On April 21, residents in Hoboken will decide who will govern their education system. The nine-member school board is responsible for a $59.36 million budget, affecting the lives of 1,892 students.
Last year, the board made decisions determining what children enter into which schools (school choice), how those children are taught (an overhaul of curriculum), who feeds them (new cafeteria company), and even in what language they are taught (dual-language program).
There are six candidates running for three open seats on the board, each with a four-year term. An incumbent is heading each slate: Theresa Minutillo for “Kids First,” and Frank Raia for “United for Students.”
The “Kids First” slate is all female, while the “United for Students” slate is all male, but the gender split is not intentional, the candidates said. Each candidate was asked questions about their candidacy, and they were given a word limit for their answers.
NAME: Hector Irizarry
SLATE: “United For Students”
FAMILY: Wife, children, grandchildren.
OCCUPATION: Self-employed for over 28 years (Chatham, N.J.); an inventor with three U.S. patents for child safety related devices, and a U.S. patent for a license plate surveillance system.
COMMUNITY WORK: Puerto Rican Cultural Committee of Hoboken, former vice president, treasurer, and member of the Scholarship Subcommittee; Hoboken Fellowship Chapel, former board member; St. Baldrick’s Foundation Children Cancer Research contributor; Louis Sheats’ Foundation contributor.
WHAT QUALITY SETS YOU APART FROM THE OTHER CANDIDATES? I am creative and an out-of-the-box thinker. I have no political aspiration other than serving on the school board. As a product of an urban public school system, I know what the children are going through and can connect with them and their parents. I would enter the board with no preconceptions and an open mind. I am not running because I am angry about certain aspects of the school system. I am running because I love the children of Hoboken and have a lifetime commitment to advance the lives of Hispanic and African American young men and women. I will be an advocate for the children, be respectful to the administration, and a voice for the taxpayers.
WHAT ONE ASPECT OF THE SCHOOLS DO YOU WISH TO CHANGE? I would like to see the expansion of the International Baccalaureate (I.B.) program by exposing the students at the grammar school level to the more challenging curriculum. I would like to increase the current percentage of high school students graduating with I.B. diplomas. College should be promoted in the schools and the community through a creative advertising campaign funded by private sector with no burden on the taxpayer.
Students in the alternative program should fully understand the financial potential that exists with the trades. They should be taught some entrepreneurial classes and should learn basic financial skills, including the importance of saving and having good credit.
NAME: Ruth (Tyroler) McAllister
SLATE: “Kids First”
FAMILY: Son is a first-grader at Wallace School.
OCCUPATION: Business systems consultant and project manager, BNY Mellon Shareowner Services, Jersey City.
PRIOR OCCUPATIONS: Co-founder of Romparoo, a play space for babies and young children (2002-2007), sold it in 2007.
COMMUNITY WORK: Kaplan Cooperative Preschool (2003-2005), Board of Directors; United Synagogue of Hoboken Public Relations Committee; Cub Scouts of America Den 146, volunteer; Arthritis Foundation, volunteer; Newark public school kindergarten classroom, volunteer; Parents Inc., a group of Hoboken public school parents, founding member.
WHAT QUALITY SETS YOU APART FROM THE OTHER CANDIDATES? As a business owner, I learned to make tough decisions on hiring employees, negotiating contracts, and sticking to budgets. As an entrepreneur, I know how to build a program from the ground up and respond to market demands. And as someone who has built a following among young parents and children, I realize that we need to support the love of learning in our children and give them the programs and facilities that they need to blossom and grow. Each day, I apply the skills honed in a small business on a larger scale in my current position. I design and manage the implementation of technical enhancements to software that supports stock plans for more than 150 publicly-traded companies and 500,000 employees. I will bring to the district technology expertise and a clear understanding of the effort and cost associated with adopting new tools. And as a single mother juggling responsibilities at home and work, I can relate to the struggles that many of our families experience.
WHAT ONE ASPECT OF THE SCHOOLS DO YOU WISH TO CHANGE? A curriculum committee has been meeting for more than a year, but we, the parents, still have no idea what kind of changes will be implemented in our children’s classrooms. As a board member, I would end the “business as usual” style of board decision-making that keeps the community at arm’s length. These are our schools, and we need board members who accept that and embrace the idea that our schools can’t improve without input from all the stakeholders in the city. Our schools are not reaching the benchmarks set by No Child Left Behind legislation, and we need an open and transparent process to discuss these issues and find ways to raise test scores. And if we are open about how we spend our money, we will spend it more prudently. Communication and transparency are the keys to success.
