With the debate season coming to a close, six Hoboken Board of Education candidates squared off during a forum at Hoboken Elks Lodge 74, ahead of a pivotal election on November 8.
By Katherine Guest and Matthew Reate
Candidates spoke openly about course and curriculum reform, the lack of students in Hoboken High School (HHS) due to low Q-SAT scores, and the Hoboken School District vs HoLa case that is affecting taxpayer dollars.
On the Parents United slate, Francis “Chipper” Benway, Jessica Nelson, and Jennifer Rossini all spoke about their concerns on program improvements for HHS and how to concentrate on professional development for teachers so that students are capable of learning to their greatest capacity.
“At this point, one of my main reasons in getting involved in the BOE is that I’m not confident in sending my 10-year-old daughter to the high school. Test scores are down over the last four years. We’ve failed Q-SAT [five out of five years] … If we can’t get 80 percent in Q-SAT we have real issues to look at,” said Benway.
“We need to get better programs into the high school. We need to get professional development for teachers. We’re looking at new STEM programs, but are we preparing our teachers to teach those programs. If they’re not prepared to teach the programs then the kids won’t be prepared to learn the programs.”
According to Rossini, about 15 percent of middle school students continue their education in Hoboken High School. In order to increase enrollment, she suggested to partner with local businesses for internships, have a dual language program, and partner with Stevens University to create a better STEM program.
Jennifer Evans, three-term candidate for the BOE, countered Benway’s argument by saying, “Why don’t you talk to folks who have sent kids there?” referring to HHS. Evans encourages parents to meet the staff, kids, and review the curriculum before drawing conclusions about the high school.
Irene Sobolov also confirmed there’s been a partnership with Stevens University for over 100 years and 25 other partnerships including, but not limited to, local businesses, Google, and ABC Disney.
Along with significant improvements for students and staff members, one major concern from the public are tax increases. Questions such as where are tax dollars going, what budget line item should be reduced and is it necessary for taxpayers to fund the ongoing HoLa lawsuit were all asked.
“The first line item I would reduce is the noneducational spending, namely the HoLa lawsuit. It should not go out of the tax payers pockets for this lawsuit. The other thing I would say is, I’m not quite certain why we have a $5.8 million surplus? I’m not certain that’s in Hoboken’s taxpayers better interest,” said Nelson.
In the district budget for 2016-17, Hoboken Public Schools (HPS) adjusted the 2 percent tax levy cap because of enrollment growth and improved facilities, which results in a 3.65 percent levy increase and property tax increase of $67 per year on average.
Forward Together Sheillah Dallara candidate says homeowners who have $500,000 homes, will pay $13 in taxes for every 1% increase in tax levies, which goes directly to the Hoboken School District counting public and charter schools into the equation.
The state requires a 2 percent surplus estimated as $1.1-2 million a year. Sobolov then explained, the HSD has a levy surplus, maintenance surplus, and also a capital surplus. New facilities such as a science and robotics labs, new gyms, and new bathrooms among other improvements came out of the surplus budget.
In a previous meeting, the BOE approved a contract for a student of special needs costing the district approximately $120k for one student. The approved contract also, came out of the surplus budget rather than creating a new line item.
By the end of the forum, ballots 1, 2, and 4 vocalized about punctuality when attending a BOE meeting in support for the children in Hoboken’s community. Evans specifically mentioned that the candidates on the right side of the panel weren’t present during any of the board meetings.