Monday, April 15, 2013

Superintendent presses on with negotiations for Padre Pio Academy

This evening a town hall forum was held at the Nellie K. Parker School to discuss the proposed leasing of the Padre Pio Academy, located at 100 S. Main Street, which is slated to close this school year.

There is a freight train coming in the Hackensack Public Schools, and we should have heard, or seen, it coming--long before now.  With overcrowded kindergarten classes, a present problem in the district, the forecasted five year growth of our fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade classes will far exceed the size of the 5ive 6ix School and Middle School buildings.  Mr. Abate was quick to pass the blame, [rightfully so] as he is a relatively recent temporary hire with a maximum two-year contract by state mandate, and went on to identify the high turnover of our administration as a major contributing factor to this dilemma.  Abate noted that at the time of his hiring the long term plan for our district, a typically five-year forecasting document, was seven years old.

Abate plans to lease the Padre Pio Academy for a five-year term and move the majority of the district's pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students to the building.  In the longer term, he would like to move fifth grade students back into the district's four elementary schools while moving most of the district's kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students to the Padre Pio Academy building.

Abate discussed the possible alternatives to this solution: redistricting, the use of trailers as classrooms, and even split-scheduling.  He knocked down each of these options noting the lack of a long term solution and the burden that an idea such as split-scheduling would put on parents (to find care, among other things, for their children).

The night was filled with heated emotions as parents addressed the Interim Superintendent and voiced their concerns for the education of their children.  Parents cited that transportation will not be provided, that families with multiple children will need to pick up and drop off children in multiple locations at the same time, and even concerns that the movement of fifth grade teachers [who specialize in specific subject matters] may have a detriment to the education of their children.

After an hour of open question and answer, the financial burden that this plan will put on our district was not even broached on.  No parent had asked about, and Abate never cited, the spending of one additional dollar in the Board of Education budget.  

I addressed Abate, and the audience, citing that this is a plan that will have great emotional and practical considerations for all concerned.  Though I am not a parent, the plan has different emotional considerations for me.  I am a product of the Hackensack Public Schools, as were my parents before me.  This plan will forever change the district that I know, and love, and will have impact on my future children's education and my decision to lay roots in this great city.

Though this is a plan that is caught in a mix of emotions by all parties, there are very important financial considerations that must be addressed.  I wanted to know the cost of this project that Board Trustee Angel Carrion is quoted as saying could be upwards of $1,000,000 per year!  I asked about the need for increased staff.  Mr. Abate projects there to be no need for additional teachers, administrators, or custodial staff.  He indicates that the teachers will be moved from their present buildings to this building while the merger of the 5ive 6ix and Middle Schools will make available additional administrators to move to the Padre Pio Academy.  When asked about custodial staff, Abate was quick to note that the staff will be included in the lease (a consideration that I would imagine will have labor relation concerns with the district's union custodial workers).

The current negotiation stands at a five year term (at a cost Abate would not disclose or even approximate).  I noted my concerns about the viability of this plan as Abate projects 623 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students in 2017-2018 while the Padre Pio Academy can only house 300 (as cited by a gentleman who spoke) students.  I noted to Abate that this plan will either be a great success or a dismal failure.  If it is a dismal failure, why are we seeking a five-year lease term and not a one-year term with renewal options?  If this does not work, why are we the taxpaying public going to be stuck on the hook for five years?  If it is a great success and we need to acquire this building, the Archdiocese of Newark (building owner) would see our need and be able to name their price, why is there not an option to buy the building at a pre negotiated price included in the lease?  Abate was quick to note that we were negotiating in good faith with "men-of-the-cloth" and a level of trust must be conferred.  I hate to be a cynic but there is a reason that the Catholic Church is the wealthiest of organizations in the world.

Abate was steadfast in his refusal to approximate the cost to the taxpayer (indicating that he would lose leverage in negotiations) but indicated that it was in fact appropriated for within the proposed budget for the 2013-2014 school year.  When I asked how I, as a voter, should be expected to vote TOMORROW on a $97 million budget, he answered that I must put my confidence in him.  The administration has played, what I identified to Abate as, tomfoolery with the budget.  He has taken his projected costs to run the Padre Pio Academy and played, what I went on to identify as, a shell game.  I am left only to assume that he has allocated his projected operating costs for the Padre Pio Academy to other line items in the budget and will later reallocate that money (an assertion that Abate did not correct, leaving me to believe it is an accurate portrayal of his proposed budget).  Abate again reiterated that I must trust that he is confident with the budget and that the right appropriations have been made.  This to me is ludicrous, as Abate has presented a proposed tax levy to voters based on a budget that is filled with possibly "misrepresented line items" to arrive at a necessary gross figure.

[I do not believe, allege, nor intend to allege, that Mr. Abate has done anything improper or illegal.  I do believe however, he has displayed crafty budgeting that may be misleading to the voting public and taxpayer.]

What I see here is a very expensive Band-Aid to be placed on a potentially mortal wound.  Given the size of the Padre Pio Academy, a size that is too small for our long term needs, I feel that we may be playing short term defense rather than long term offense.  Mr. Abate cited the interests that a charter school had in the building, and charter schools put a great strain on the resources of our district (to the tune of an Abate estimated $15,000 per pupil).  Are we creating a long term viable solution or are we making a short term fix while stopping a major pain from moving to town?

Though I am sure Abate is a fabulous, and well qualified, administrator he is asking for a lot of faith from a voting public when he, who is scheduled to make his departure in November, will not be here to realize the potential repercussions of this massive undertaking.  


  1. As a new homeowner in Hackensack, with a wife and newborn, this makes me really nervous. I do not know if we will be sending our son to these schools and may ultimately just pay for the private schools in the area if things are not corrected. I do applaud this blog since this is the only way to get real informaiton on the city. Thank you

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