NAME: Theresa Minutillo
SLATE: “Kids First”
FAMILY: Daughter, registered in the Mile Square Abbott program for Sept. 2009.
OCCUPATION: Self-employed businesswoman who owns her own consulting firm specializing in image development and corporate branding.
PRIOR OCCUPATIONS: Apparel buyer and product development director for multimillion dollar retail corporations.
COMMUNITY WORK: Senior/Junior Prep Day at Hoboken High School, founded as a volunteer in 2004 (now incorporated as an official program); Read Across America, participant at Connors School.
WHAT QUALITY SETS YOU APART FROM THE OTHER CANDIDATES? My experience as a board member fighting for our public school children sets me apart. I have seen the challenges firsthand, and I’m back for more, stronger and more knowledgeable than I was the first time. I’ve been fighting week after week to end the culture of entitlement, and to put our resources where they belong – in the classroom, benefiting the kids.
What sets me apart from Frank Raia, the other incumbent in the race, is my consistency. I didn’t join the board to hand out jobs, award contracts, and play politics. Under my leadership, the board passed by a narrow margin a much needed nepotism policy and finally agreed to televise its meetings on Channel 77.
Frank supported me for board president for the 2007-08 school year, and again when we eliminated five administrator positions and set aside $975,000 to enhance education programs. But when Superintendent Raslowsky stalled on improvements that would have boosted test scores and offered the HoLa program instead, Frank switched his support.
WHAT ONE ASPECT OF THE SCHOOLS DO YOU WISH TO CHANGE? I would like to end the “crisis of the week” mentality with which Superintendent Raslowsky, and his rubber stamp board majority who run the district. If we are ever to serve our students well, and spend our resources wisely, we need to plan. The place planning is most needed is in the budget.
Under the “leadership” of Raslowsky and Raia the district just gave our teachers and staff generous raises of 12.9 percent over the course of the contract, raises that we could ill afford without a plan to pay for them. We must develop a budget process that begins by identifying the programs and teacher development that need to be in place to ensure that our students get the great education that our money should be buying. We need to examine every cost and line item, and evaluate its contribution to student success. Then, and only then, do we need to decide how to fund it.
NAME: Anthony P. Oland
SLATE: “United For Students”
FAMILY: Married with a daughter in the district and a two and half year old son.
OCCUPATION: Business partner, Franklin Templeton Investments.
PRIOR OCCUPATIONS: Full-time instructor for Local 472 (Heavy & General Laborers).
COMMUNITY WORK: Hoboken Early Childhood Advisory Council, elected member; HOPES Father’s Group, member; HOPES Parent Group, former member.
WHAT QUALITY SETS YOU APART FROM THE OTHER CANDIDATES? I’m called “New Hoboken,” because I first moved here 20 years ago, but my grandparents came to Hoboken from Italy a century ago and my dad was born and raised here, so I have always been a part of Old Hoboken. This is why I alone best understand the dynamics of all of the residents of this town.
Hoboken offers so much to each of us, and should offer our children the best education available; and as a taxpayer, I expect that we do get our monies worth. Having experience working in and with unions, as well as significant responsibility for corporate budgets at a “for-profit” company, I will bring a business sense to my relationships with the administration and faculty to define a sensible budget. We need to create cost-savings and we need to define the most appropriate use of expenditures with the goal of having “model schools.” I will also work diplomatically with fellow board members to learn from them and bring new insights to our district.
WHAT ONE ASPECT OF THE SCHOOLS DO YOU WISH TO CHANGE? There are many, but the most critical is student performance. As board members, we can make a lot of decisions to do or undo many things, but if they don’t affect a student’s ability to achieve their greatest individual educational performance, then all we have done is rearrange the decks chairs on a sinking ship. Every motivation I will have as a board member will be with the goal of optimizing student achievement. I believe that we already have a majority of the resources we need to achieve this goal, we just need to better deploy the resources and raise standards of accountability across the district, including for board members. I will model accountability to administrators, faculty, parents, students and taxpayers, and especially to my fellow board members, so that I may ask each of them to do the same. Every student in the district, whether mine or another parent’s, must be given the tools and opportunity to best prepare them for a successful future.
