The issues are clear:
...EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION...
...REAL BUDGET CUTS...
Here are links to my “launch” on Hoboken 411 http://hoboken411.com/archives/11176 and mentions in budget stories on Hoboken411 http://hoboken411.com/archives/10855. Here’s my story on the HobokenNow blog on NJ.com: http://www.nj.com/hobokennow/index.ssf/2008/03/school_board_candidates_make_t_1.html.
Here's my latest letter to the editor of the Hoboken Reporter (April 5).
School Budget is Still out of Control
Lost in the debate over the teaching and administrative positions that might be eliminated is the fact that Superintendent Jack Raslowsky and the school board did not cut the 2008-09 budget at all. Indeed, it’s more bloated than ever. At the board’s budget meeting March 25, Raslowsky told us that these are “difficult economic times” and that we must “use what we have wisely.” He then presented a $56.3 million budget that’s 6.4% bigger than this year’s outlays--far above the 4% cap on annual budget increases mandated by Trenton. And per pupil spending leaps 5.6%-- to nearly $25,000.
He told us that he and the board “can’t control health costs.” So he budgeted for medical insurance costs to soar 23% next year and prescription coverage to rise 10.5%--this at a time when health insurance costs are rising 4.6% a year in the private sector. These outlandish increases—when the number of employees might actually shrink—could be addressed in the new contract with the teachers’ union that Raslowsky and the board are negotiating for next year. So does he mean he can’t control costs or won’t control costs?
Spending taxpayer money freely is a hallmark of the Hoboken School Board. In the 2005-06 school year, Hoboken spent $16,793 per pupil. Next year it will be $24,949. That’s up virtually 50% in three years—over a period when inflation totaled 10%. That makes our per-pupil cost one of the highest in the state, if not the country.I don’t think we have to make ends meet by aiming for the teachers first. There’s too much flab in this budget to slice out before we cut the people who actually provide the education that our children need. I saw this first-hand when I sat on a board-appointed committee as a parents’ representative and tried to halt the unrestrained spending in one $50,000 program. It was like standing in front of a New Orleans levee and hoping my shoes stay dry. Exorbitant raises, new hires, more goodies for all: that was the norm. I realized that only by getting elected to the board could I really make a difference.
I am running as an independent. I put my money where my mouth is every day and send my children to Hoboken public schools. And as someone on the inside of the system, I know what works and what doesn’t, our successes and failures. I work behind the scenes as the Connors School PTO president and volunteer to give all the kids a better experience in school. I am also outspoken when I have to be, appearing before the board over the past six years to demand excellence in education and responsible spending.
I ask you for your vote on Election Day, April 15.
The Hoboken teachers' union Political Action Committee requested answers to a number of questions from all the candidates. The Hoboken Education Association says it does not "endorse" candidates in school board races, but it does "recommend" candidates to its members. Three weeks later, I have yet to hear if I - or anyone - got the union's recommendation. Here's what I submitted to Maegen Alt, chairperson of the Hoboken HEA PAC:
March 17, 2008
Thank you for this opportunity to address the members of the Hoboken Education Association. I know that together we can work to provide exactly what the children of Hoboken need and deserve – an excellent education.
What is your educational philosophy and why are you seeking re-election or election to the Hoboken Board of Education?
My educational philosophy is based on seeing what works. My two children started their education at Wallace and now are in the fifth and third grade at Connors, participating in the challenging Johns Hopkins University distance-learning program. They both had Tammi Oberstein for kindergarten. I marveled at how she taught with passion and creativity yet kept complete control. In first grade, Timothy had Veronica Ocello, a veteran teacher who took a struggling reader and worked relentlessly to keep him from falling behind. Julia had Elise Rosenberg, a dynamo who spends so much of her own time giving back to the school and to our children. In second grade they both had Sharon Cantone, whose classic approach to reading, writing and math is a model of how to instill the basics. Tim’s third grade teacher, Christy Vespa, took those basics and infused a spirit of wonder and excitement. At Connors, they have been inspired by Gwen Rodriquez, Kelly Sogluizzo and Cheng-yen Hillenbrand. And there are so many more over the years I could list.
I am running for the school board to ensure that what works in our schools – a traditional form of education based on a firm grounding in the basics of reading, writing and math – is maintained and enhanced. I am also running because as a taxpayer of Hoboken I think the money we spend should be focused on classroom initiatives rather than back-office payroll that makes our district top heavy.
The Hoboken Education Association and the Board of Education have fostered a positive working relationship on behalf of our students and educational programs. What will you do to continue this positive relationship?
