to beat the Mayor's slate alone. This year there is a real risk that the pro-child vote will be split, and the Mayor's slate will prevail. That would be a shame. So I'm asking my friends, and those who support great schools to support the entire Kids First team. I promise you, we won't let you down.