The school board met on Tuesday for what may be the last time as presently constituted.
The public can vote for three board members and on the $56.3 million school budget this Tuesday, April 15, between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Eight school board candidates are competing to fill three seats.
The incumbents are Carmelo Garcia, Frances Rhodes-Kearns, and Tricia Snyder. Challengers include Brian Assadourian, Phil Campbell, Phil DeFalco, Maureen Sullivan, and Ron Rosenberg.
The incumbents are split among two slates, and there are also two independent candidates running. The slates are: Kids First, with Snyder, Assadourian, and Campbell; and Parents for Progressive Education, with Garcia, Rhodes-Kearns, and DeFalco. The independents are Sullivan and Rosenberg.
For the profiles of the candidates that were published in last month's Reporter, check the articles here and here.
After the election, the board will hold its annual re-organization meeting to elect a new president, vice president, and committee members if needed.
How to keep teachers
At Tuesday's meeting, board members and members of the public talked about the fact that if the budget is approved, it may force the layoffs of up to 20 non-tenured teachers.
Gary Enrico, the president of the Hoboken teachers union, threw the union's support behind the school budget at the meeting.
"We're asking you to fully support the budget," Enrico told the board.
The rationale behind this push for support is that if the budget gets voted down by the public, it goes before City Council to make whatever adjustments they see fit. Since the City Council has not been a part of the budgeting process to this point and have their own budget issues, the board and the union feel it is not in the best interest of the district for the budget to be sent before the council.
Later in the meeting, 3rd Ward City Councilman Michael Russo attempted to get commitments from board members to eliminate any layoffs contained in the budget.
"The real question is, do you have full support from the board not eliminating 20 teachers from the school system?" Russo said. "That's the commitment that I want to hear from every one of you."
Some members vocalized their commitment, including board members Carmelo Garcia, Anthony Romano, and Frank Raia.
Board member and Finance Committee chair Tricia Snyder, who is up for re-election, had a more tempered response.
"I think we'll find a way to keep almost everyone," Snyder said. "Our goal was to cut administrative costs."
The board approved three teacher retirements at the meeting. This could open up spots for the teachers facing layoffs, should they fit the qualifications.
Council President Theresa Minutillo asked publicly for board's approval on the budget, to which they all agreed.
Where the budget money's going
The board has set aside $930,000 in the $56.3 million budget for curriculum funding that has yet to be assigned. The money was made available primarily by moving administrators back into the classroom, in turn bumping non-tenured teachers from several spots, and eliminating other teaching positions.
Superintendent Jack Raslowsky said in an interview that he has been in preliminary discussions with board members and school principals on the various uses for the money.
The board's Committee on Curriculum proposed the option of involving the public in the process after the principals and administrators have been consulted.
According to Carrie Gilliard, committee chair and board member, the public should be informed, "so that the community as a whole can come and hear what the plans were and the different points of view."
$75K for PR
Resident and parent Felicia Drasheff raised a point about the lack of public relations in the school district during the public portion.
"This year, we were lacking PR," Drasheff said. "I hope that next year, we have ... someone who is dedicated to tell the great stuff that is happening here."
However, in the past, members of the public have complained that only politically connected firms were hired to get the word out, and often at a salary of $40,000 to $60,000.
But on Tuesday night, the board agreed with Drasheff. There is $75,000 budgeted for public relations in this year's budget.
"I think that's important," Romano said. "If the parents want it, we, as a board, need to listen."
Raslowski said in an interview that the board will be putting out a public request for proposals from public relations agencies.
On Friday, Freeholder Maurice Fitzgibbons, whose Jersey City-based PR firm has held the contract in the past, said, "I'm certainly not looking for it, and I think $75,000, they should make sure that they do a very thorough and extensive search."
Fitzgibbons added that both political sides in town have used the contract as a "political plum."
He said that for the last year, his firm has been working with the high school pro bono on certain projects, and, "I am very happy as I have in the last year to offer my firm's services pro bono."
Fitzgibbons added that it could be done within the district, perhaps by offering a faculty member a stipend. Often, stories in the local press have come about because a teacher or drama director phoned the newspaper.
Technical difficulties with broadcast, coaches
The board had technical difficulties with the recording of their meeting on March 25, causing a delay before it could air on Channel 77. Then, when it aired, there were audio problems.
"Certainly, we would never purposely not put those meetings up, given that they are the finest entertainment in town," Raslowsky said.
