LETTER: Hoboken BOE survey results show that lack of transparency killed $230M bond effort


In a letter to the editor, Hoboken resident Pavel Sokolov explains how the results of a recent board of education survey shows that a lack of transparency killed a $230 million bond effort in January.

Dear Editor,

The Hoboken Board of Education has recently released its findings of a survey they had sent out requesting feedback regarding the bond referendum vote that was held this past January.

I view this survey as a first concrete step in incorporating the views and ideas of Hoboken into any future bond proposals and a key indicator that the board recognizes the need to involve others in the process.

As someone who was very actively involved in the campaign against the bond referendum, I was delighted to have another opportunity to see what our fellow Hoboken residents had thought about the vote.

I personally am a big proponent of funding public education and recognize the need to properly and ethically raise money to ensure all students in Hoboken can achieve an excellent education.

After parsing through the qualitative raw data it became apparent that there was one overwhelming central theme in both the “Vote Yes” and “Vote No” groups: Process.

Unsurprisingly, a majority of the “Vote No” respondents cited a lack of transparency as a major red flag and unequivocally laid the blame on the Board of Education for their decision to not announce the bond prior to the November election.

What was surprising was that a substantial portion of the “Vote Yes” respondents noted that while they did vote to support the project, they were bothered by the lack of transparency from the Board.

Summarily, the prevailing point is that regardless of one’s opinion of the project itself, there was a near universal dislike of how the vote was conducted.

During the weeks leading up to the bond vote it was repeatedly stated by the board’s attorney that nothing illegal had taken place regarding the timing of the vote and that the Board had fulfilled the minimum time period in order to hold the vote.

I believe that we should aim to be better than “not illegal” and to lead by example showing that Hoboken will not slide back into its past of questionable political choices but to be a leader in Hudson County in open government and community-based action.

As many of us know, in any organization the tone set by leadership permeates through the entire organization, and if the only standards we have are the legality of our actions, we should demand we raise the bar and take ethics and morality into account when deciding how to proceed.

While I do not assign any specific fault to any particular member of the board of education, I do think that at its core the way the vote was handled was simply a byproduct of groupthink and a lack of awareness of the needs and feelings of the wider Hoboken community.

I realize and empathize with that the board’s primary concern is the day to day education of our students, but when it is time for something like a bond referendum, and to reiterate I do believe we need a bond passed to fund our education, we need to adopt a different approach on how we engage the voters who ultimately have the final say on a referendum.

I look forward to seeing how the Hoboken Board of Education plans to further engage our community so we can build a better bond together.

Pavel Sokolov
Hoboken resident

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  1. Great letter and 100% truth.
    Lets see if anyone tries to attack it.
    I hope this man runs for BOE. We need a new perspective- the way certain trustees acted and still act in BPE forums and other public activity is shady at best.

  2. Agree 100%, thanks for the letter and your active participation in the January vote. It would have been very easy, and fair, to highlight many of other problems with how the BoE handled the referendum. I admire your restraint.

  3. The BoE is said to now be targeting their efforts to get more votes from those who for one reason or another are exempt from paying school taxes rather then come up with a less expensive and resonable plan. Then they will just slightly reword and resubmit the same or even more costly plan then to one voters of Hoboken rejected and hope that they can harvest enough votes from those who pay little or no school taxes to get it passed.

  4. Money is one part of it and process/transparency is another. To me, however, the biggest “swing and miss” on this project was the absence of any meaningful programs to improve learning outcomes – a hockey rink doesn’t cut it. The state recently published the latest SAT scores and, again, Hoboken was near the bottom. While I would agree with those who believe that Standardized scores are not always the best indicator of academic performance, and have some built in biases, they are what many colleges and parents look to when evaluating a district. I believe we need to scale back our building plans and figure out how to re-deploy the facilities we already have, and the money we believe we want to spend, on relevant educational programs and outcomes.

  5. Laura, if that is the case then they should goto 333 River to harvest more votes. That PILOTed building is the largest offender when it comes to screwing the public schools. Since 333 River is a PILOTed building, they do not pay their fair share to the public school tax and there are many families living in the building which makes it that much worse as compared to an office building being tax-exempt.

    333 River would normally be paying roughly $645k in school taxes, which equates to over half of last years school tax increase. But since they are PILOTed, they do not pay that.

  6. The Hoboken Board Of Education renewed Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Johnson’s contract until June 20th, 2026 that could max out her salary at $264,890 plus many thousands more in a generous benefits package, if quantitative and qualitative merit goals are met.

    With SAT scores of Hoboken students still at the bottom of the list of other schools in NJ what criteria could be used to justify that kind of tax funded compensation? Considering that people who furnish the funds for her salary will never be part of those calculations and only the BoE Board will continue to make that decision, the question becomes is retaining her on the payroll worth the expense ?

  7. Would the BOE look into merging with other school districts as the state offers funding to look into this option to solve one of the most expensive school system in the nation. Many new technologies are now available to better prepare our youth to the education needs of today.

    • Historically, New Jersey has been very “Balkanized” — lots of independent districts and towns, each providing more localized services at greater expense to the taxpayers. That works if the services are worth what we pay for them, and politicians prefer this approach as it creates more patronage jobs to fill. Making that kind of change would, however, require a significant culture shift and likely be met with fierce blowback from the Teachers Unions and our own politicians under the banner of “You Don’t Care for Our Children…” The truth is that when a high school gets down to 400 students, it becomes more challenging to provide the types of specialized programs that would truly benefit our kids — without spending A TON of money. In some ways, the $240m may be justified however, based on what has been shared, we appear to be spending it in the wrong places. I am eager to hear about the revised plan…..

  8. The next bond is going to be virtually unchanged since the 1/25/2022 bond and there will be a more aggressive PR push. The only difference will be that Emily Jabbour will be the only city council member campaigning for it this time.