The recent termination of two employees right before the new school year created a stir at a Board of Education meeting Tuesday night.
As board members head into an election season, tempers have been flaring over various matters.
One heated matter was the recent termination of district Business Administrator/Board Secretary William Takacs and his assistant, Maria Vazquez. School officials have not commented on the reason for the personnel change, and attendees at Tuesday night’s meeting could be heard speculating about the reasons.
Vazquez was at the meeting with her attorney, but did not publicly comment on the situation.
The terminations were vaguely listed on the agenda for the board to address on Tuesday night, but the agenda contained no other information. Several people at the meeting wanted to know if the items were there because litigation had been threatened. The board was expected to go into closed session at the meeting, and some wondered if it was related to that matter.
Several programs were discussed that improve graduation rates.
Waiters said that the board was secretive about several matters, and this could lead to rumors and confusion. “If people don’t get informed,” she said, “they will make it up.”
At the meeting, Vazquez declined to comment to a reporter. Vazquez’s lawyer did not return a phone call and an email for followup.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mark Toback explained later that in 99 percent of cases, employees choose to have information related to their termination kept confidential. He said it is their right to decide what is discussed in closed session versus open session.
Later in the meeting, the board went into closed session for 40 minutes, but did not tell the public why.
In a not completely unrelated issue at the meeting, board members discussed the money the board has spent on lawyers.
Board member Leon Gold said that the board had already gone $10,742 over its legal budget for this year. The information drew mixed opinions. Several attendees felt that there are too many frivolous lawsuits against the board, while others felt that too many extra lawyers have been hired for union negotiations and other matters.
One teacher who lives in town, Gary Enrico, said that lawyers worked when they were needed. “If there are cases, he has to work. No cases, he doesn’t work,” he said.
But Board of Education member Carmelo Garcia seemed to think some of the money spent was frivolous. He responded angrily, “I love your dance. I love the dance. I was head of negotiations twice, and there were no issues.”
Garcia said that using attorneys for negotiations is like “hiding behind a shield” when certain decisions are made.
Theresa Minutillo, another Board of Education member, rebutted the point, stating, “Without the attorney, negotiations would have stalled or broken down. Not needing to walk out with a stalemate is instrumental in providing time for students and Superintendent Toback.”
During the open forum, resident and parent Brian Murray also got heated while reading off the “Money Magazine” list of top-earning towns, which ranked Hoboken at number eight in the country. Murray then said that all of the top towns also had high-ranking school districts, except for Hoboken. He made note of the recent “Wall Street Journal” blog post saying that parents were fleeing Hoboken for towns with better public schools.
Programs to help
Several programs were discussed at the meeting to improve graduation rates and help struggling and undecided students.
One program new to Hoboken High School is C-Tech, which Principal Robin Piccapietra is very excited about. The program is an elective made of two half year courses that will teach students the basics of wiring, cabling, safety precautions and other technical duties of a trade. Other trade related-electives include cosmetology and the culinary arts. The programs are focused toward the 10-15 percent of students who go undecided to try and track them for a career so they won’t leave school.
They also discussed the AIM project, targeted toward children whose learning needs are best met in a non-traditional setting. Students failing two or more classes are given the option to continue earning credits by trying an alternative instructional method, including some on-line coursework.
The board discussed mentoring options for athletes and other students. They mentioned pairing higher performing students with struggling students.
One student, Razhone Lane, was given a big round of applause at the meeting for winning a summer reading contest. See sidebar for details.
Eleven year old beats teens in summer reading
Razhone Lane took first prize in the Hoboken Public Library Summer Reading contest, beating out two teenagers by having read 101 books since July 5. The contest required students to log each book into a computer and write a brief summary. Razhone and his proud mother, La-Shawnda Ross, attended the meeting and received a huge round of applause.
When asked which book was his favorite, Razhone quickly answered, “Hunger Games!”
His prizes included a “Hunger Games” book and a Kindle.
“He worked very hard and I am so proud of him,” said La-Shawnda Ross.