Outgoing school board member talks about changes

Also at meetings: Audit, students of the month

The Board of Education said farewell to its outgoing member, Dr. Leon Gold, a former board president, on Tuesday, Dec. 13. Gold decided not to run for re-election to the board this year. The board also discussed an auditor’s report and recognized its students of the month.
Gold gave his final curriculum report to the board, but also talked about various changes coming to the school system. He has been replaced by new member Sheillah Dallara this month.
“This will be a swan song masquerading as a curriculum report,” said Gold, noting that he has been a Hoboken resident for 40 years and served on the board for the last six. He does not have children.
“I have been honored to be on the Hoboken school board,” said Gold. “What can be more important than making sure all our students graduate with a love of learning and the skills needed for careers and personal success?”
Gold caused controversy in 2014 when he told Salon.com that the charter schools were taking too many resources and funds from other public schools, and used the term “white flight” several times: “We’re being hurt by increasing white flight from our school system [to charters]…we can’t even pay the amount of money that we will have to pay out from local tax levy, to support the charter school expansion.”
Gold did not invoke this controversy at the meeting but referred vaguely to disagreements.
“I learned that while all disagreements about education are not reasonable, reasonable people can and do disagree,” he said. “Different approaches to tax relief fairness and traditional public education do conflict and generate strong emotions.”
He focused on the positive changes that he’s seen while on the board.
Gold said the superintendent and the board have implemented several new programs and changes to school culture. “How do we know our programs are working?” he asked. “What are our measures of success?”
He said that in a committee meeting recently, the board discussed the implementation of two evaluation methodologies.
“First is the early identification and remediation of excessive teacher and student tardiness and absences,” he said. Gold said he believes they are in direct correlation with academic performance and that it’s important to keep track of them.
“The second, the tracking of student progress using formalized tests throughout the school year,” he said, will “enable the board administration and parents to have quantitative metrics of student deficiencies and progress prior to the administration of standardized tests like the PARCC.” He said the board needs more data to identify its failures and confirm its successes.
Gold said the district should take joy in its advances, including improved test scores, new programs, a growing PTO, and “streams of letters from satisfied parents.
Current Board President Thomas Kluepfel said that there was no fiercer advocate for the district than Gold and that he is sure “We haven’t seen the last of you.” He added that he believes Gold will still be an active participant in the district and at board meetings.

The auditor’s report

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Every year the district has an independent audit of its finances. Dieter P. Lerch of Lerch, Vinci & Higgins, LLP presented the synopsis during the public meeting of the board.
“I think the whole board and the administration need to be commended because the only way you can generate this excess money for tax relief,” Lerch said at the meeting, “is by managing expenses of the district and not spending 100 percent of the district’s budget.”
“The district took in from outside sources $71.8 million, about 41 of which was from property taxes and two was from federal sources, and about 27 was from state aid,” said Lerch. “The district expended $69.8 million, so the district ended up with an excess revenue over expenses of about $2 million dollars.”
Lerch explained that of this excess revenue, the district can only keep $1.3 million. “So in this case, $639,000, under state law, goes back into the budget for tax relief in the fiscal year 2017 to 2018.”
Board member Peter Biancamano asked Lerch how this year compared to years past and if Lerch was seeing a pattern or repeat findings.
Lerch said the one area that has shown the most improvement is the district’s food services.
“The Food Service Fund is the Achilles heel where the district has historically lost money,” said Lerch. “This is the first report where it actually broke even and wasn’t subsidized by the general fund budget.”
Business Administrator William Moffitt said when he began working for the district about four years ago they were operating with a deficit of over $1 million and “over a series of years we worked it down and broke even and reversed it.”
“We broke even and are right where we want to be and hopefully next year we may have a surplus,” said Moffitt.
Still, the audit included eight recommendations for the Hoboken Public Schools in the auditor’s synopsis.
They were to ensure that payments made from the Wallace Student Activity account had two signatures instead of one, that the district be sure to obtain a receipt of signatures on all goods or services purchased and received by the district.
They also recommended that money from the After Care Program be deposited in a timely manner, that equipment purchased with Title 1 funds be clearly identified as such in the districts records, and that the Office of State Comptroller be notified all of contracts over $2 million.
The audit also recommended that the district approve the specific vendors and contracts utilized under the Education Data Services Cooperative, that efforts be made to limit reimbursements paid to individuals from the high school student activity accounts, and that the processed collected from high school athletic event ticket sales reflect the sales report.