I have always been an advocate for the Hoboken public schools. When I first moved to Hoboken in 2001 I was told over and over that I shouldn’t even think about putting my kids in the public schools here. But my independent streak told me to do my own research and that’s how Timothy became enrolled in Adrianna Coppola’s class at Mile Square pre-K. My number one reason for putting my children into the schools – and keeping them there – has been the excellence of the classroom teachers. I have written letters to the Hoboken Reporter and the Hoboken Family Alliance extolling the virtues of our teachers and chastising the city officials and school board members who have attacked the education that children get here. I was the first parent to speak at a Wallace open house and I also volunteered at community events promoting the school.
As the president of the Connors PTO I am helping to build community support by bringing in more parents and working to offer more family events. I am also chairing a committee to celebrate Connors’ 100th anniversary. I will work to boost the reputation of the Hoboken schools by continuing to point out the fine work that our teachers do on a daily basis, often under trying circumstances. As I have said since 2001, when my son started in Tammi Oberstein’s kindergarten class, I can send my children anywhere and I choose to send them to the Hoboken public schools.
What is your position as it relates to the following issues and how it affects our ability to continue to maintain educational excellence for all our students? Please be specific in your thoughts on these topics.
The role of charter schools in our district?
The charter schools in our district have accomplished one goal: making the public schools more competitive. They were a necessary jolt to the administration and I think the public schools have responded well to the challenge.
The continuation of tax assessments, which under fund local property taxes?
The schools are well funded now but I would work to ensure that the city never stints on its commitments to its public schools. I believe it is the county that actually gets short-changed with this Pilot program.
The new school funding formula and its impact?
I believe that the new school funding formula will not adversely impact Hoboken because it is an urban Abbott district. Yet the budget is not finalized in Trenton so things could change. If elected, I would fight to keep Hoboken’s current level of state funding.
If elected, what major changes do you see needed to accomplish your educational agenda for our community?
My campaign slogan is “fighting for excellence in education.” But it’s not just a slogan. I would fight for excellence by raising the bar for our students and giving them the tools they need to succeed. (I graduated from Linden H.S. and put myself through Georgetown University. I know what it’s like to make it through an urban high school and be told to lower your expectations.) I would push for more parental involvement to help our teachers get the job done. We also need to increase the community’s awareness of the great job our schools are already doing and draw in more new parents. As the district moves toward a new curriculum, we need to keep what works and improve what doesn’t. I think my long history of advocating for children puts me right in line with the goals of the Hoboken Education Association.
Here's the letter I wrote to the Hoboken Reporter back in January about the disturbingly high number of out-of-district students who use Hoboken schools.
Jan. 22, 2008
To the editor:
Mike Mullins is right. For the past two years I have been prodding the school system to crack down on the large number of parents who live outside of Hoboken yet enroll their children in Hoboken public schools. Unlike other N.J. districts, which strictly enforce residency rules, Hoboken has a gee-whiz, who-cares attitude. And who picks up the tab? We the taxpayers do.
The taxpayers of Hoboken – who finance most of the bloated $54 million school budget – should know how much money they could save if our school system enforced its own rules. With about 2,200 students, that’s nearly $25,000 spent per child. In my daughter’s second-grade class at Wallace last year, 7 of the 16 students did not live here. If just four out-of-district kids are in each of the 30 or so K-7 classes, there could be 120 outsiders attending Wallace without compensation from the towns they live in. That’s $3 million a year in misspent funds – for just one school.
I became aware of this issue when my children were enrolled in Wallace. My son’s kindergarten graduation party was at a classmate’s home in Secaucus. On field trips, kids pointed out their hometowns or the routes they drove to get to school. Teachers gave up on asking the kids to memorize home addresses because too many got their real and phony ones mixed up.
As a member of the School Leadership Committee, I brought this up with our principal, but it was clear that the superintendent – both the current and the former one - would not back up attempts to enforce the rules. It’s easy enough to count the cars lacking Hoboken parking stickers pulling up to let their children out. (Every year the parking authority wants me to prove I still live here; the school district last asked for proof of residency when I enrolled my daughter in 2002.) Watch the kids get off the 22 bus from Union City or walk over from the Jersey City Heights elevator. Four out-of-district students have been asked to leave since October, but that doesn’t make even a dent in the problem.
A New York Times article on January 13 detailed the effort that districts put into residency enforcement. They ask parents to re-register occasionally, pay for information phoned into hotlines and hire detectives to ferret out cheaters.
I suspect that this studied indifference here has to do with boosting the numbers so there are more administrative and support jobs to hand out to family and friends. Parents with good connections also find a way in.
I know that taking this stand does not make me popular with the people who are breaking the rules. They used to live here or they work here or their after-school help is here or they just like these schools better than their own. But the school board and the administration owe it to those of us who pay the steadily increasing taxes to cut the wasteful spending right under their noses.