Sunday, September 7, 2014

Parent Group Exposes Hoboken Public Schools Should Not Have Laid Off Aides- Violation of New Jersey’s Education Law Code § 6A 13-3.2

In June 2014, former Hoboken Public Schools Superintendent 
Mark Toback proposed cuts in Violation of New Jersey Education 
Code § 6A 13-3.2 that eliminated Hoboken's Kindergarten 
aides. Kids First members of the Hoboken Board of Education 
voted unanimously in favor of Toback's recommendations despite
being in violation of Abbott code. 

Seems as if when the Kids First Board majority and former Superintendent Mark Toback weren't shepherding the school district down a path in which the QSAC Instruction and Program DPR plummeted from 68% to 45% in one year (the largest one year decline in district history), or bringing national attention to the district for the use (non-use?) of the district's laptop program, or outsourcing and eliminating an entire collective bargaining unit in the district (transportation), they were busy figuring out how to fire/eliminate/cut kindergarten teacher's aides.  The problem is, as many quality New Jersey administrators and Board members know, having Abbott district kindergarten classes without teacher aides is in violation of New Jersey Education Code. 

Carlo Davis of the Hoboken Reporter has been doing some excellent reporting on the Hoboken Board of Education this summer. Here is a very important piece recently published under Carlo's byline where Davis documents the efforts of a parent group in exposing the cuts made to kindergarten aides in Hoboken, NJ that were in violation of NJ Education Code and were recently restored.  -Dr. Petrosino

The Hoboken Board Of Education recently "discovered" that Hoboken’s district is actually required to have kindergarten aides under New Jersey’s education law code (Full day kindergarten requirements. New Jersey Education Code § 6A 13-3.2  ). On August 19, they voted unanimously to bring back aides for all 14 kindergarten classes in Hoboken’s public elementary schools for the upcoming year.

Hoboken’s school district must follow different regulations from most New Jersey school districts. In 1985, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that poor urban school districts were being unconstitutionally shortchanged in funding compared to affluent suburban districts. To help correct this imbalance, the state legislature devoted extra funding to 31 poorer “Abbott districts”—nicknamed after the original court case—including Hoboken.

Abbott districts receive special money for things like universal pre-kindergarten, and must follow corresponding rules and stipulations. One of those rules is that full-time kindergarten classes must have a teacher’s aide and no more than 21 students in each class.

Outgoing Superintendent Mark Toback had announced the elimination of the aides at the last board meeting of the 2013-2014 school year in June.

According to the Hoboken Reporter a parent group uncovered the violation: 

According to group organizer Lisia Zheng Hohlfeld, their efforts “made little difference until [they] came across a part of the NJ education code” applying to “at risk” districts. 
Hohlfeld said the group consulted with the state Department of Education, which confirmed that Hoboken is still an “at risk” district and subsequently contacted Interim Superintendent Dr. Richard Brockel, who officially replaced outgoing Superintendent Mark Toback two weeks ago. 
Hohlfeld said she’s happy with the outcome, but the turnabout came too late for some. She mentioned that two of the families in her group’s steering committee decided over the summer to move out of Hoboken. It’s this kind of exodus that continues to cripple Hoboken public schools and this whole episode will only further encourage the trend,” said Hohlfeld.
Hoboken Board of Education member Fran Phodes-Kearns expressed disappointment at Hoboken’s flirtation with a legal violation. She and Peter Biancamano voted against the original cuts to Kindergarten aides in June while the remaining seven trustees Ruth McAllister (Tyroler), Thomas Kluepfel, Jennifer Evans, Leon Gold, Jean Marie Mitchell, Irene Sobolov, and Monica Stromwall voted yes on the motion which led to the elimination of Kindergarten aides in the Hoboken Public Schools.    

Here is how Carlo reported on cuts to the Kindergarten aides in the July 6, 2014 edition of the Hoboken Reporter: 

Kindergarten cuts

The severity of Hoboken’s school budget shortfall was recently brought into focus by a decision to eliminate 13 instructional aides in kindergarten classrooms at Hoboken’s public elementary schools.

Three aides in other areas will also be eliminated. The cuts to kindergarten will save the city around $240,000.

Three mothers of students in next year’s kindergarten classes spoke against the cuts at the June 24 school board meeting, and an online petition calling on the administration to reinstate the aides has received 140 signatures as of press time.

The mothers said they had only learned of the school board’s decision the previous Friday, a week before the end of the school year.

Toback said the decision was one of the hardest choices his administration made in seeking to counteract its budget shortfall.

He maintained that the move would not have an adverse effect on Hoboken kindergarteners. According to Toback, many public schools in New Jersey already forego instructional aides in kindergarten, including some of Hoboken’s charter schools.

Toback expects Hoboken kindergarten classes to have a larger enrollment next year, and said the school board was closely monitoring class sizes. The average class size in kindergarten was 17 students this past year, and has historically never been above 23 students.

Projected kindergarten class sizes at or above 21 students next year would be a clear “cause for concern” for Toback. The board could bring back some aides or an additional kindergarten teacher at the school board’s August meeting.

Megan O’Reilly’s daughter is entering kindergarten in the public schools next year. At the June 24 board meeting, she said even 17 kindergarteners would be too much for one teacher.

“I can’t imagine [my daughter] wandering around the hallway to go to the bathroom by herself, or should she be sick, to not be able to have enough care,” she said.

“Kindergarten and the quality of the program is really a cornerstone of Hoboken’s appeal as ‘a nice place to raise a family,’ ” wrote Lisia Zheng Hohlfeld, another of the parents present at the meeting, in an email to the newspaper. “This dramatic cut in teaching staff will severely undermine what the school district has done all these years to build the program and establish its reputation.”

A group of parents including Hohlfeld met with Toback on June 26 to discuss the issue. According to Hohlfeld, Toback assured the parents that “things will not be ‘as bad as they look now’” come September, and scheduled an additional meeting in two weeks after conversations with other members of the administration.

While Hohlfeld doubted that all of the aides could be brought back, she expressed a hope that shared aides or floater aides could be installed as the next best option.

Read more: Hudson Reporter - More money for charter school fight But no room in school budget for 13 kindergarten aides who are cut