The Elephant in the Room

On the chopping block?
Yesterday Da Horsey wrote this:
"There's valid arguments made on both sides but one striking factor is clear from the proponents of the new charter.  There's little or no concern on the impact to the vast majority of district students in creating a new charter to benefit themselves."
That's what GA calls the elephant in the room: the impact on Hoboken Public school students. 

Some (not all) of those supporting a new district acknowledge the elephant, but say that numbers march from one balance sheet onto  another ("the money follows the child") and no one gets hurt.   

Is that true? What is the impact of a new charter on the Hoboken public schools?

To answer those questions, we need a person who is knowledgeable and objective- with no interest in the outcome- political or otherwise.

Enter retired Hoboken B.A. Robert Davis. 

For those who don't want to watch the 12-minute video of his comments at the May 8th BoE meeting, I'll summarize for you.

Davis served as the Assistant Commissioner of Finance to NJ Governor Florio in 1993-1994 and then was asked to stay on by Governor Whitman.

Davis was part of the team who created charters in NJ.  The creation of charters was prompted by these state takeovers:
  • 1989- Jersey City Public Schools
  • 1991- Patterson Public School System
  • 1995- Newark Public School System
Or as he put is: "Charters were founded in New Jersey in the context of meeting the educational needs of kids in Newark, Patterson, and Jersey City". 

Interesting, huh?

Davis spent 22 years in Montclair public schools and according to him, chose magnet schools as a way of integrating their schools instead of forced busing, etc.  Under Davis, Montclair had 8 elementary magnet schools, including 'specialized' Gifted and Talented, Performing Arts, Basic Skills, Future Studies, Montessori.

Davis compared charters in Hoboken to magnet schools in Montclair where "each parent feels the school is meeting the unique needs of what they think their child should have as a program".

Davis feels that in Hoboken, the notion of a Charter school- a political solution to meeting the educational needs of poor children who could not afford private school- has morphed into a magnet school model.  Here's what he said about Hoboken's charters: 

"They are not charter schools, they are magnet schools."

Remember as you watch, Davis was not there as an advocate. He is impartial in this debate. 

Partial transcription of former B.A. Davis' remarks on May 8, 2012:
"Whoever said the public schools are not impacted, and the money follows the student, and there's no impact on the public schools, I can tell you that having prepared your last 3 budgets they don't know what they're talking about.  
 I prepare a budget for you each year with the expected increases in salaries, supplies, contractors' services- everything if we operated as we did this year.  And with that we try to keep the tax levy flat and get the state aid numbers certified and we hope to move from there. 

The last number I get is the allocation to charter schools.

So when the whole budget is developed, go back and look at the document you got.

In 2010-11, at the last  moment we're told your allocation for charter schools is $4.9 million.

This year, at the last moment we were told it's $6 million.

Next year's budget we're told at the last minute it's $7.2 million.

So now at the last moment my allocation for charter schools has to go up from $6 million to $7.2 million.  Those of you on the Finance Committee and  I think I met with other Board members separately also, you know that we had to make a lot of adjustments to accommodate that.  

The idea that the money moves with the kids is FALSE.  For example, 40% of your budget is on support services. Principal's salaries, guidance counselors' salaries, nurse's salaries, utilities, fuel oil, electric light bills, telephone bills... that's 40% of the allocation I can't touch.

I can't tell the principal to come in 2 less days because a bunch of kids moved to the Charter schools.  I can't turn the heat down in the winter to 60 degrees because we have fewer kids and that 40% of the money went to the Charter schools, so for all intents and purposes, right off the bat I can't touch 40% of that money.  

The other 60% you have to find out for classroom (piece?), how many teachers do you have to cut if you lose x-amount of pupils.

And unless they come in bunches- 25 kids at grade level- you're not going to be able to cut too many teachers.

So something DOES have to give.

Now it is true I said that we were able to accommodate that the last two  years. To lower the total expenditures, to slightly reduce the tax levy, add some staff and add program and accommodate the charter schools significant increases.

But keep in mind that was dealing with significant large numbers of retirements, 34 and 36 in reality, that were due to the changes in pension law and those initiatives.  You will not have that again.

