The Hoboken Board of Education held their third community meeting about the $241 million school referendum on January 25th where officials manned several different stations to take individual questions.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
Architects of the proposed plan were on hand, along with the bond counsel and other school officials, to answer questions.
“This plan was developed appropriately and approved by the NJ Department of Education,” Hoboken Board of Education Trustee Melanie Tekirian said.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Johnson explained that the population of the younger grades is increasing so rapidly that they need space to accommodate them.
“There have been conversations about our school district’s enrollment for a number of years. And that conversation centered originally around the preschool population and the early elementary population,” Johnson said.
She said those grades have been growing rapidly since 2015, noting that the Mile Square City now has 70 pre-school classroom, as well as that the elementary schools currently don’t have sufficient space for art classes.
“As a result of that growth and the projected growth we were potentially looking at, we began exploring a host of options,” Johnson stated, adding that the district searched for different rental properties in Hoboken for pre-school class spaces.
“We realized that there was not a whole lot of opportunity for rental space in Hoboken. None of those spaces provided us with enough opportunity to move as many classes out as we needed. None of those spaces were in a price range per square footage that was even doable for us at the time. There has been talk of building a new high school for years.”
Earlier this week, HCV exclusively reported on an itemized cost breakdown of the plan, which included other information from the New Jersey Department of Education such as student enrollment and projections.
According to an August 4th letter from Johnson to the NJ DOE, the district only had 26 pre-K students enrolled at the time, with projections for the 2025-2026 scholastic year seeing that number ballon to 820.
The superintendent also addressed the notion of why the referendum was on January 25th, with many against the project previously exclaiming this was intentionally to stifle voter turnout.
“There was not the approval needed for the November election. It would have been ready for the November, December special election, but that was pushed off as a result of a clerical error on the county level.
Johnson described the concept as “comprehensive,” with career and technical readiness components that include vocational programs, along with a pool, two gyms, an ice rink, and many different science labs that she argued are part of the state curriculum.
There will also be an engineering lab, biomedical science lab for an existing program, computer science labs, TV and film production, a small cafe for the culinary arts program, among many other things.
“There is a community room in the community section that’s going to be um operating, um uh in the realm of community learning. Classes for seniors and adults will be held there,” Johnson continued.
There will also be a “Teen Center” for students to have a place to go when school isn’t in session.
“We love the idea of being able to bring back our Girl Scouts and our Boy Scouts back into the school buildings,” she added.
Johnson further stated that may could also offer yoga programs to the public, acknowledging some public controversy over the amenities.
“The whole point of this building is to create equity across the board for all students.There are $60 million in contingencies to address any potential escalation costs, any inflation. If those contingencies are not used, they cannot be kept by the board of ed. They cannot be co-mingled back into the board of ed budget. They must go back to the taxpayers.”
A woman in the audience asked if there would be an opportunity at a forum to ask questions.
“These are informational meetings. These are not hearings, and they’re not board of education meetings either. So you can absolutely make public comments, anything that you would like to at our board of education meetings,” she said.
“As the board of education, we decided collectively that these would be informational sessions. These are not hearings.”
Several individuals in the audience were unhappy with her response.
“We’re not a city council, so there are not public hearings … None of your comments will be taken lightly. That’s for sure.”
The most recent forum on December 21st had an open question and answer session where a good portion of the crowd was against the project.
A few people came to the meeting with signs advising to “vote no” against the referendum.
“I think this is atrocious that they introduced this during the holidays, after Thanksgiving when they actually submitted plans for this to the state in April. So they had plenty of opportunity to tell the public that they wanted to do this. They don’t want to hear from the public,” said Donna Antonucci.
“In Hoboken under Mayor Dawn Zimmer, we established a process of having hearings and taking into account public feedback.”
The referendum would lead to an approximately $496 annual tax increase per household and if voted down, the board would have to wait one year before introducing an amended plan.
The next board of education meeting is on January 11th at Demarest School, 158 4th St., at 7 p.m.