LETTER: Hoboken BOE trustee gives personal take on why voters should OK school referendum


In a letter to the editor, Hoboken Board of Education Trustee Ailene McGuirk gives her personal take on why voters should approve the $241 million school referendum on Tuesday.

Hoboken Board of Education Trustee Ailene McGuirk.

Dear Editor,

I am proudly serving in my second term on the Hoboken Board of Education and would like to share some of my thoughts on the cost of the proposed new Hoboken High School.

These are my personal opinions, and are not to be taken as a statement from the Board of Education.

Much of the discussion about the proposed new Hoboken high school has revolved around the price tag of the project and its financial impact on local residents.

Anytime a referendum is proposed to voters a very healthy and robust discussion must occur around its impact and the community’s ability to afford it. One question that keeps getting asked again and again is where are the state funds for this project?

Why should Hoboken voters have to fund this? Hoboken is a former Abbott District, and while former Abbotts can bond for school construction, districts like Hoboken are not eligible for debt service aid from the state.

However, that does not mean that there is not valuable state support for the Hoboken Public School District annually. To better illustrate this, I find it helpful to understand the relationship between what you see on your tax bill and the actual school district budget.

First, let’s talk about the money that comes from the local taxpayers in Hoboken that partially funds the Hoboken Public School District.

In 2020, New Jerseyans sent an average of 53% of their property taxes to public schools. Here in Hoboken, less than 30% of our property tax money goes toward public schools.

Pull up a 2021 Final/2022 Preliminary tax bill and you can see that a little over 28 cents on the dollar goes from your overall city tax bill towards the school District, labeled as “school tax.”

The remaining $0.72 is split between the city of Hoboken, the County of Hudson, open space tax, and money towards public libraries.

The 29% of property taxes that go toward public schools in Hoboken equals a local tax levy of ~$54.2M and includes $11M that is transferred to the three local charter schools (20% of the school tax levy). The local tax levy is, in essence, supporting four school districts.

In addition to the local tax dollars collected for public education, the state of New Jersey and the federal government both provide funds to the Hoboken School District.

For the 2021-22 school year the State of New Jersey’s contribution to the overall budget is $24.9M, 28.4% of the total Hoboken District budget. These funds are primarily non-discretionary and are dedicated to programs like the free, full-day pre-K program.

This generous support from taxpayers all over the state is not without its critics.

For example, 2021 Gubernatorial Candidate Jack Ciattarelli campaigned in Hoboken and spoke directly about the state funds that come here, maligning Hoboken “millionaires” who benefit from free pre-K at the expense of taxpayers statewide. This comment was one that Ciattarelli repeated frequently on the campaign trail.

Interestingly enough, the Hoboken Republicans who supported Ciattarelli in November are strongly against the proposed new high school and seem to disagree with Ciattarelli on educational funding, arguing that funding should come from Trenton.

I guess they must be glad he lost, since I can only assume Mr. Ciattarelli and his base outside of Hudson County are eager for Hoboken to kick in more for its own schools.

Furthermore, local elected officials of various political stripes seem to disagree with him as well, wanting either the state to kick in or to be “involved” in the process, potentially for their own political purposes.

School Districts are able to have referendums so that the public can decide on the issue of funding school space separate from the local political rhetoric — and Boards of Education operate in a completely separate lane from the local municipal government.

Throughout New Jersey there are many towns where local tax bills reflect 50 and 60 cents on the dollar going toward public education. Hoboken is not one of those towns.

Here in Hoboken, if the referendum passes, the District will still see state funding in excess of what the payments on the bond would be. So the state of New Jersey might not be building a new Hoboken HS, but its consistent financial support for Hoboken Schools, saving the Hoboken taxpayers quite a bit of money, has been there for years.

The facilities that come with the proposed new Hoboken HS will be there for this community to use for decades to come, and the cost will be shared with residents who don’t live here yet, or might not even be born yet.

If you pay property taxes, and the referendum passes, your property taxes will increase in the neighborhood of $93.33 per $100,000 in assessed valuation, or approximately 5.8%. Find more info on your specific situation here.

While the state of NJ has been, in my opinion, generous with its support of the Hoboken Public School District, one thing the state cannot do is solve the very serious facilities issue that currently exists.

There is money promised from the state for the renovation of the Demarest building, but that is all that is available for the years to come, and new developments will be adding to the number of families the district will be legally required to serve.

Valuable state funded programs like pre-K need space, as do our elementary and middle school students. There is extremely little availability of educational space in the city of Hoboken.

While local Councilpeople may offer up some fanstastical suggestions for solving the space issues, it is not their role, nor would it meet the educational vision set forth for the District by Superintendent Dr. Johnson.

These suggestions are fueled by their own self-interest and not what is necessary for the growing student body.

