In fact, at a meeting on Monday, Gagliardi publicly cross-examined the former commissioner's record and said the mayor's plan to reform the schools seemed political.
Last year, Rutgers University launched a new institute - the Rutgers Institute for Improving Student Achievement - headed by former state Education Commissioner William Librera, to help the schools analyze test scores and improve teaching. The Hoboken Board of Education is considering a $24,000 contract to hire Librera and the Rutgers Institute.
Mayor Roberts had recently gathered political friends and foes at an invite-only meeting at the Stevens Institute of Technology to discuss how to help Hoboken's steadily improving but long-maligned urban public schools. But Superintendent Gagliardi, who plans to retire in two years, saw the meeting as "political" and declined to attend. On Monday, he publicly blasted Librera at a Board of Education caucus, calling him a "salesman."
Roberts said he has made reforming education one of his top priorities during his second term. He said recently he wants to keep young families from moving out of town when their kids reach school age.
But the move is viewed by some as infringing on the authority of Gagliardi, who serves as both schools superintendent and the principal of Hoboken High School, where the board offices are. Last year, Roberts' faction of the board voted to buy out Gagliardi's contract, which will cost the district several hundred thousand dollars.
Gagliardi was invited to Roberts' recent education meeting, but said he did not go because it had "a feeling of a political event."
Roberts said last week that there are many positive things happening in the schools, which Librera can only help accentuate.
"I want to bring to the table parents, educators, business leaders," Roberts said. "Our goal here is to make Hoboken public schools the best public schools in the state of New Jersey."
Gagliardi grills Librera
Librera appeared at a Board of Education caucus Monday and said that Hoboken is already a top urban district, and that bringing in an outside consultant "would not be pressing a panic button."
He added, "There isn't a district in the state that provides well for all students. There are always gaps."
But not everyone was moved. Gagliardi directly questioned Librera's performance as commissioner of education, and asked about his motives for coming to Hoboken now.
Gagliardi said that, as commissioner, Librera failed to produce results in state-controlled districts such as Paterson, Jersey City, Newark, and Camden.
"Even with hundreds of millions of dollars," Gagliardi said, "not one of these districts has shown significant improvements in student performance to allow them to come out of state control."
He noted that Jersey City has been under state control for 17 years, Paterson for 12 years, and Newark for 10 years.
Librera said that it was impossible to fix all their ills in the mere three and half years he was commissioner. But he said that saying "we showed no significant improvement is false."
Gagliardi also charged that Librera made poor choices in his selection of the superintendents for several of those state-run districts.
"Is it also a fact that as a commissioner, you selected every single one of those superintendents, and every single one has been fired or quit?" Gagliardi charged.
Librera responded that during the time he was commissioner, the state hired only three superintendents, and two are still working. The third resigned, he said.
(Incidentally, former Paterson Superintendent Edwin Duroy, who previously had been superintendent of the Hoboken schools, was hired for Paterson before Librera came in.)
"Isn't it also a fact that the state has an abysmal record when to comes to student performance and fiscal responsibility for early childhood education?" Gagliardi asked.
Librera responded again with a strong defense.
"To say that I had an 'abysmal' record with the early childhood is absolutely and categorically false - not true," Librera said.
Gagliardi also accused Librera of never coming to Hoboken while commissioner, and of not suggesting specific programs for Hoboken.
Librera responded that he did come to Hoboken when he was commissioner, when Roberts was proposing to build a technology magnet school on the waterfront. Librera said it was a meeting that Gagliardi also attended.
A political charge
But the overarching theme of Gagliardi's aggressive cross-examination was that Librera was brought in by the mayor for political reasons. There is a school board election coming up this April.
"Now my skepticism increases," Gagliardi said after making accusations about Librera's record. "Is there a political agenda here, or an educational one?"
Gagliardi questioned the meeting at Raveche's house, saying "something had to be in the pipeline" before that meeting was held.
"I am somewhat disappointed that a colleague of mine - a former superintendent - should know the proper protocol is to seek out the educational establishment first, and not the political one," Gagliardi said.
Librera responded, "I respectfully resent the political suggestion here, because someone invited me, and I said that I would come and listen."
