The Jersey City Council discussed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) where the city would pay the Hudson County government $2 million a year to operate the new Liberty Science Center High School, a part of the SciTech Scity project, for 30 years.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
The MOU also indicates that Hudson County Improvement Authority (HCIA) will manage the project and coordinate with the Hudson County Schools of Technology (HCST), along with the fact that the Liberty Science Center will contribute $3.45 million towards construction.
The planned 30-acre innovation campus of SciTech Scity will be a “mini-city of the future” as a tech hub for students, innovators, entrepreneurs, and scientists, officials said today prior to the caucus meeting.
Still, some electeds expressed trepidation about the project.
“How much are the other 12 municipalities donating? The other towns should be contributing too. We have a crisis on the board of education,” Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano asked.
LSC CEO and President Paul Hoffman responded that he was unsure at the moment.
The Jersey City Board of Education introduced a preliminary $814 million budget last week that will comes with an annual tax increase of $996 and several trustees said at that meeting that they didn’t believe the city had been doing their part.
Mayor Steven Fulop called into the meeting to defend the initiative, stating that 240 of the 400 students in the school would be from Jersey City.
Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh said he wanted to “ensure this school is diverse and representative of the diversity of not just of Jersey City but Hudson County.”
“We seem to have difficulty getting our Jersey City kids into county schools currently,” added Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley.
“I’m not in favor of a county school,” said Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro, claiming that Jersey City Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker said he has not spoken to anyone regarding the project.
“We’re not providing an equitable opportunity frankly for our kids in Jersey City.”
Fulop disagreed, attributing dissent on the project to election season politics.
“This is a good thing and it’s really sad that on social media it’s fallen into a political conversation, but I think the facts on the finances, the facts on SciTech Scity, parents wanting options for education, the economics of it, and the fact that Jersey City Public School was offered this opportunity with the previous administration but they didn’t have a mechanism to do it,” Fulop said.
“All of those things lead to it being a layup for the Jersey City residents and taxpayers.”
The mayor also said that the public schools didn’t have the ability to build the school, noting that it would cost $2 million annually, while the average public school in Jersey City costs “multiples of that.”
The mayor also pointed out that the city is already helping the Jersey City BOE build the annex at Public School No. 16 and has also enacted various plans for shared services.
“We’re going to continue to find ways to help them. But it’s not a this or that conversation. We can do both and give parents a great option here,” Fulop said.
Ward E Councilman James Solomon said he wanted something in writing regarding the percentage of Jersey City students that would attend the school.
Fulop pointed out that despite no written agreement, 60 percent of the students attending the county school Explore 2000 located downtown would be from Jersey City, it has been operating in that fashion.
“They’ve kept their word and exceeded it every year,” he added.
Still, Solomon continued to push to for a formal enrollment deal.
“The current leadership of the county promised two years ago to exit an ICE contract and broke their promise, and it wasn’t in writing … at a minimum we need their agreements in writing,” Solomon argued.
“I don’t want this to become tied into a conversation with the ICE contract, I don’t think it’s fair for the thousands of kids that covet spots in different types of high schools in Jersey City,” Fulop answered, noting that the councilman should defer to county standards of proportional admissions per population if he feels that way.
Lavarro said he wanted to ensure that the school is beneficial to all the people of Jersey City but this falls short of that, urging all parties to get back to the table to maximize benefits for everyone in the city.
“I’m gonna push back on that: that was an absolute false statement you made … I think anyone can hear we’re getting into the political funny season here and it’s unfortunate,” later calling Lavarro “the architect of the deal” as the chair of the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency during the council’s initial Scitech Scity vote in 2017.
“I’m going to rebut that and call that BS,” Lavarro said, prompting Fulop to briefly shout back before Council President Joyce Watterman stepped in.
LSC High School cleared its first hurdle in November after the Hudson County Schools of Technology board signed off on the endeavor in November.
The school would be built next to Liberty Science Center and offer Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) classes for 400 students, who will utilize nearly 100,000 square feet of labs, studios, workspaces, and a conference center.
To date, LSC has raised $30 million in donations for the SciTech City, including $5 million for the high school.
The HCIA currently plans to break ground on SciTech Scity later this year and open the first phase, including the Edge Works incubator, in 2023.
In addition to council approval, the project will need an okay from the Hudson County Board of Commissioners.