Some board members voiced their desire to diversify the programming on Channel 77 to include special school functions, programs, and award ceremonies.
"I think the people would rather see our children in action," board member Jim Farina said.
The board approved a policy guide for volunteer athletic coaches that included an amendment eliminating the requirement of college credits for potential candidates.
The original policy guide required any athletic volunteers to have a specified amount of generalized college credits, but after several people had voiced concern that the restriction would limit the pool of possible coaches, the board reconsidered.
The policy guide includes a background check and fingerprint analysis at the coach's expense.
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Seven of the eight candidates were on hand to try to sway voters.
The public forum covered topics like the $56.3 million budget, spiking per-pupil costs, and ways of increasing the diminished school enrollment - all in front of approximately 30 residents and local politicians.
Incumbent board members Carmelo Garcia and Tricia Snyder, who are up for re-election, were on hand, as well as newcomers Brian Assadourian, Phil Campbell, Phil DeFalco, Ron Rosenberg, and Maureen Sullivan. Incumbent candidate Board Vice President Frances Rhodes-Kearns was not available due to a scheduling conflict.
The budget was a hot issue, especially considering that 15 to 20 non-tenured teachers could lose their jobs.
Snyder, chairperson of the board's Finance Committee, said that the budget was a compromise with the superintendent and that the situation could have been worse.
"We fought to keep 12 additional teachers," she said.
Snyder is heading the "Kids First" ticket that includes Assadourian and Campbell.
Garcia, who voted down the budget, had defended his vote, saying, "I voted 'no' on the budget to send a message that we're not balancing our budget on the backs of our students."
Garcia is leading the "Parents for Progressive Education" ticket that includes Rhodes-Kearns and DeFalco.
Some of the new candidates who had not been involved in the budget process were critical of it.
"I was very, very disappointed at the budgeting process," said Rosenberg, who is running as an independent and who ran unsuccessfully for City Council last year. "We are in a financial straitjacket."
DeFalco said, "We need to make sure that we've spent efficiently." He added, "A budget shouldn't be a last-minute thing," stressing the need for the district to plan ahead.
Enrollment, perception issues
Candidates were also asked questions about declining enrollment and how the situation could be improved.
Many candidates called for a word-of-mouth campaign to address public perception issues.
"How are we supposed to sell the schools, when most of our elected officials don't send their kids to school here?" Sullivan asked.
"No parent should feel as though they're compromising their child's education by putting them in the Hoboken school system," Assadourian said.
Old blood, new blood
The incumbents, although not on the same slate, maintained that they were on the right track and would continue to work for the students' benefit.
"My first priority is developing a 21st century curriculum," Garcia said.
"We're paying for a world-class education, and I believe we can get one," Snyder said.
But other candidates said there is a need for a change on the board.
"The reason that I am running is out of a necessity for a real voice to be heard," Campbell said. "We need a new, fresh perspective."
Dr. Anthony Petrosino, assistant to the superintendent, called the forum "democracy at its best," adding, "What's very encouraging is that education is at the forefront."
Erin Bellissimo, a member of the Family Alliance who heads that group's Schools Committee, said, "I think that the turnout was okay. I'd like to see more."
Bellissimo and Theresa Howard hosted the event for the HFA, which has held the forum for three of the last four years.
"It was good to have the candidates here," Bellissimo said. "They were open."
She added that that is rare "in a town where it's hard to leave politics at the door." - TJC
When asked at the time how a district could go without a written curriculum for its students, Raslowsky said that years ago there was one, but it was not updated over time as books and requirements changed.
The QSAC or Quality Single Accountability Continuum is used by the state to assess and monitor each of New Jersey's school districts.
The state's own curriculum audit, conducted by representatives visiting the schools a year ago in February and March, found that, "With the exception of the [International Baccalaureate program] documents, there is essentially no locally designed written curriculum in place or in use, as measured by today's QSAC standards....however there is a timeline in place for curriculum revision taking in all subjects through 2009. The district has no central office administration dedicated to curriculum and instruction."
The report also states that, "Teachers in the schools seem to have done a good job of using the NJCCCS, Curriculum Frameworks, texts, and old undated course outlines to implement a program that helps students achieve the NJCCCS. ("NJCCCS" is short for the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards.) They need the direction of well constructed curricula that meet NJQSAC standards to help students achieve their full potential."
The report states several times that the teachers have made good use of the resources given to them, but that a "strong living curriculum document" is necessary.