Students of the month

Assistant Superintendent Gerald Fitzhugh presented the district’s students of the month for November to the Board of Education, awarding each a certificate.
Senior Tariq-Ali Felton was the Hoboken High School student of the month.
Kindergartener Mathew Flora was student of the month for Brandt Primary School. Raine Victoria Sayaan, a district third grader, was student of the month for Calabro School. At Connors Elementary School, sixth grader Anthony Henderson was awarded student of the month. At Wallace Elementary School sixth grader Alexa Bracero won student of the month.
Eighth grader Sofia Melfi was the Hoboken Middle school student of the month. Senior Tariq-Ali Felton was the Hoboken High School student of the month.

Public questions

Resident Brian Murray asked why high school students employed by the district to videotape meetings should earn more than other school employees. The students earn $10 an hour.
“A part-time custodian makes about $8 an hour and you are telling them they’re worth less than a high school student,” said Murray. “Consequently, that’s the same amount we pay substitute teachers that are teaching our children.”
He added, “Lunch monitors and after-school monitors make $31 an hour. Do you look at this in totality and not just line item by line item? Why are we paying these people what we are paying them?”
Murray also asked the board about the BASF site in Northwest Hoboken, which was recently purchased by the city for a new resiliency park.
“That area had some talk about being a high school a decade ago and now the council is soliciting ideas on what should be put in that space… why are we not pushing for that opportunity when it’s here right now? Why are we letting it pass without a fight?”
“Our facilities are old and they will only get older,” he added. “They are not world class, not state of the art, and if we don’t develop new facilities, the best we can hope for is mediocrity.”
Board member John Madigan said he personally wouldn’t want his children to go to school on a site once owned by a chemical plant.
“I would never want to put our school children in that environment,” said Madigan.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.


School board swears in new members, officers

The Hoboken Board of Education met Tuesday, Jan. 3 for its annual reorganization meeting to induct newly elected board members and elect a board vice president and president.
The board swore in new board member Sheillah Dallara and incumbents Jennifer Evans and Irene Sobolov.

“I can’t believe the day is finally here,” said Dallara before the meeting.
Once the new board members were sworn in, the board elected vice president and president.
Sharyn Angley, who served on the board Finance Committee last year, was elected vice president unanimously after being nominated by last year’s Vice President Jennifer Evans.
Thomas Kluepfel, last year’s school board president, was nominated by Irene Sobolov and was sworn in again after a unanimous vote.
Before casting his yes vote, board member Peter Biancamano commented on his decision, stating, “I’ve always stressed common courtesy and that we should be respectful of all the board members here, but I received no calls from Tom. He just asked me today at 6:58 p.m.”
After the meeting Biancamano said, “In years past at reorganization meetings, I’d say no to a nominee if I hadn’t had a conversation with or received a phone call before the meetings. It’s a common courtesy to make that phone call. I said to Tom, ‘You could’ve called me’ and he explained he wasn’t sure and that it was in flux leading up to the meeting.”
After the meeting Kluepfel said he had spoken to a few board members about it but not all. Sobolov said she didn’t believe Kluepfel called anyone about his potential nomination.
Kluepfel said he will continue to focus on board unity and supporting the administration, as he has done so in the past. He said he tries to be inclusive of all his board members.
Kluepfel did not appoint new committee chairs during the reorganization meeting but plans to do so after gathering input from board members on their preferences and schedules.
“Last year I had to make a diagram of all the committees and everyone’s names to try and organize the board’s committees,” said Kluepfel, who believes he will have to use the same method his year.

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