Sullivan fears another school board tax hike

Dear Editor:
I would like to welcome Mark Toback, our new superintendent of schools. I look forward to working with him as we address the educational needs of our students and the economic concerns of our taxpayers. In the end, that’s what I believe the job of a board member boils down to: making sure our students succeed at learning, and that the taxpayers get the most out of the money they entrust to the board and administration.
So how are we doing?
In terms of state test scores, the answer has to be… not nearly good enough. While Calabro improved in last spring’s tests, Wallace slipped dramatically, meeting the state standard in only one category from third through eighth grades. Connors made some progress in math, but continues to post failing grades in language arts at every grade tested. A shocking 84 percent of 5th graders couldn’t pass the language arts exam.
So I was appalled to see the rest of the board vote at the last meeting to send all the Connors 5th, 6th and 7th graders – not just those at risk – on a field trip to get “scared straight” at the Hudson County Correctional Center in Kearny. Do we really want felons in the faces of our 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds? These are boys and girls who have yet to see the Statue of Liberty, the world-class art and history museums across the river or even our state capital. I argued that we give them beauty before we show them the insides of the county jail. To me it was the latest example of a culture of low expectations at Connors, which draws most of its children from the housing authority.
Our budget this year is on track to keep Hoboken in the top two districts for per-pupil spending in N.J. The board majority claimed last year that it wasn’t raising taxes, but despite the rhetoric of fiscal responsibility, our school taxes actually went up 1.95 percent last year, according to our auditors’ figures and the city website. The rate went from 1.176 in 2009 to 1.199 last year, so someone with a house assessed at $500,000 is paying $115 extra in annual school taxes.
Does the board majority have any plans to rein in spending to avoid another tax hike this year, especially if state aid is cut again? Not from what I can see. From contracting out support-staff services and auditing our health-care rolls so we can weed out fraudulent beneficiaries to conducting a complete re-registration to identify our illegally enrolled out-of-town students, I have suggested myriad ways to cut spending. But I continue to be shot down. I was the only board member who supported the cap on superintendent pay and the only one who pushed for a tax cut in our annual goal-setting meeting.
I expect our new superintendent will focus on boosting the academic performance of our students. There is no more important goal. But the city also needs the board and the superintendent to pay attention to the sad state of our finances.

Maureen Sullivan
Member, Hoboken Board of Education

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