Hoboken Board of Education was dissembling, divisive and accountability dodging
May 25, 2014 | 2919 views | 1 1 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Dear Editor:

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.

Daniel Cillié

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May 25, 2014
Here we go AGAIN! More divisiveness coming from the Hola parents and here we have another one shamefully misrepresenting what is going on in connection with the quest (at taxpayer expense) to expand that charter school. This is a self-absorbed, self-interested, self-obsessed, insincere, hypocritical and narcissistic crowd if ever there was one.

I watched the meeting, sir, and if you weren’t so self-focused, you would have heard Director Toback explain IN DETAIL ALL of the reasons for the budget crunch and no matter how many ways you try to misrepresent it, the expansion of Hola represents a tipping point; 773,224 is not 20 bucks! It’s a sizable increase that I, for one, do not feel is warranted when we’ve got a handful of parents that enrolled their children in a school that they KNEW, in the first place, only went through the 5th/6th grade!

Perhaps MORE disgraceful is that you, sir, have committed that oft repeated lie (about the renewal and expansion,) once again, to writing. Since you are so clear on the details, you absolutely and equivocally are aware that it is Hola that tied the ‘renewal’ to the ‘expansion’ together when they (inappropriately) submitted for both AT THE SAME TIME. You insinuate dishonesty on the part of the board but, conveniently eliminate that crucial FACT. If Hola had followed the RULES they would have first submitted for a charter renewal (which the board and superintendent are CLEAR that they do not oppose) and, AFTER that was granted, Hola appropriately would file for an extension. When you eliminate this important part of the debate you join the Hola administration in their complete misrepresentation of the situation. I noticed that while the parents were reading “aloud from the text” that not one, NOT ONE, of them read aloud from the original filing by Hola that inappropriately linked the renewal and the expansion together. When you start with a false premise, everything that follows is nothing less than a lie.

Perhaps, what I find most offensive in your disingenuous letter to the editor is your attack on and, misrepresentation of, what the Board VP, Ms. McAllistor, said at the meeting about the Hola demographics. There is a distinct difference between the demographic in Hoboken’s public school and Hola charter, something that no Hoboken resident can deny. Since (as the charter parents are so fond of saying) charters are public schools, the different demographic between these “public” schools is a problem that must be addressed. The Hola administration and parents avoid acknowledging this at every turn, insisting that no problem exists, again undermining any possible credibility since the facts demonstrate a stark and clear difference in the demographics in the respective schools. Ms. McAllistor was drawing an analogy between our very real and very local disparity into a larger context. Facing a group of administrators that vehemently deny a truth…that there is a demographic disparity locally… Ms. McAllistor was showing how, if this demographic was attached to a different place (and South Africa just passed the 20 year mark of the end of Apartheid) maybe everyone would be able to see what is already right in front of their face.

It must be very frustrating for Ms. McAllistor (as it is for many of the rest of us) knowing that the challenge of addressing the disparity in the school system can never be met if the parents and administration of a (predominantly white) charter school continue to insist that their demographic is the same as the public district schools when IT IS NOT.

As someone who’s been called upon to travel to the beautiful country of South Africa for business on several occasions in the past 1-2 decades and who frequently discussed the changes in South Africa with citizens of that country who I found to be candid and honest about their past and present and straightforward about their awareness of the segregation, the only problem I have with the analogy is that that our Hola parents are loath to even admit to the demographic disparity where the South Africans seem to understand that the only way to address a problem is to acknowledge it. The Hola parent’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge this is the thing that is ‘profoundly offensive.’ I applaud Ms. McAllistor’s bravery and thank her from the bottom of my heart. Her willingness to maintain her strong moral center in the face stubborn, wrong-headed, demanding and purely self-seeking hostility represents the best of what we hope to see in our elected representatives.

I close by thanking all of the School Board Members and Dr. Toback for standing up and holding firm in their conviction to do what is right thing for the children of the public school district and all of Hoboken. To the Hola parents, administration and Mr. Cillié, I hold up a mirror to your own words and urge you to stop the “divisive arguments, untruths and blaming others.” We, the majority of the citizens of Hoboken have heard quite enough.