Change requires involvement not innuendo
Jul 28, 2013 | 3139 views | 3 3 comments | 81 81 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Dear Editor:

Last week's letter from Michael Fischetti (third in four months) stated that he hoped for "a meaningful response" from the board president or superintendent, to his questions regarding educational costs in the district. Also, for a third time, he erroneously suggested $64.7 million was what "is being spent by the school district." He continues floating this number and claims “complete silence” even though the board president did, in fact, respond (in these very pages) to his first letter.

Mr. Fischetti is correct that "the people of Hoboken have the right to know", and that policy makers should avail themselves in "a public forum." There is such a place: the Hoboken Board of Education meetings, where anyone from the community is free to directly address board members, administrators and the public. If he were to attend, he might see how our diverse community both challenges and cheers what's happening in our schools.

Why does Mr. Fischetti not attend our board meetings to directly question those from which he seeks answers?

Had he done so he would already know that $64.7 million is the total 2013-2014 revenue but that $7.81 million of that goes to our charter schools…and that another $10.19 million is passed through for the state-mandated (and funded) pre-K. Perhaps, then, he would be questioning $46.3 million, which is the actual budget for in-district, K-12 students.

Mr. Fischetti, in his first letter, also compared Hoboken to some other towns, which he claimed had per-pupil budgets ranging from $23K (Jersey City) down to $13K (Glen Ridge). Presumably these were the latest 2011-2012 NJ DOE statistics, but Mr. Fischetti gave no source for his numbers. In fact, his original list of per-pupil costs (according to the NJ DOE web site) is: Jersey City/$22K (not $23K), Union City/$20K (not $18K), Weehawken/$19K, Montclair/$18K (not $17K) and Glen Ridge/$18K (not $13K). These compare to Hoboken at $19,640 per student, not the lowest but certainly comparable (and not the $30K asserted in his second letter).

Of course, if he still has questions I urge him and all serious, concerned residents to come to the board meetings. Everyone is welcome…with kids (in district/charters/private schools) or not; whether an unhappy taxpayer or just someone interested until the next Board of Ed election.

I have kids in district (happily). I’ve been a charter parent (happily) and I remain a taxpayer (never happy). Even though I’ve disagreed with every board member or attendee at some point, I continue participating for a simple reason: change requires involvement. And while taxes may be paramount to some, the first (and most critical) order of business is the education of our children.

Mr. Fischetti asks reasonable questions which are debated every budget season. His data and assertions, however, are inaccurate. And repeating them multiple times will not make them correct. If he is really interested in the well-being of “the people of Hoboken” (better yet, the children of Hoboken), then he should join them at a Board of Education meeting.

Jason Yoon-Hendricks

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August 06, 2013
Jason -- the number I posted for Hoboken's k-12 per pupil spending for 2012-13--$23,716--came from the district budget document that was submitted to the state. It can be found here. Policies/User Friendly Budget 2013-14.pdf

It was based on the actual student enrollment for 2012-13, not "some previous year's enrollment." But it is not the final, actual number for 2012-13 because it was calculated in April, before the fiscal year ended on June 30. The final, actual number is usually a bit higher and will be submitted to the state later this year, after the annual audit. Next spring it will show up on the DOE site you linked to here as the 'budgetary per pupil cost' for 2012-13.

The budgetary cost, as the DOE site explains if you click on 'definition,' is the best figure to use when comparing districts. Those figures go back many years so you can also compare across years. School board campaigns going back many years have accepted those figures as the ones to compare and criticize.

You've been using 'total spending per pupil,' which the site says is not a good measure for comparing districts. And the state started posting those numbers only in 2011.

One reason the 'total spending per pupil,'is not good for comparing k-12 districts is that for Hoboken and other Abbott districts it includes pre-k students, as I said in my first comment. When I mentioned where you went wrong, I meant that you were using a measure that included pre-k students when what we're talking about is the district's k-12 spending, the only spending that the school board can control. (I was mistaken when I said that your per pupil figure--the state's 'total spending per pupil' number--also includes charter school students. It does not.)

Of course, the real per pupil cost is more than $25,600, if you simply divide the 2012-13 budget ($45.57 million) by the 1,775 k-12 students this past year. News/Hoboken Schools 2013-2014 Budget Overview.pdf

But sticking to the state figures, which take out certain one-time costs and other anomalies, is best.

What really annoys people about your letters and comments is your seeming attitude of, "I've got my kids in the schools now so I'm not in favor of cutting one penny from the budget." It comes across as self-serving. There's really no recognition from you that our spending is out of control, that our budget is nearly twice the state average, that we're the second-highest spending k-12 district in the state, that we have a real problem here. Instead, you (and Leon Gold in his letter) downplay the problem, using low-ball numbers and castigating any critics. No one is playing to a "I've got mine" attitude. No one is saying "starve the beast." Why do you jump to such an extreme. That's always the first charge that big spenders make whenever anyone suggests that spending is getting out of hand: "You want to starve the beast."

