Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Maureen First: She's Back for Revenge!

Snow may cover the ground but Spring election season must be near because the rarely seen Liz Markevitch was spotted at last night's Hoboken Board of Education meeting after nearly a year's absence. Last Spring when Markevitch suddenly appeared at Board meetings, she was the headline candidate in a slate created and orchestrated by current School Board member Maureen Sullivan. The slate, dubbed "Maureen First," failed miserably at the polls thanks to a platform that spoke incessantly about cutting the budget but never daring to propose what should be cut. Well, that's not quite true. There was the ill-considered promise to cut a school trip for a handful of Hoboken High School student athletes who were invited to attend the prestigious Penn Relays track and field competition - a trip that the students had said they would raise funds for. And by washing cars on weekends, the students ended up covering almost all of their costs. The slate's complain-about-the-budget-but-don't-have-a-clue-how-to-fix-it platform was heard loud and clear by voters and not one member of the slate was elected. After Markevitch lost in last Spring's election she disappeared from Board meetings but now, like clockwork, she has appeared again.

Not only was Markevitch sighted, but another clear sign of coming Spring elections was spotted: a traditional vitriolic message from Sullivan herself, circulated far and wide by Markevitch. Judging by her message, Sullivan has learned nothing since last year's election. In her message, Sullivan comes out the gates with guns blazing, accusing the Board's respected Business Administrator of "creative accounting" with regards to the upcoming School Board Budget. And, just like all the unfounded claims that she originated for last Spring's campaign, her latest accusations were quickly exposed to be utterly false at last night's meeting.

If Sullivan had bothered to ask the Business Administrator to check her facts before she posted her inflammatory message she could have saved herself all the embarrassment she had to endure in front of her fellow board members, the administration and the public at last night's meeting. But she didn't check her facts beforehand because, presumably, she doesn't care about the facts. What she cares about is self-aggrandizing by way of irresponsibly undermining public confidence in Hoboken's public school system. A scurrilous message posted to local blogs and email boxes goes a long way towards achieving her goals.

The problems with Maureen's message aren't limited to her false claims about the budget. If you don't read the message carefully, you might get the impression that the Board had already approved the so-called "high-priced junket." In fact, no such approval had been given. In reality, it was an agenda item that was up for a vote by the Board at last night's meeting and, when it came time to vote, all Board members but one voted against funding the trip. Maureen would like everyone to think she is the only fiscally responsible Board member but all she is is the most vocal Board member.

Finally, there is Sullivan's claim regarding the hiring of Dr. Mark Toback, Hoboken's next Superintendent of Schools. At last night's meeting the Board voted unanimously to approve Dr. Toback's contract, marking the end of an arduous hiring process but also marking the beginning of what I expect to be great things for Hoboken public schools. To understand why Sullivan's claim doesn't hold water here's a quick summary of what transpired between late November when Dr. Toback agreed to the contract offered to him by the Board, and last night's unanimous vote.

The contract required approval by the County Superintendent, but the County Superintendent had been directed by the State to not consider any new Superintendent contracts, effectively putting Hoboken's hiring process on hold. At that time there were rumors that the State intended to introduce legislation to cap Superintendent salaries sometime in the new year so it was inferred that the State's intent was to unlawfully postpone hiring any Superintendents until such time that the legislation was passed. This put the Hoboken Board in a bind: after a long, thorough search they had identified a candidate they unanimously agreed should be Hoboken's next Superintendent, they had a contract in hand that the candidate had agreed to, but the State was unwilling to consider the contract until sometime in the new year when the cap would become law. This state of affairs put the Board in jeopardy of not just losing their candidate, but also facing the prospect of embarking upon two more Superintendent searches: one for a new interim Superintendent to replace the current outgoing interim Superintendent, and one for a permanent Superintendent. And all of this after having just completed three Superintendent searches over the past two years: one for the previous interim Superintendent, one for a candidate who decided to take a Superintendent position in another district, and another that resulted in the selection of Dr. Toback.

Rather than lying down and letting the State walk all over Hoboken, all members of the Board, except Sullivan, voted to take legal action against the State to force them to consider the contract. In short order, the State responded by reviewing the contract and saying that it would not be approved unless the offered salary was less than the proposed, yet to be legalized cap. With this, the Board renegotiated Dr. Toback's salary to satisfy this criteria and, fortunately, he agreed to the new terms even though his salary will be essentially the same as his current salary.

In her message, Sullivan contends that if only everyone on the Board had followed her advice last November to initially offer Dr. Toback a salary that was under the proposed salary cap then the Board would not have had to sue the State. Well, I have no doubt that Governor Christie would have approved of Sullivan's initial offer, but I question whether Dr. Toback would have approved. It is quite likely that Dr. Toback would have been insulted by an initial offer that was essentially the same as his current salary, especially in light of the fact that the cap was only a proposal at the time with no clear date set for its institution as law. As usual, in her zeal to cut costs Sullivan ignores other important factors; in this case, how to convince a top-notch candidate to consider taking on supervision of Hoboken's public school system. Sullivan's inability to consider Dr. Toback's role during the past 6 weeks of negotiations between the Board, the State and, yes, Dr. Toback himself, reveals her myopic perspective, only capable of seeing dollars and cents and incapable of seeing the bigger picture.

So it seems that we're in for a repeat performance this year. Steel yourself for more misleading missives, fallacious flyers and rancid robo-calls because Sullivan has only started to gear up. I'm guessing that Markevitch will once again feature prominently in a sequel slate hand-picked by Sullivan: "Maureen First: She's Back for Revenge!" And judging by Sullivan's opening salvo the slate will, once again, be all about nebulous, misleading, slash and burn budgeting with no regards for the kids or the facts. I have confidence that Hoboken voters will again see the slate for what they are.