So if you have another year next year and that $7.2 million goes to $8 million or $8.5 million, you WILL be making some cuts.

And I guarantee you that.   

And anybody thinks you don't have to cut the budget, I would welcome them to come in and visit the Business Administrator's office the day after the governor releases the State aid notices and you get the charter school allocation and you've got the budget set up to operate as normal, and then you get told you've got to move a million dollars to the Charter Schools. And you don't want to simply add a million dollars to the tax levy- I don't think.  

And you're not gonna get the free ride of the retirements again. For sure.  As a matter of fact we budgeted only 12 this year.  And you know... maybe you'll make, I, I think that's an absolutely fallacious statement that the money moves with the kid.

By the way, I would agree with the Charter school people that they're not getting all the funding they need.  But that was a political compromise made by the Whitman administration when they desperately wanted the Charter schools to pass and they wanted to take the money from the public schools but in a way that it didn't appear that bad at first. You've got to put that in political context of 1991, 92, 93... cause remember the takeovers were 89, 91 and 95.  And that statute was passed in 95.

So I urge you to think forward,  because the next year it'll be the Montessori people saying "this is what my kid needs', and then it'll be the performing arts people- "this is what my kids needs",  maybe ultimately you should close those 10 school buildings and have 10 separate magnets, there are bills being introduced today- they're not moving too fast, that permit parochial schools to move religious imagery and file as a charter school.  And you know, as long as they did it in the right way, it would be hard to deny them.

The whole thing has morphed from the original intent, to deal with the problems of kids in the urban centers, who were doomed unless they could get some alternative, now morphed into as I sit here and listen to this tonight... we're a town of magnet schools.  "My kids needs Gifted and Talented, my kid needs Dual Language"- that's fine.  I did 22 years... we had a very successful magnet school program in Montclair, voluntary integration program and it worked fabulously. Iowa scores went from 50% pre and post basic skills went to 90%.  No one argues those merits.

But be careful. 

Because if you treat Charter schools like Magnet schools- which is what you're doing- I'll give you 4 ,5 more, parents will keep coming in here... Montessori would be nice to have... a lot of people believe in Montessori education.

Not speaking pro or con.  A lot of the facts I heard were true, but food for thought."
There you go.


  1. Robert Davis's description of the genesis of charter schools and the current scenario being one of a creation of a series of magnet schools is very revealing.

    When Hoboken Charter began, it was largely as a response to the same sub-standard conditions Davis describes in Newark, Paterson and Jersey City. When Elysian Charter started, it was about parents being unhappy with Hoboken Charter's administration. As anyone with half a brain knows, HoLa Charter should never have been approved and now we have DaVinci being proposed.

    As the first, only Hoboken Charter met Davis's description of academic need for a charter school. The others should have been formed as magnet schools or not at all. Elysian Charter shares space in another public school, thereby limiting the expense. At least in its nascent stage, any charter school should use this model.

    We spend an obscene amount per pupil and we cannot provide for autistic or special needs children. At the same time, we have children in our charter schools who don't live in Hoboken and we knowingly allow students from other communities to illegally use our schools (not to be confused with those who are attending classes legally and whose home districts pay for their education). This is known as theft of service, a punishable offense.

    Another elephant in the room appears to be a desire on the part of some parents to create a private school experience for their kids at all of our expense. In the past, families chose a community largely based on its school system. That is not the case here. Hoboken will have endless attempts to create the charter school-du-jour as Davis points out when another group of motivated, vocal parents coalesce to add (fill in the blank) to the charter school options for parents with "champagne taste and beer pocketbooks."

    Enhancement of education is never a bad idea, but the use of charter schools to create defacto magnet schools results in higher taxes, and for what's left of our public school system, an overall decline of academic quality and standards and a hollowing out of something that is precious and fragile; the education of our children.

    1. The tax levy's been kept flat for the past 3 years under Kids First management but that is unsustainable if we continue adding 90% local-taxpayer funded 'magnets'.

      What will happen first is money will be siphoned off our public schools. The likely scenario presented at the meeting was an increase from the (current) 21 kids to 27 or 28.

      A 25% class size increase.