Librera added, "When someone questions my integrity, that is something I will never, ever take lightly."
Roberts, who was not at the caucus, said Thursday that it was not his intention to usurp the authority of Gagliardi, the teachers or the administration, but to accentuate the positive.
"My intention is to bring about positive change, and not to look back and criticize or treat anyone disrespectfully," Roberts said. "But I was also very disappointed in the way [Librera] was treated, and only hope that he will continue to be available to help us."
Roberts added that he wants every person who is a stakeholder in Hoboken education - including Gagliardi - to be an active partner in this process.
Gagliardi, who has been working for the Hoboken School District for 43 years, said Wednesday that the schools are on the right track, and without "outside interference" he is confident that Hoboken will be a "model district two years from now."
He said that test scores are improving across the board, especially in the middle school, where English and math scores are above the state average. He added that he considers the Grade Eight Proficiency Assessment (GEPA) the most accurate indicators of whether the educational policies are working, and those scores have been improving.
Librera himself said at Monday's meeting that the Hoboken schools have a lot going for them to work with, including smaller class sizes and a community with the resources to help.
The superintendent also noted that recently, the administration has been successful in hiring a new crop of highly qualified teachers, several of whom come from Ivy League schools.
He also said that the district is "running a very tight ship" with safe and secure buildings. "We have demonstrated that we have the best run high school in any urban district," Gagliardi said. "We are a group of intelligent people who have been in education for a long time."
Board members still hopeful
Several Board of Education members said that they are still open to the idea of bringing in Librera. Hoboken Board of Education member Jack Raslowsky, who is an official at a parochial school in Manhattan, said that he is still intrigued by the possibility of tapping someone like Librera.
"My feeling coming out of Stevens was very positive, and I want to build on that and would like to think that we still can," Raslowsky said.
Likewise, board member and real estate developer Frank Raia said that someone with the credentials of Librera should be considered.
"My position has always been that we will consider brining anyone in if they can improve our schools," Raia said.
Council people comment
A few council people applauded the move to bring in Librera.
"Nobody is looking to meddle," said Paterson teacher and Councilman Ruben Ramos. "Librera is a true professional, with a great reputation and is someone who can bring in fresh ideas."
Councilwoman Terry LaBruno, who is a parochial school teacher in Jersey City, said "I'm dismayed, as an educator, that people decided to politicize this. [Gagliardi] is on his way out and he is being so defensive and critical about having someone come in and help out. It's not expensive and [Librera] has the expertise to make a difference."
By contrast, Librera's contract will cost $24,000, whereas the district has consistently given yearly public relations contracts of $40,000 or more. Last summer, they gave a 12-month PR contract to a firm for $60,000.
Could be voted on Feb. 28
It's likely that the issue will be discussed at the next Board of Education meeting on Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. It is also possible, according to sources close to several board members, that Librera might walk away so as to not get involved in a local political squabble.
Calls to Rutgers for comment were not returned.
Mayor's role in education
What exactly is a mayor's role in education?
In theory, the Board of Education, an elected body with nine members, should govern independently of City Hall. But there has always been a relationship between Hoboken City Hall and the city's public school district. For decades, mayors have supported tickets of board candidates, and for many years Hoboken mayors have lobbied for certain programs and initiatives.
Roberts said that he takes offense to accusations that he is inappropriately interfering with the city's school system. He said that reforming the city's public schools is a central policy issue that faces every mayor. He added that he is held accountable for the weakness of the public school system, which necessitates taking an aggressive position.
An unexpected supporter
Even some of Roberts' most bitter past political adversaries have come to his defense on this issue. Former Councilman Tony Soares, who had an acrimonious break with the mayor several years ago, said that Roberts should be applauded for taking accountability in improving the city's schools.
He added that it's time to take a different perspective when looking at the schools.
"We can no longer set a low bar and they say we're the best [urban "special needs" school]," Soares said. "We need to take drastic measures, and bringing in Mr. Librera is an excellent first step."
He added that someone needs to help choose the next superintendent.
"If we lollygag around we're going to have a superintendent that is picked from the usual cast of characters," he said.
Soares added, "I really think the school board needs a major overhaul, and there are a lot of great teachers that deserve to be led by an administration that is selected by an open process."