Hoboken BOE holds third community meeting about $241M school referendum

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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.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Your coverage on this was terrific. While this was going on, the district was busy NOT notifying us that contrary to what was told to us at 7 that morning, kids who were positive for Covid were still coming into school. Yet they held school and then this meeting at night. Please follow up on that story and talk to parents who experienced this, esp pre k parents who now have to keep kids home from day care for 2 weeks! It’s a financial hardship for them. Why did the district not send out emails about this until Friday morning? They did know about some cases Thrusday morning, was it to keep the forum going? Please do a story next week and don’t take anyone’s spin. We now have our kids home for 2 more weeks because school had to reopen that day and no one told us all of this until 24 hours later.

  2. Vote NO on January 25th and then redo the plan the right way.

    Rushing to a vote on this take it or leave it backdoor scheme is not in the best interest of Hoboken’s,

  3. What the Superintendent said was she only discussed her plan beforehand with those who she knew agree with and would defer to whatever plan she put on the ballot.

    Now when the purposely disenfranchised voices and the taxpayers of Hoboken who will have to pay for it all, have finally seen her plan and the price tag, they have organized to say use the only option to be heard is to vote down her referendum.

  4. I left Thursday’s session feeling like the public had been backed into a corner on a plan that requires further discussion;

    1.) The referendum has been “shoehorned” into a very tight dead space in the middle of the winter, rather than during a November or June election period when the broader population will take notice, and vote on it.
    2.) As presented, the plan is an “all or nothing” deal with virtually no room for scaling or adjustment. Modern organizations simply do not plan that way, making me anxious about turning over $241m on spec.
    3.) The audience was told that the plan was simply not ready for a November vote, yet the project had been in development since 2018 – again raising concerns about how timelines and expenses will be managed if the project is approved as is.
    4.) While the state of the art science and culinary labs discussed Thursday do sound great, I would be curious to learn more about what is being offered at some of the county schools, or in other 500 student schools outside of Hudson Country? How many students are interested in these programs and would the needs of those students be equitably served in an established program?
    5.) Very little was discussed about how the $241m will help students develop more fundamental skills such as reading, writing and cognition. Are we taking those for granted? While it appears Dr. Johnson has helped the district move in the right direction, have we fixed the basics?
    6.) Tabling the plan until it is more clearly outlined and vetted with the larger community would also allow it to be evaluated in the context of the city’s operating budget and tax structure. We should not forget that the City was operating at an $8m+ plus deficit pre Covid and we might want to sort things out financially before we sign on for a project of this magnitude. That should be happening over the next several months – which would make us better informed for a June vote.
    7.) Again, thinking more holistically, what does this project do to our broader infrastructure and congestion issues? My sense is that, with the West Side work about to start and the hotel being built on the East Side — the folks who already live here, and will be paying for this project, are going to be squeezed in several ways. Have we thought that through?

    Saying “No” to things that potentially benefit our kids is a tough point to make. That said, I would love, and feel the public deserves, some better answers to the points made above. We have a few more weeks to discuss them – and I hope we do….

    Harry….

    • Harry – your mention of all the development being dumped on the west side of town is right on point. Why can’t a new school be built on the pier where Monarch was supposed to go instead rather than just dumping more stuff on west side residents?

      Harry – what is your view of the Palisades Protection Act given your concern about the impact of already approved massive development on the West Side?

      Future overdevelopment on the West Side would be limited by this thoughtful legislation that would be win win for residents on both sides of the cliffs.

      This legislation is meant to protect Union City but resident of Hoboken’s west side would benefit just as much given the history of supposedly development wary elected officials like Councilwoman Fisher supporting dumping massive development on the west side of town far from where they live.

      A view and low taxes for me and traffic for thee seems to be her planning concept.

      • Thanks for your note, Westy.

        I also mentioned development on the east side of town — and did not even address the Monarch etc. The upshot here is that the city has become overly congested and we have an ancient infrastructure that does not support the needs of 60k people in a one square mile space. While this seldom impacts me, getting in or out of town at the wrong time of day can be a nightmare. I would be in favor of a 5 year moratorium on building until we can figure it out and address the issue holistically; one day there is Monarch, then a new school pops up, then there is the west side debate and we have not spoken about the hotel jammed in near the train station in a while. By treating these projects as one offs, we lose any sense of the overall impact on our quality of life. I see PPA as one piece of a larger puzzle.

        Harry

    • Excellent, thoughtful comment, thank you.

      Voting no means just a temporary pause in addressing the needs of parents and children. Take some time for public review and input, make revisions so the plan is the best it can be, and hold the vote this November. I’m not against a new HS, just against this one as planned. This is not an emergency, there is no rush. No child will be hurt by a brief pause until later in the year.

  5. School taxes will also be going up this year in addition to 20% increase to pay for the interest on this bond issue.

    City and County property taxes will be going up.

    The middle income families are being pushed out of Hoboken.

    What will you and your family have to give up to pay for this huge tax increase ?

  6. Another issue that has not been openly discussed is the effect this 5+ story building will have on light and air in that neighborhood, which is adjacent to Columbus Park. Anyone who lives within 2 blocks or regularly enjoys outdoor activities in Columbus Park will feel the difference with shadows, air tunnels and noise.

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