      Add to that the emptying out of classrooms of more affluent kids (the charter's likely demographic as noted in the application: from Hoboken's northwest with a high-density of 3 bedroom units) and you have over-sized classes of kids from less-affluent homes.

      This debate is not about what we already have. It's about where we are going and who/what will be sacrificed.

    2. I'm opposed to charter schools in general, unless they meet the criteria that Davis laid out because of sub-standard education, but that said - wouldn't any charter school have to populate itself via a lottery system? (The scandalous joke that is the creation of HoLa notwithstanding)- Which complicates the mystery of how and why non-Hoboken residents get into our charter schools in the first place.

    3. I was told that Elysian (and perhaps the other Charters as well) accepts kids of teachers and staff- no lottery for them. I wonder how many non-resident enrollments that might account for.

      Not all, I suppose.

    4. I can't see the rationale for that policy when we have a finite number of what are presumably desirable spots.

      For non-resident teachers and staff whose children jump the lottery line, does the cost of educating their children get reimbursed by their own school districts? Or does it become imputed income to the teacher/parent? If not, why not?

      And we wonder why the costs are what they are.

    5. I am guessing the answer would be 'no' on reimbursement, but don't know.

      Someone just sent me this:

      Once you are a student you can move out of town. If they can't fill a spot from a Hoboken wait list they have an non-resident wait list.

      I wonder if that extends to a student's siblings even after he/she moves out-of-town?

    6. If a family leaves Hoboken but is allowed to keep their child in one of our charter schools, who pays for this and at what price is it worth keeping our own kids out of these schools?

      Allowing non-resident children to fill vacancies in a given year is very short-sighted and a terrible model for any school district. Just as selling some of our schools to create condo projects for corrupt, connected developers was. Those structures should have been shuttered until we needed them again. Selling them most likely violated their original deeds as well.

  2. HoLa and DaVinci should be AP programs in our public schools.

  3. I wasn't aware of the proposed new charter school would be discussed at the BoE until after the meeting. I've since watched the tape and am very saddened by the prospect of this new charter school in Hoboken. GA, might I suggest that you also add Ruthie McGallister's (sp?) comments. Putting her comments and Davis' side by side, I think,pretty much sums the situation up (admittedly I'm not one for charter school's - so that's just my viewpoint.)

  4. Shame on David Mello for advocating this duplicative school. Has he ever shown up for a BoE meeting before? He rejects it at his first appearance? I've heard other comments from him and conclude he embraces the segregative nature this charter really represents. The founder could have made a valid comparison to what aspect of the curriculum is missing in the public schools and offer verifiable facts on how her design is superior. Ruth McAllister mentioned that none of the founders or supporting parents of this charter ever bothered to attend the publicly held curriculum meetings to even discuss what is being taught at the public schools. A cobbled excuse was conceived to appease wealthy helicopter parents. Buy your own private education, folks. Back to Mello--wasn't he just appointed to the HHA? It might be a good idea for him to actually support the interests of the children in the HHA who primarily attend the public schools. Where was Carmelo Garcia? I wonder what his opinion is on this. He'll smile broadly and hold a balloon for a photo, but he won't offer an opinion that straddles two institutions he represents. Crickets.

    1. DaVinci, with a science focus, would not be redundant to our public schools. However, only Hoboken Charter meets the standard for why a charter school should be approved in the first place. The two other charters are magnet schools that we incorrectly call charters.

      Mello, as an educator, would not have to attend BOE meetings to know of the deficiencies of our school system. Just a few years ago, diplomas were given to high school students who could not read and write. Yes, they've made progress, but that is not the same as being superior or even very good in every way on every grade level. The U.S. has very poor rankings in math and science compared to other industrialized nations. DaVinci is a response to that shortcoming which is worth considering. If this continues, our children will not be able to compete in a global economy if we don't correct this imbalance and if that is our future, HoLa would be better off teaching Mandarin instead of sub-standard barrio Spanglish.

      It is factually incorrect and intentionally misleading (I call it lying) to continue the myth that DaVinci, if approved, would in some way be able to engage in segregation. The not-so-subtle subtext of your statements accuse Mello of racism which is untrue. State law requires that students would be placed using a lottery system. Would that this same standard was used when HoLa was created.

