Jersey City Council OKs Liberty Science Center High School project development deal

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The Jersey City Council voted for the project development agreement with the county for the Liberty Science Center High School at last night’s meeting, despite the fact that Clerk Sean Gallagher said that the measure failed last night.

Photo via lsc.org.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

“I have yet to see in writing that 60 percent of the students from Jersey City will be at that high school. It is very important because we gave land for $10,” noted Lincoln High School Principal Chris Gadsden, also a former Ward B Councilman who voted against transferring the land in 2017.

“We have $80 million, over $80 million committed over the next 30 years. This has to be withdrawn tonight. Just put the commitments in there. It is a county school, but Jersey City has a greater commitment to the school.”

Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore agreed that this PDA, which is between the city, county, Hudson County Improvement Authority, Hudson County Schools of Technology, and SciTech Scity, didn’t require an immediate vote.

“I know the state formula hasn’t been released yet. Is there any way we can, I guess, pull this until we get all the information on how it’s going to be funded?” he asked.

Business Administrator John Metro essentially said this was a project labor agreement to get construction going and that the school’s operating budget won’t be available until its ready to open.

“The funding the city is obligated to, and the contributions from the state and the county essentially won’t take effect until the students enter the school. So, we’ll know that January for the September start date, whether it’s 2024 or 2025,” he explained.

“There’s no way we can get any language on seats allocation?” Gilmore asked.

“It would have to be through the state and the county,” Metro replied.

“I asked for that,” interjected Council President Joyce Watterman.

“We can’t address admissions standards for financial purposes,” Metro answered.

This discussion echoed what happened at a six-hour council meeting in March 2021 where the council approved a memorandum of understanding that includes the city allocating the county at least $2 million a year for the next 30 years for the high school.

“Since Jersey City is putting the majority of the money in, I asked that we should at least have the majority of the seats. I know because of the way the money’s coming, we can’t do that,” Watterman stated, echoing what Metro said.

“Even if it’s a county school, though, wouldn’t it make sense because Jersey City, the largest city in the county, that most of the seats would already go?” Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh asked.

Metro again reiterated that they can’t alter or guarantee admission requirements at the city level, to the dismay of Ward E Councilman James Solomon.

“This is the first time I’m hearing we legally can’t assign seats. That didn’t come up in ‘21. I don’t feel confident from a practical perspective. We’re providing the land, we’re providing two million annually,” he noted.

“No other municipality in Hudson County is doing that, and our schools have a major funding crisis and had to raise taxes an extreme amount on our residents this year. So now we’re shifting money out of the public schools and into a county pub school and paying for students’ education in Kearney and Bayonne, and Secaucus. We have to provide for Jersey City kids.”

Solomon ultimately voted to abstain on the resolution.

“When you put the most skin in the game, you should reap the biggest reward. I just don’t feel comfortable giving that much money to the school not knowing the exact landscape of how many Jersey City kids will be able to attend,” Gilmore said before voting no.

The vote was 4-1(2), with only Gilmore coming out against, while Solomon and Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera abstained. Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley and Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise were absent.

“Even though it has a positive vote, it fails 4-1(2). You need five votes in order to adopt a resolution,” City Clerk Sean Gallagher explained.

However, Gallagher said today in an email to the council and other city officials that he had misspoke and that four votes is enough to approve a resolution when seven council members are present.

“With regard to Item 10.10, Resolution 22-855, the vote was 4-1-2 and I misspoke and announced that it was defeated,” he wrote.

“However, a resolution such as this which is only authorizing an agreement merely requires a majority vote of the members present and not a majority of the full authorized membership of the governing body. As we only had seven Council Members in attendance last night, four affirmative votes constituted a majority, and consequently, Resolution 22-855 was approved.”

Gov. Phil Murphy (D) came to Jersey City in October 2021 to break ground on the $300 million SciTech Scity endeavor with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise.

The Jersey City Planning Board approved it last December and has drawn the ire of some residents opposed to the price tag.

 

Editor’s Note: This story initially said that the resolution failed, as City Clerk Sean Gallagher read into the record at the council meeting, but Gallagher said today that he made a misspoke.


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