There are several things you need to understand. --There have been no "dramatic cuts to public schools." That's a complete myth, perpetuated by the teachers' unions and others in their drumbeat for more spending. Perhaps the rate of growth has been slowed and perhaps some districts with falling enrollments have trimmed their budgets in real terms, but no dramatic cuts, as you see with Hoboken's budget in the link above.

--Also as you can see in that link, Hoboken's enrollment falls each year, as it has for probably 35 years, so it's wrong to say "the overall number of students continues to rise."

--There is no link between school spending and the quality of the schools. All of the so-called good districts in the suburbs generally spend between $12,000 and $14,000 per student--and all of those districts offer more sports, more academic programs and generally better facilities. So Hoboken is not even getting $12,000-$14,000 worth of value out of the $24,000 or $25,000 we spend per pupil.

Obviously there are many places where waste can be cut--if every other district except Asbury can spend less, then so can we--and there are obviously many ways the schools can be improved. But I'm not sure we can even have that discussion until there's wide agreement among you and others that we have a problem.

July 30, 2013
Jason -- you make the exact same mistake that you accuse Michael of making. You say Hoboken's per pupil cost is $19,640 but the latest number for the district's k-12 students for the fiscal year that ended last month is actually $23,716. That number has hovered between $23,000 and $25,000 for years and remains the SECOND-HIGHEST in the state for all k-12 districts, behind only Asbury Park. That number is right on the district's website and the DOE website.

I don't know whether you're just shilling for Kids First or are honestly confused, but you are not helping the debate by citing a misleading number, the same misleading number that Board President Leon Gold, of Kids First, cited in a letter here a while back. You list a bunch of districts here as if to indicate that Hoboken is in the middle of the pack, not the highest but not the lowest.

We are never going to address the school district's massive overspending problem if we remain in denial. By not citing the actual $23,716 figure, you're enabling Kids First and the rest of the board to pretend there is no problem. We're spending nearly twice as much per pupil as the state average but instead of pushing for cuts in wasteful spending and for a range of obvious efficiencies, the board has raised taxes a total of 5.53% since Kids First took over.

btw, here's where you went wrong with your number. After going on at length about how you have to take the charter and pre-k funding out of the budget to get the "actual budget for in-district, K-12 students," as you put it, you provide a per pupil spending number, $19,640, that includes the charter and pre-k students.

Most districts don't have charter and pre-k students, and as you point out, the district has no control over that state-mandated spending. So the apples-to-apples way to compare spending--the only way to get a handle on which districts are running a tight ship and which are wasting their taxpayers' money--is to compare k-12 spending. When you do that you see that Hoboken is spending nearly $24,000 per pupil--the second most in the state, no matter how you try to spin it.
August 04, 2013
The most recent available data with which one could do a comparative analysis can be found as follows...

Go to the "Taxpayers' Guide to Education Spending 2013" page of the NJ DOE:

...use "Search for a District by Name:" for: Hoboken

There you will see the latest, complete and state-verified data available if you wanted to do an actual side-by-side comparison. This is what Mr. Fischetti sought to do in his earlier letter.

The numbers you are posting here appear to be derived by taking the pending budget/anticipated spending and applying some previous year's enrollment. There were projected enrollment numbers discussed a few meetings back so estimated per-pupil spending could be guessed at. But no accurate comparison can be made by doing this. As to the "bunch of districts", these are the precise towns that Mr. Fischetti listed in his original letter and if you searched the NJ DOE site above for each, in turn, the numbers will speak for themselves.

Regarding the current budget, I didn't "go wrong." It is true that the *actual budget for in-district, K-12 students* (which I only had to go "on at length about" because it is repeatedly used to misinform folks) does represent an overall increase; even with relatively healthy growth in enrollment this will likely represent an increase in per-pupil costs. When those actual numbers are in (along with those of other towns in the state), an accurate, informed comparison can be made.

And ("btw"), if on the linked page above you instead "Select a County:" and choose: Hudson you will see that the charter schools are all presented with their own break-downs; $19,640 is for the district public schools only.

Waste is always bad and, historically, NJ has seen more than it's share of it. But these threads that revolve around taxes and play on a person's 'I've got mine' attitude ignore the fact that our state has, over the last decade, seen only on dramatic cuts to public schools with little regard to their critical role in our society. Meanwhile, the overall number of students continues to rise (along with major costs like facilities and healthcare). Folks, naturally, expect their property values to go up but are surprised when the cost of other things rise.

It's popular, these days, to take a 'starve the beast' attitude towards anything related to government spending and if a person doesn't have kids or their kids are outside the public system, then they might feel that they have no obligation to pay into it. If so, they have also opted out of this discussion. But if you are really a 'Hoboken Fan', and believe that there are measured solutions that serve the children of our diverse, urban school district (and introduce more fiscal efficiency to boot), then, please, bring your ideas to the board meetings and discuss them openly and publicly.

...which was really the main point to my letter.