John Raslowsky Jr., the Harvard-educated principal of St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, was unanimously selected Tuesday to become the next president of the Hoboken Board of Education. He takes the gavel from Commissioner David Anthony, who served eight consecutive one-year terms as president.
Raslowsky, who received the most votes in last month’s school board election, said that the key to effective management of the district’s schools comes down to communication, cooperation, and accountability.
“The Board of Education at its best is one that works with the administration and teachers to improve its schools,” said Raslowsky as he addressed a standing room only crowd Tuesday. “At its worse it gets bogged down in bickering, ego, and politics. This board will work with and be responsible toward the people that we employ.”
The selection of Raslowsky represents a major shift in the leadership of the Board of Education. Raslowsky ran on Mayor David Roberts’ “Hoboken United for Education” ticket that swept last month’s election. He replaces David Anthony, who was elected as part of former Mayor Anthony Russo’s ticket in ’94, ’97, and ’00. Anthony even served as Russo’s campaign manager during last year’s mayoral election that Roberts won.
Anthony’s board had kept school taxes stable for eight years, and Anthony had hoped to continue to use his expertise at the helm. But some critics in the past had complained that the Russo-packed boards stifled criticisms of the schools and apologized for mediocrity. In more recent years, Anthony supported innovations like public charter schools, and some test scores have risen steadily in the district. The high school has also sent students to colleges like Cornell and Princeton.
But achievements have not been plentiful or quick enough for new residents who are used to the competition and superior scores offered by suburban schools. Some have said that it is difficult for a school to solve all the problems of disadvantaged students while at the same time providing all the top classes of suburban schools.
The recent trend on the Hoboken Board of Education has been to try to provide options to keep newcomer parents from moving to the suburbs once their children reach school-age.
“Standing in the room listening to [Raslowsky] left me with the impression that we are headed for great days when it comes to public education in Hoboken,” said Mayor Roberts from his office Wednesday. “Very soon, families will be clamoring to move to Hoboken to take advantage of our public school system.”
Joining Raslowsky at the head of the table will be Wanda Santana Alicea, who was unanimously selected as the board’s vice-president. She is the executive director of the Union City Day Care Program and Learning Center, where she oversees programs that service more than 600 children aged from 6 weeks old to 6 years. She also supervises 175 instructional and non-instructional staff people.
“I’m very happy [about being chosen as vice-president] and believe next year will be a successful one,” said Alicea. “[Raslowsky] brings a new and exciting style to the board that will benefit all Hoboken children.”
Sharing in the evening excitement was Carmelo Garcia, who along with Frances Rhodes Kearns, was sworn in earlier in the evening. “It’s a privilege to serve the children, parents, and taxpayers of this city,” said Garcia, who is also the city’s director of human services. Both he and Kearns are first-time board members supported by Mayor Roberts.
Anthony bows out
Former president Anthony said in a five-minute prepared speech that he is proud of what he was able to accomplish in his eight years on the board.
“As a member of the finance committee and its current chairman, I helped deliver the lowest local tax rate in nine years,” said Anthony. “On a home appraised for $200,000 you paid $2,582 to the schools in ’94, this year, you paid $2,350. That’s 10 percent less that what you paid nine years ago.”
Anthony also pointed to the success of Hoboken’s two charter schools, greatly improved test scores, and the district’s diligence in obtaining $54 million in “Special Needs” Abbott Funds to repair the city’s ailing school facilities during his tenure as president.
“I leave the presidency knowing that the schools are a much better place for our children than they were when we started,” Anthony said.
According to the Resolution of Censure, in April of 2001 Russo, the wife of former Mayor Anthony Russo, acquired mailing labels containing student information, including addresses, student ID numbers and homeroom numbers to send out pro-Anthony Russo post cards. A censure is the school board’s process of a reprimand, the political equivalent of a strongly worded letter.
According to Robert Bender, the acting chairman of the state’s School Ethics Commission, the act violated the School Ethics Act.
Censure is the least severe penalty that the ethics commission could have imposed. Suspension, fines or removal would have been other options. Under the rules of a censure, the Hoboken Board of Education was ordered to read the censure into the public record and post it for 30 days where the board posts its public notices. Russo retains her full status on the school board.
“This official censure is the most benign action mandated by the state Department of Education in determining a trustee’s penalty,” said Russo Tuesday in response to the censure. “The other more significant penalties are either monetary penalty or removal from office, and although it is benign, it is extremely disheartening.”
She added that she believes she is being singled out for political reasons. “The student ID numbers had absolutely no meaning,” she said. “They are just numbers assigned to a student. They lead nowhere and by no means invade any child’s privacy. Therefore, the real reason for the filing of this ethics complaint remains suspect to me. I have and will always contend that this entire fiasco was a purely political maneuver in the midst of a mayoral campaign of which my husband was a candidate.”
The original complaint was filed by Superintendent of Schools Patrick Gagliardi after several parents, including new board member Frances Rhodes Kearns, complained to him.
City Council President Anthony Soares, a harsh critic of both Michele and Anthony Russo, said Thursday that Michele Russo deserved the censure.
“I think it is reprehensible for an elected official to act in that manner,” said Soares. “She put these children’s safety at risk by essentially making their private information public. It just proves that the only reason she is on that board is to further her own personal agenda.” – Tom Jennemann