If approved, the proposed new high school will enable more pre-K classrooms to come back into District facilities. It will allow the pre-K program to continue to grow as the city grows (20% population growth since the 2010 census).

I have seen many comments worried about Hoboken being able to keep the free pre-K; however, I think the question concerned residents should be asking is: As pre-K grows, where are the classrooms going to go? The long range facilities plan, with the proposed new HS, solves this issue.

On January 25th you are answering a question about funding new space for the school district, on land already owned by the BOE, brought to you by the Superintendent of Schools and your elected BOE representatives.

• Space for a new High School, with state of the art facilities so that Hoboken HS students can continue to achieve
• Space the current Middle School students need so they can have a full-sized gym and a real cafeteria so lunch doesn’t have to start at 10:30 AM
• Space necessary for our growing elementary schools
• Space necessary to continue to provide full-day, state-funded pre-K

Yes, the dollar amount is large, with contingencies built in to account for these inflationary times. This is far from the only problem facing Hoboken today – but it is a problem with a very strong, viable solution that my family will be supporting on January 25th.

The “vote no” crowd seems to be missing just how much Hoboken taxpayers get from Trenton each year for our schools, and how as a community we can be accountable for solving this specific local issue.

Waiting for another year or two will exacerbate the problem and potentially result in higher interest rates.

I am hopeful for the future of this city and this school district, and hopeful that my fellow residents will look past the noise and towards the steady leadership that has guided this school district through the pandemic.

A Superintendent and a Board united in their agreement that this plan is the best for Hoboken Public Schools because it addresses current and future space needs without the interference of local political forces in matters outside of their purview.

Please join me in voting yes on January 25, 2022.

Ailene McGuirk
Hoboken Board of Education Trustee

Editor’s note: While the author of this letter, Ailene McGuirk, is a member of the Hoboken Board of Education, the letter expresses only Ms. McGuirk’s personal opinions and has not been authorized by or written on behalf of the Board of Education.

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  1. It’s a shame that this hack is attacking the Vote No parents… if Vote No wins, she should resign!
    This is the same official who was dead set against a new school near her condo on Patterson Ave…. Guess she is a NIMBY

  2. The Same Ailene McGuirk who rallied AGAINST a new school near her house because of “all the kids” using her park…. ?


    Vote this fraud out….

  3. That’s probably the worst argument for this project I’ve read thus far. Interest rates aren’t a primary concern.
    Right now, the construction industry is awash with projects funded by stimulus money. If this passes, I think they’ll be shocked at how high the construction bids will be. It probably will actually be significantly cheaper to build after the stimulus bubble passes when the construction industry has some slack. And certainly it will be cheaper when they go back and craft a plan that makes sense for our community instead of this bloated monstrosity.

  4. “These are my personal opinions, and are not to be taken as a statement from the Board of Education.”

    ??? LOL, what, is this a joke? You think a silly disclaimer like that gets you around the moral issue of you theoretically not advocating for the plan? That’s so condescending, just how stupid do you think the voters of Hoboken are?

    What about the entirely shady process this has gone through, Ailene? You haven’t mentioned how the BOE kept this plan secret since 2019, and didn’t announce it until the day after the BOE election last November. Can you please address this?

  5. Ailene first let’s start with ethics laws you as a Trustee should not be commenting at all especially the fact that every election the mayor and his racist city Council members along with your ticket deceiving the Blacks children in the HHA and NOT allowing them real representation because every time a seat becomes available and all the trustee had the ball in their court to appoint me you won’t because you know I’ll expose the dirty dark secrets that our children have been faced with in this district but now even worse you guys through because y’all ran unopposed last year and many people miss the deadline because of Covid this gave all the BOE members an opportunity to sneak this referendum on us because you guys thought this too, you can bully it’s way in to Hoboken to continue the pay to play (PAY OFF) campaign promises😩😩Either way of cause you know you’ve started a WAR IN OUR COMMUNITY!! All of you should be brought up on ethical charges for down right lies!

  6. Hoboken’s laziest Councilman seems rather busy since he came in 12th place 4 years ago and lost his seat.
    Mello the guys that Zimmer was about to toss and Bhalla smartly said no to as well as every ticket except for Romano’s sham slate is weighing in to vote yes… Mello despite being a public school teacher is one of the most petty, jealous and seething with envy person one can meet. He hates that he’s stuck in a public school teaching in Jersey City and probably just wants a job here at the ne High School

    He has bad mouthed our public schools for years. Remember when he supported that racist Davinci plan?

    He’s like mold… you think you got rid of him… then he creeps back

  7. From McNair to Snyder…. Guess he was promised a new job in Hoboken… If this was near his dated old condo, he would be blowing his top and yelling at everyone that answers his calls still…

    * watch that C bomb Dave… people can record nowadays