    2. It’s a class issue. It isn’t about racial segregation. I never said Mello is a racist.

      The Hoboken public schools have a FOSS science program and last year purchased science kits for the students, and many other investments including science labs and computers. Claiming a new charter is science-focused should not imply that the Hoboken Public Schools are not. It is a duplicative science curriculum as mentioned in Dr. Toback’s letter to the state.

      It would have been more virtuous if Mello, as an educator, would at least attempt to support the superintendent on other issues instead of showing up at the BoE meeting for the first time to reject the public school system. Sorry, I think he came off as a real tool.

      I think DaVinci is more of a movement to avoid mixing wealthy children with the underprivileged children. For that, I say go to private school. I do not want to support an elitist school that uses science as a front to avoid a certain socio-economic group.

      I have a bridge to sell you if you think there was a true lottery system in Hola.

    3. I'm curious to hear how you imagine the DaVinci founders will populate their school only with children of the wealthy, thereby circumventing the lottery process? We know that it can be done. HoLa apparently did it. Every Latino child whose politically connected parents speak a warped Spanish dialect at home got in. Some lottery.

    4. My guess, outreach. The DaVinci school administrators are unlikely to market to (bring the school to the attention of) the HHA parents. Ruthie commented that none of the founders had spoken to even ONE parent in the housing authority and one had stated that she was "uncomfortable" doing so. Also, while I was very disappointed to see Dave Mello is one of the founders, I contacted him directly to hear his thoughts and he did take the time to share his reasoning. He did not convince me that this new charter school was a good idea, but I (pretty much) oppose Charter Schools across the board.) I don't, however, think he should be taking ALL of the heat, I, for one, am just as disappointed in the other 2 council persons that wrote letters in support of DaVinci.

    5. Oracle, I find some of your comments to be incidiary and slightly naive.
      "Mello would not have to attend a boe meeting to identify Deficiencies in the district"? Really?It's that easy?
      How about efficiencies? What about all of the students who are gettng an excellent education and the fact that while state average per pupil costs increased, the district average per pupil cost decreased?
      Students who can't read or write are getting diplomas? Really?Are these special needs students? I don't know of one regular education student in any of the public schools who can't read or write- does anyone on this board know of one?

      Also, As all educational experts will attest, poverty is the enemy of education. Overall, the US ranks lower however, the US ranks number 1 when you disagregate demographics. The US has a 21% povery rate compared with Finland, which has a 3% poverty rate (findland is rated number 1, overall).

      Davinci application, itself,pointed to the continuation of furthering the net segregative effect by identifying and providing supportive data of it's expected population: families of 3 and 4 bedroom units from the NW part of town, private school students and up to 20% free and reduced lunch.
      Davinci provided support showing free and reduced lunch rates for all charters and the home district. Davinci is correct to assume this will be it's population as they pointed out it is the norm for the charter schools in Hoboken.

  5. Charter schools are required to accept students from other towns outside Hoboken. The order of selection is:
    1. Hoboken Children with siblings in the school
    2. Non-Hoboken Children with siblings in the school
    3. Hoboken Children with no siblings in the school
    4. Non-Hoboken Children with no siblings in the school

    Based on this a Non-Hoboken child may get accepted into the school before a Hoboken child if they already have a brother or sister attending. This can happen because there are often more open spots at the higher grades than the lower grades. Therefore, a Jersey City child could get accepted into an 8th grade class, and then all of his younger siblings would get accepted before Hoboken children that don't have brothers and sisters already attending.

    1. Very interesting, Art. 90% of charter funding is drawn from municipal taxes.

      Do the home district's reimburse Hoboken for these students?

      I have heard something like 20% of Charter student are non-residents. That would be about 120 kids. Is that true?

  6. Art's description of the lottery process, applicable to all the Hoboken charters, is accurate.

    He is also correct about how it makes an opening for out-of-town students to get in at the upper grade levels and in turn the siblings of those children. When an opening occurs mid-year - because a family moves for example, which happens all the time - the school goes to its waiting list and starts contacting the families in order. Many families will take a pass mid-year - it's a big decision to move a child at that point, and especially so an older child. As a result, the local families may decline and then the out-of-town families on the list are reached. Then all of that child's siblings follow.

