$72.3M school district budget proposed
School board discusses spending, ethics violations, award-winning students and educators
by Marilyn Baer
Reporter Staff Writer
Mar 19, 2017 | 1961 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SCHOOLS
Assistant Superintendent Gerald Fitzhugh awarded Connors Elementary third grader Rashawn Blake was the district’s student of the month
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During a special meeting on Thursday, March 16, the Board of Education was presented with a preliminary budget for the 2017-2018 school year, approved indemnification for members accused of ethics violations, and recognized the district’s February students of the month and educational staff of the year.

Business Administrator William Moffitt and Superintendent Dr. Christine Johnson presented, to the board, a proposed school budget of $72.3 million. Last year’s final budget was $69.7 million.

The budget will be financed from several sources, including a local property tax levy of $43.8 million. The rest of the budget will come from tuition fees, rents and royalties, state and federal aid, grants, and funds for preschool education.

Of the total $72.3 million, $45.6 million will cover the district’s current expenses and $10.1 million will go to the three charter schools. The charter schools, which are also public, raise some of their funding themselves.

A public hearing is scheduled for May 2 to address public questions and concerns and describe the budget in more detail.

Moffitt said three things the administration focused on when creating the budget were to compensate existing instructional and non-instructional staff members, provide for increases in contractual salary arrangements, and maintain funding for existing district initiatives.
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“I feel really good about it… I feel our educational needs have been met.” – Dr. Christine Johnson
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“When putting this budget together we faced many challenges,” said Johnson. “However, my responsibility is to ensure we have the most comprehensive educational program within that footprint.”

She said the budget allows the district to keep its current initiatives and provide for new ones.

“I definitely don’t feel like there is any new initiative we aren’t getting as a result of this presented budget,” said Johnson. “I feel really good about it… I feel our educational needs have been met.”

Board member Irene Sobolov said, “I am thankful so many of our projects will remain even though our portion of the budget only went up 1 percent from last year.”

Board member Peter Biancamano said, “I think we spend too much time worrying about what we can’t control,” referring to the charter school cost. “This is what the state says we have to give them [the charter schools.] Let’s focus thoroughly on $45 million, which is basically what we can control.”

Indemnification

After a lengthy discussion, the board agreed by a 4-2 vote to indemnify three of its current and one of its former board members up to $15,000 each for legal expenses to defend against an ethics charge that was lodged against them. Last month, the board was divided over whether to pay the legal fees.

A charge has been brought against Trustees Irene Sobolov, Thomas Kluepfel, Jennifer Evans, and former trustee Leon Gold. However, when asked who initiated the charge and the substance of the charge, the board members have refused to publicly disclose details.

Under state law, a school board employee may be indemnified for attorney’s fees and costs incurred defending civil actions arising out of an act or omission that took place in the course and scope of employment duties. The statute also applies to the all-volunteer school board.

In January, Biancamano, who is sometimes at odds with the board majority, said, “I am well aware that our administration code says a board member fighting an ethics charge is entitled to reimbursements. But what this seems to be saying is that we are giving them a blank check for reimbursements of legal fees without knowing what those costs might be. It just seems a little early to me.”

Biancamano asked if Moffitt had received any bills for the legal fees and how much they amounted to.

Moffitt said he has received bills for a total of $13,000, which prompted Biancamano to question why the district should allow for up to $60,000 total.

According to board attorney Vito Gagliardi, the total cost could go up to $60,000 based on his experience.

Board member John Madigan took issue with the way the resolutions were presented.

Originally one resolution combined all four trustees for indemnification, and now each individual has their own resolution. Madigan asked if the trustees accused of ethics charges could then vote on the other trustees for indemnification.

To address the issue, the board voted as a whole with Sobolov, Evans, and Kluepfel abstaining.

Biancamano and Madigan were opposed, while Sharyn Angley, Mark McNamara, Sheillah Dallara, and Britney Montgomery voted to approve the resolutions.

Students of the month

The February students of the month were awarded with certificates during the meeting.

Kindergarten student Ryann Timpson was student of the month at Brandt Primary School and first grader Mikaela Crimmins was student of the month at Calabro Primary School.

At Connors Elementary School, third grader Rashawn Blake and sixth grader Javen Goldstein of Wallace Elementary School were declared students of the month.

At the Hoboken Middle School seventh grader Melanie Molina was February’s student of the month, as was Hoboken High School Senior E’Nigel Owusu Ansah.

Faculty of the year

The Hoboken Board of Education also recognized its 2016 teachers and educational service professionals of the year and awarded each of them with a commemorative clock, bouquet, and certificate of their accomplishments.

The honorees were: Carolyn Best and Larissa Impreveduto, Brandt Elementary; Jack Baker and Kathleen Terhune, Calabro Primary School; Rosanna Lucignano and Gwendolyn Rodriguez, Connors Elementary School; Helen Russotto and Nicole Murphy, Wallace Elementary School.

At the Hoboken Middle School, Tara Donnelly and Steve D’Bernado were recognized as was Dr. Lisa Allgaier and David Stasiak at Hoboken High School.

Kluepfel and other members of the board congratulated and thanked everyone for their commitment to the district. “You make us really proud,” he said.

“Expectations of the teaching staff have been raised and this was the cream of the crop here tonight and I thank you for honoring them,” said Gary Enrico, Hoboken Education Association (teacher’s union) president.

Marilyn Baer can be reached at marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.

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