Taxpayers and parents witnessed an unfortunate spectacle at the May 6 Board of Education meeting for next year’s school budget.
The Board of Education blamed a handful of potential layoffs on a $773,224 increase in charter school funding to $8.3 million for the 2014-2015 school year. The increase is a mere 1 percent of the proposed $64.9 million Board of Education budget. Demagoguery that people’s livelihoods and lives are at risk due to charter funding was repeatedly broadcast by the board.
When parents and students from the HoLa charter school implored the board to cease its lawsuit against the NJ DOE and HoLa to reverse renewal of HoLa’s charter, the board denied seeking to shut HoLa or even suing it. Board denial was maintained even as parents read aloud from the text of the board’s suit naming HoLa as a respondent (i.e. defendant) in the suit and explicitly requesting reversal of the school’s charter renewal.
HoLa parents and students passionately made their case in English and Spanish that HoLa is inclusive, multi-ethnic and open to all Hoboken children through a transparent lottery. I was floored by board vice president Ruth McAllister’s ignorant response that HoLa is as segregated as Cape Town, South Africa. As parent of an HoLa student and grandson of an immigrant to America from South Africa who has lost family to that country’s tragic violence in recent years, I found Ms. McAllister’s flippant remark profoundly offensive.
When taxpayers and parents noted the fact that Hoboken’s per student expense is among N.J.’s highest (a speaker compared Hoboken per student spending of $24,000 to Rutgers in-state tuition of $25,000 inclusive of room and board) but with test results among the state’s worst, the board actually blamed the demographics of Hoboken’s students for these dismal results!
The success of charter techniques including longer school days and years, flexibility and accountability for teachers and principals, higher expectations for students, more discipline and structure, more curricular innovation, and more testing, are apparent in achievements of charter students in Hoboken and nationwide.
Rather than pursuing its vendetta against Hoboken’s charters with particular animus towards HoLa, the board should examine the success of charters in New York City with comparable student demographics. The Wall Street Journal reported that KIPP Charter Schools, the city’s largest charter, sends 83 percent of its students to college from a student body that is 86 percent low-income and 95 percent African-American or Latino. Harlem’s best performing middle school, ranking first in New York State for math achievement by fifth-graders, is 97 percent minority. This charter and the 21others in its network have pass rates on state math and reading tests double the citywide average. New York charters achieve this at a per pupil cost of only $13,527 versus $19,770 for the city’s conventional public schools.
I urge Hoboken’s Board of Education, educators, taxpayers and parents to emulate the best practices of our own charters and those in New York to rein in spending and improve outcomes in our city. Divisive arguments, untruths and blaming others won’t solve Hoboken’s education problems. Neither will the board’s lawsuit against HoLa.