NAME: Frank “Pupie” Raia
SLATE: “United For Students”
FAMILY: Married; has a son who was valedictorian at Hoboken High School 2007, is legal guardian for two others.
COMMUNITY WORK: Hoboken Board of Education, trustee since 2003; H.O.P.E.S. (Hoboken Organization Against Poverty and Stress) chairman, member 28 years; Hoboken Elks, member; contributor to numerous local charities and causes, as well as many recreational programs for our youth (Little League, etc.) and outreach programs for senior citizens.
WHAT QUALITY SETS YOU APART FROM THE OTHER CANDIDATES? There is a clear distinction between others seeking to serve on the Board of Education and myself. I bring a lifetime of business experience to the post. As someone who has run his own business and dealt with budgets and bureaucracies on a daily basis for many years, I know what it takes to help oversee a multi-million dollar enterprise like our school system.
As a current member of the board, I have proven that I am committed to making the necessary improvements that will benefit the students and enhance their academic experience so as to better prepare them for the future.
In addition, my background in business makes me uniquely qualified to deal effectively and fairly with all of the employees of our school system – both the teachers and the support staff – so that we can all work together on behalf of Hoboken’s students.
My business acumen allows me to accomplish positive results for all involved. And one recent demonstration of that ability is the new contract that the board was able to negotiate. We reached an agreement that is beneficial to our employees and the teaching community, yet advantageous and economical for the over-burdened taxpayer of Hoboken as well.
WHAT ONE ASPECT OF THE SCHOOLS DO YOU WISH TO CHANGE? The Hoboken school system needs to attract and enroll more students so we can reduce the cost of education per pupil. By increasing student enrollment, we would be able to lay the foundation to provide new academic programs to better prepare the youth of our city for the very competitive work world that they will be entering. In addition, this will allow us to innovate educationally with the most up to date creative methods designed to further enhance the classroom experience of our children. Also, by attracting more students into our system, we would be able to deliver better services in a more efficient manner, getting more out of each tax dollar spent.
This three-fold advantage to “right sizing” our school district would result in helping all parties involved. The students would benefit from a more comprehensive education; secondly, our teaching staff could pursue their profession more effectively; and, finally, the taxpayer – who must ultimately pay the bill – would benefit immeasurably from the wiser use of his and her tax dollars and stabilization of the tax rate itself.
NAME: Maureen Sullivan
SLATE: “Kids First”
FAMILY: Married with two children in the district.
PRIOR OCCUPATIONS: Georgetown University, graduate; journalist, 20 years, including 12 years in South Africa and Hong Kong.
COMMUNITY WORK: former member of school leadership committees at Wallace and Connors schools; president of Connors PTO; frequent volunteer at school activities; condo association president; member of the Hoboken Historical Museum; former leader of a Girl Scout troop; mentor to young African journalists; and an activist on behalf of adopted children.
WHAT QUALITY SETS YOU APART FROM THE OTHER CANDIDATES? I know what the schools are like from the inside because I’ve made it my business to play an active role in my children’s education. I have watched my children thrive in classes led by terrific teachers. When the administration first decided to put 3-year-olds in a middle school, I spoke out and got safeguards enacted. I fought to reform the weak gifted-and-talented Saturday U program. I thought we should do more to promote our schools, so I worked to spread the word in the press and at open houses. I haven’t missed a school leadership or PTO meeting in four years. I have been regularly attending school board meetings for the past seven years. If elected, I would hit the ground running. I have proven that I am unafraid to speak out against waste, sweetheart deals, and low test scores.
WHAT ONE ASPECT OF THE SCHOOLS DO YOU WISH TO CHANGE? I believe the biggest problem facing our district is the state of the middle school students. Since closing the middle schools and moving those grades into the primary schools, the district has dropped the ball by not maintaining the services and programs that those students need. Instead of fixing one problem, we have created another. The most striking example is the dismal test scores that have led to all three of our elementary schools landing on the state’s list of schools that have not made Adequate Yearly Progress. With the district so over-staffed with administrators, it’s amazing that something as crucial as the middle-school grades have fallen through the cracks.
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.