    In addition, when a charter is new, the most intense lottery is for the younger grades, while the oldest grade tends to be one that the school needs to actually recruit for. That was necessary for HoLa for both grades 1 and 2 its first year. By contrast, I understand that approximately half of the K seats were "pre-taken" by siblings for the incoming class next year. (I am an HoLa parent.) I understand it is similar with Hoboken Charter and Elysian.

    I believe this sort of sibling system, also has a big effect on enrollment at Calabro - because it is so small it becomes that much harder to get into because of sibling preference. Not that I think sibling preference is per se wrong; there is plenty of logic to it. But it has downsides, particularly with smaller schools. (Others may feel it's an upside.)

    As to the question about how out-of-town students affect the flow of money: My understanding is that it is treated exactly as with any School Choice situation, meaning that the child's home district is supposed to transfer money to the district where the child is enrolled. Hopefully this gets enforced. I know that HoLa's administration has pursued this.

    Regarding HoLa, I don't know what percentage of children are from outside of Hoboken, but I do know enough to say that there are very few in the younger grades and somewhat more - perhaps around 20% - in 3rd grade (the highest grade this year). I'd guess in K, 1, and 2 it is in the vicinity of 5%. It would be interesting to know how this compares to the BoE (at least as to those legally enrolled through School Choice).

    1. Even if non-resident students' home districts pay for their education in our magnet / charter schools (let's call them "marter" schools for short), there is some doubt that we are efficiently collecting those funds in every instance if at all.

      If Hoboken is being reimbursed, do we also include the hidden costs of the facility itself and any other ancillary expenses in the invoice to the other districts? Who's responsible for collecting those debts? Are these funds folded into the public school budget?

    2. Charters collect their funds for their students.
      Districts collect their funds for school choice students.
      They are 2 seperate districts.
      Hoboken gets reimbursed from the choice students home districts. The BA monitors said monies. The money it can receive is decided by the state- I think it was around 15.k last year- probably more this year. I believe the school choice funds brought in around 1.2mm, last year.

  7. That's a reasonable question whether the Charters are collecting from out-of-town districts effectively. No different from whether the BoE does the same when out-of-town children are registered (legally or not). About all I can say is that whoever feels this is a serious issue needing to be addressed should contact the members of each Board (BoE and charters) and ask them; better yet, ask at any Board meeting. Charter Board meetings are open to the public. I was very pleased to see that HoLa is making an effort to follow this process.

    Your further questions about funding are also good ones. I don't doubt that however it works (or is supposed to work) is flawed.

    As to the lottery systems, my understanding is it is against the rules for schools to accept any students from outside of the lottery procedure, which follows what Art outlines above. Assuming that is correct, if any local charter is taking children of staff (or board) without going through the lottery, they are breaking the rules. However, we need to remember that those families are entitled to enter the lottery process and therefore any of their children who are enrolled may well have gone through the process in an entirely legitimate way.

    I do believe that a student in a Charter who moves within the area that falls under School Choice can stay in the school, and thus that student's siblings would also be able to enter. Thus, an HoLa family who moves from Hoboken to Jersey City (or for that matter from Weehawken to Jersey City) can stay in the school. But I think this would not work if the family moves to New York or someplace in New Jersey that's outside of the School Choice zone. This is, however, another way out of town student enrollment could go up.

    1. Re: moving to New York or someplace outside of the charter designated areas: This is a major issue. As teh child is registered with the local home district then transfers to the charter, the charter will continue to collect it's funds from the home district. If the parents move to another town, the parents would be responsible to register into the new district. If the parents do not register into the new district, the home district would continue paying, as they would have no indication that a move occurred.This is a very common occurance
      Due to this, some home districts now have the burden of of the additonal cost of paying someone to track the residency all charter students in their district, annually. Imagine that task? Tracking 500 residents? of course, this additional cost would be on the district's budget. The other option would be to continue to pay for every child with no verification and do a Hail Mary. When Carter came in, he checked residency of charter students some 50? or so students (not sure of the exact number, but it was a lot of students/money) no longer resided in Hoboken, but Hoboken taxpayers were footing the bill- for who knows how long?


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