Last week, the Hoboken Board of Education voted to seek an appellate review of the Commissioner of Education’s recent decision regarding the expansion of a charter school. The reason is simple: the commissioner failed to use accurate student census data and disregarded enrollment disparities of children impacted by poverty and children with special needs. The commissioner is required by law to consider these factors.
This is the third time the Commissioner of Education has seen Ms. Sobolov and her Kids First Board of Education majority's complaint concerning the decision to renew and expand the dual language school. In addition to the Commissioner, a panel of experts also weighed in on the decision. Yet, Ms. Sobolov still seems confident that the Commissioner disregarded data. BTW, the Commissioner DID address these concerns in the most recent decision letter dated March 20, 2015.
The commissioner must also examine the financial impacts on the Hoboken Public School District’s educational program, as the funding comes directly from the district budget. With a disproportionate amount of low-income and special needs students, the district funding must provide for students who require more educational resources and services than more advantaged students.
Ms. Sobolov fails to mention that the district's own auditor showed that there was a $1.5 million dollar surplus to the Hoboken School District's Budget (reported at the January 2015 Board of Education Meeting). With such a surplus, one must question what negative impact charter funding will have on the Hoboken School District. What book won't be purchased? What program will not be enacted? What person can not be hired? Which low income students or special needs students will be deprived of a single educational resource?
The commissioner ignored all of this, but I could not.
Again, there is absolutely no evidence that the Commissioner ignored information about the low income or special needs students in the Hoboken School District. As a recent article on NJ.COM shows, Hoboken has the highest per pupil cost in Hudson County and one of the highest per pupil costs in the State of New Jersey. An examination of the Commissioner's letter (see link above) indicates factors Ms. Sobolov mentions were known.
For a variety of different reasons, we have an imbalance in our community. One district—the Hoboken Public School District—is now serving the majority of our community’s most vulnerable students and those who require the most educational resources. Budget cuts to fund a charter school expansion will be felt by the students of the district.
What are some of the reasons for this "imbalance in our community"? Perhaps its the violence and vandalism (ranked 9th highest in the state)? Perhaps its the low test scores? Perhaps its the plummeting QSAC scores in Instruction and Program? Perhaps its the failed laptop program that was so highly touted by Kids First supporters and ended up being exposed both regionally and nationally? Perhaps its having 6 superintendents in 6 years? Perhaps it is district enrollment down over 25% in 4 years? Perhaps it is Ms. Sobolov's political group known as Kids First voted against a dual language program in the public schools in 2009? There are many possible reasons why any parent with a choice is seeking other options. One of those reasons may be the general impression of the Hoboken Public Schools under the stewardship of Ms. Sobolov and the political group known as Kids First.
I have always welcomed a community discussion. In December 2013, then Superintendent Dr. Toback asked the commissioner to help our community address this imbalance. His plea went unanswered. Shortly afterwards, the superintendent invited all school administrators to meet to discuss solutions. Although unsuccessful so far, I still believe we can find a way to reopen that dialogue and explore solutions as a community. There are many ways to encourage diversity if we work together—a universal application, coordinated outreach and dedicated enrollment spots.
The uncomfortable truth is that Ms. Sobolov and her Board majority have simply not been responsive to the community needs. It has been over 5 years now and the school district has not implemented its own dual language program. Clearly there is a great need for more seats in the community but the district remains unresponsive. Coordinated outreach and dedicated enrollment spots have already been enacted. A universal application is a policy used in the Newark public schools that Ms. Sobolov evidently wants to bring to Hoboken. Seems slightly out of touch to the needs of the parents of Hoboken school age children to me.
I think most agree that the unfair state funding formula needs to be addressed. All parents love their child’s school and no parent wants to lose educational resources. I also believe that in such a small community, the imbalance in student population should be a concern that requires all of our attention and community-wide solutions.
Again, one needs to remember that the Hoboken School District had a $1.5 million dollar SURPLUS last year as explained by their an independent financial auditing firm of their own choosing. As for the "imbalance" in student population, Ms. Sobolov fails to mention that the 2 MOST economically segregated schools in Hoboken are Connors and Brandt which are both under her stewardship.
As a parent myself, I completely understand it is a difficult situation for everyone. I feel the same love and commitment to my children's school and the students I serve as the charter parents who attended last week’s Board of Education meeting. But I stand by my decision. To “let it go” would require me to abandon the students in the Hoboken Public School District—often our community's most vulnerable children. I cannot do that. I hope those who disagree with my decision understand my reasons.
Ms. Sobolov's fails to recognize that the "difficulty" of this situation is of her own initiative as well as her Kids First Board members. Inflammatory remarks of "white flight" and "bankruptcy" (recall the $1.5 million surplus!) by Kids First member Leon Gold as well as disregard for previous decisions by the NJ Commissioner of Education has made this issue drag out beyond reason.
Education is clearly an important and passionate topic and I look forward to continued community discussion.
Education is also an area of specific expertise and competence. Failure in either area leads to ireputable damage to our most vulnerable citizens, our children. All our children.
Irene Korman Sobolov*
* Board of Education members are unpaid positions and the job of being a trustee often entails many hours of service. While I may disagree with Ms. Sobolov on a number of issues related to education, I do recognize and acknowledge her dedication of time and effort.