Monday, April 19, 2010

A Response to the Kids First "incredible progress and reform" Letter to The Hoboken Reporter April 17, 2010

I saw this letter in the Saturday, April 17 edition of the Hoboken Reporter. The following RED text are my additions and articulations to the original letter from my position, perspective and knowledge of the district as the former Assistant to the Superintendent of Schools. In a democracy, everyone is entitled to their own opinions---but the facts belong to everyone.

From the Hoboken Reporter:

Dear Editor:

I am writing this letter to highlight the incredible progress and reform made by the Kids First majority on the board: Kids First promised to be fiscally responsible. Not provide tax relief; No Sunshine laws were ever broken. We always abide by the advice of legal counsel and the advice of the NJSBA; The board president did not conduct confidential personnel negotiations single handedly; legal counsel was involved at each step.

FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY: Eliminated positions totaling more than $1 Million;

Uncovered the misappropriation of $1.6 Million; Recovered uncollected funds totaling $500,000;

Eliminated food deficit totaling over $300,000; Cut $68,000.00 from athletic supplies;

Reduction of two principal positions and one vice principal position.

Positions created by the Kids First majority (these would be known as additions):

1) Acting Interim Supervisor of Instruction: Mathematics (@ $500 a day)
Acting Interim Supervisor of Instruction: Language Arts (@ 500 a day)
3) Interim School Business Administrator (@$640 a day)
4) Acting Fiscal Specialist ($3200 a month)*

5) Fiscal Specialist Accountant- $65,000 a year
5) Interim Assistant Superintendent ($120,000 extended to $136,000 2/10)
Acting Interim Supervisor of Instruction: Special Education (@ $500 a day)
Acting Fiscal Specialist for Technology (@450 a day)
8) Legal representation: Eliminated in house salaried attorney and hired a firm per hour
9) Interim High School principal ($560 a day)
10) Hired two people to develop workshops for staff and parents
$1000 per session- 1.5 to 2 hrs not to exceed $10,000

11) Senior Accountant- $85,000 a year

12) Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction: Humanities ($99,978.00)

These positions added almost $500,000 to the administrative cost burden of the FY 2009-2010 budget

DECREASED THE BUDGET: Budget FY 2010-11 is $57,882,147 vs. 2009-10 which is $62,013,193; a decrease of $4,131,046 or 7 per cent, while keeping the tax levy flat and not accepting the additional 4 per cent in municipal taxes allowed by law.

Kids First promised a 25% reduction in the budget. The cuts made were mandated by the Governor of New Jersey. Recall, the initial budget proposed by the Kids First majority had minimal cuts made to it. Also, nearly all of the cuts have come from retirements of administrators and teachers (over 20 and still counting). These are all passive reductions (done by others- Kids First reaping the rewards passively, not by their own due diligence). The initial budget Kids First proposed in March amounted to a $3000 reduction in the tax levy.

ADDRESSED NON RESIDENT STUDENTS: Implementation of new residency procedures for next year along with ongoing investigations of out-of-district students. A planned district re-registration to ensure our school dollars go to Hoboken residents.

Kids First has had over 320 days to IMPLEMENT a planned district re-registeration but have failed to do so (it was part of their platform during the Spring 2009 election). There has been no substantive difference in the number of non resident students identified in 2009-2010 then was identified in previous years. "On going" investigations have always taken place. Reading between the lines, it appears as if Kids First dropped the ball on this. Personally, I think this is a rather negative issue and the cost savings are not as extensive as some believe. Nonetheless, there has been no significant change under the Kids First majority in addressing non resident students. Listing the addressing of "non-resident students" as a "high point" of their tenure and producing only a vague "plan" seems dubious at this juncture.

LOWERED THE PER PUPIL COST: Lowered the cost per pupil by $1,791 or 8 per cent to $20,054 below last year’s pp cost of $21,845 per pupil. Compared to $24,471 per pupil two years ago, a decrease of $4,417 per pupil or an 18 per cent decrease.

Under Superintendent Raslowsky student population in the district increased from 1892 to 2029, primarily because of a school choice program he initiated, the growing positive reputation of the Hoboken Public Schools, the highly rated Pre-School program and the economic downturn. The addition of 137 students to the district (a 7.4% raise) is a significant factor in lowering per pupil costs. That, in addition to the MANDATED reduction the Governor ordered (over $2,000,000), and it's clear how per pupil costs were REALLY brought down.

NEGOTIATED THE CUSTODIAN’S CONTRACT: Includes the first contribution to health benefits by a Hudson county municipal union. A contract praised by Republican Educational Commissioner Brett Schundler who extended his praise to the Board and the union.

Indeed, there is no argument that the Kids First Board of Education majority produced a contract that the Republican base in Trenton including Governor Christie and his anti-union administration was pleased with. Congratulations.

FULLY SUPPORTS THEATRE PROGRAM: Continued commitment to our award winning Theatre Arts department: expanded the number of productions this year to three (including the addition of a middle school production).

The only reason this is even listed is because of the unexpected public outcry over the Kids First majority's mis-step in the handling of our nationally recognized theater director. Nonetheless, expanding another production is a positive step and builds on the district's long support of the arts rather than initiates anything.

EXPANDED THE SCHOOL BAND: Expanded the marching band to 60+ students in the middle and high school.

Again, this is a positive thing and builds on the district's long support of the arts rather than initiates anything.

INTRODUCING ADVANCED PLACEMENT COURSES: Advanced Placement (AP) is a tremendous cost savings while reaching more of our students. Students can transfer AP credits toward college courses.

This switch to AP from IB was done with no public notice or discussion. In addition, AP will be more restrictive rather than less and students can transfer IB credits for college the same way as you can for AP credits. For a full discussion on the topic, please see my post. Successful implementation is important. Kids First to date has not produced an implementation plan for AP. Where was the dialogue? The public meetings?

SUPERINTENDENT SEARCH REQUIREMENTS: State required superintendent certificate. Proven success as a change agent in a public school context with an understanding and passion for public education. The ideal candidate would be a sitting superintendent or asst. superintendent who is a strong leader yet collaborative, energetic, innovative and creative while showing an aptitude for conflict resolution, negotiations and a real desire to involve the entire community in the health and well being of the public schools.

Kids First has been searching for a permanent superintendent since June of 2009. How much longer will it take? We're currently over 304 days and counting. They complained that they were given "only" 2 months notice---we are now well into our 10th month with no candidate in sight. Two members of the Kids First majority defected from the group over this issue this past winter.

The reality is that Kids First has been getting real results with its reforms: helping kids succeed, eliminating waste, restoring accountability and reducing spending while maintaining the quality of education.

Kids First produced no evidence at all of "helping kids succeed" in this letter. Waste elimination was done via retirements as their initial budget to the Board included only a $3000 reduction in the local tax levy. They consistently hire positions that are not posted and have enacted a "living agenda" to Board meetings meaning accountability has actually been reduced. They present no objective evidence or data indicating that the quality of education is increasing under their administration.

Vote Kids First and let us continue the progress: Rose Marie Markle, Irene Sobolov, Leon Gold and Jean Marie Mitchell.
Vote for who you want to on Tuesday, April 20-- this post won't change your mind and it's not intended to. But, it's important to know the facts beforehand. This isn't Cable News-- it's not about "spin"--it's about data driven, systemic, programatic educational reform...or at least at this point in the game, it should be.