LETTER: I will be ‘enthusiastically voting YES’ on $241M Hoboken school referendum, mayor says

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In a letter to the editor, Hoboken mayor Ravi Bhalla explains why he’ll be “enthusiastically voting YES” on the $241 million school referendum.

Dear Editor,

I write this not just as mayor, but also as a proud graduate of our public schools. When my parents came to this country, they started their journey here in a trailer park. Private school was not an option, so my brother and I went to our town’s public school.

Those public schools shaped me into who am today, and helped my whole town be a better place to live for all. Simply put, strong communities and strong public schools go hand in hand.

Many residents have asked my position on the upcoming January 25th referendum put forward by the Hoboken Board of Education (BOE) to build a new Hoboken High School.

I’m glad to share that I will be voting enthusiastically voting “YES” on the BOE’s proposal, as I know this investment will serve all of Hoboken for generations to come.

This is a historic, once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring our high school facility to the 21st Century.

With a YES vote, we have the ability to take public education in Hoboken to a bright future. This is a world-class city, the time is now for it to have world-class high school facilities.

Here are a few important reasons why I’m voting YES on January 25th:

No Room for Delay: In truth, because residents want to set down roots here, our elementary schools are over capacity and the middle school is bursting. It has been over 60 years since Hoboken made an investment in public school infrastructure. Whether it’s now or later, we have no choice but to increase our facility capacity. But if we wait, it will only cost us more, not less.

Let’s Not Leave State Support at the Table: This is not just about a high school – the construction of a modern high school will allow for the middle school to relocate to the current high school, so that the BOE can move forward with a $30M renovation to the 100 year old Demarest building, funded in full by the State of New Jersey.

Demarest will then become the fourth neighborhood elementary school to meet the increasing demand of families raising their children in Hoboken.

Increased property values: I have no doubt that a new modern high school will translate over time to an increase in property values, providing a tangible benefit to all property owners, not just those with children.

This is not complex: with a top-notch high school, families will think twice before leaving Hoboken because of the schools, or send their children to private schools. This will in turn substantially increase the property values of all residents, not just those that utilize public schools.

Community benefits: The features included in the proposed high school would expand recreational opportunities for all residents. Many residents must leave Hoboken to participate in activities such as swim teams, ice skating, and hockey.

We know that HHS, HMS, and Stevens University travel out of town for ice time for hockey teams. Based on research done by the BOE, the recreational features of this modern high school will likely generate sufficient revenue to be self-sustaining.

Continues to build on a rigorous curriculum to meet diverse needs: The Hoboken High School graduation rate is nearly 99 percent, with 23 Advanced Placement (AP) courses offered and over $17M in academic scholarships awarded to the class of 2021.

The proposed high school would include additional classroom space and laboratories to support an additional six embedded vocational programs to meet the needs of all students, college-bound or not.

I believe that a yes vote, as opposed to going back to the drawing board and delaying a new facility for potentially several years, is the best path forward for Hoboken, especially because I am convinced that costs will inevitably rise with delay.

As we enter Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I think of Dr. King’s remarks about “the fierce urgency of now” – this is one of those times for Hoboken, where we must act now to elevate the quality of education for our children.

I recognize that like many proposals, no plan is perfect, and there are a number of legitimate questions and concerns that residents have raised as they learn more about the BOE’s proposal.

As a community, we’re able to have respectful differences of opinion, and not everyone will ultimately vote the same way – just like every election in Hoboken.

But, I am hopeful that we can all respect each other and remember that the BOE’s interest is putting our children’s educational needs first and building a better education system for all of us.

For those who are looking for more information and FAQ’s about the BOE’s referendum, please click here.

Please note that since this is not a referendum put forward by the City of Hoboken (the city and BOE are two separate entities with separate budgets, governed by a separate body of elected officials), you can reach out to the BOE directly with questions about the referendum at: proposednewhhs@hoboken.k12.nj.us.

There is also a virtual informational webinar tomorrow night hosted by the BOE at 7pm on the proposed new high school; you can access that link when it is available here.

I hope the above has been helpful as you consider your vote on the January 25th referendum.

Like other election days, polls will be open from 6 a.m. and 8pm at your typical polling site or you may request a Vote By Mail ballot from the Hudson County Board of Election by mailing this form, which must be received by January 18th.

Sincerely,

Ravi S. Bhalla
Hoboken mayor

10 COMMENTS

  1. Sorry, Ravi. I voted for you twice but disagree on this one. There are plenty of reasons to vote NO and send the BOE back to the drawing board for a better, more realistic plan. There is no rush, this isn’t an emergency. No child or family will be harmed by having a better plan voted on later this year.

  2. Generational debt.

    If this passes Hoboken taxpayers will be paying off the $250,000,000 debt for over a generation. It will result in a 20% increase in school taxes for the next thirty years just to pay off the principle of the bond. The additional operating costs for the new building and cost to retrofit other buildings would be on top of that sum.

    Mayor Bhalla has said he had to take on a second job in with a outside law firm just to live in Hoboken and saw his City salary increase by $15,000 in November. Not many other taxpayers can say the same to also stay Hoboken.

    The Bhalla family may be able to continue to stay in Hoboken but many others will not.

  3. Well, Ravi was behind the entire secret discussions hiding this from the public.
    So of course he supports this ugly monstrosity; it has his fingerprints on it.

  4. Bottom line, per tonight’s meeting, 24% of the ~400 HHS students do not live in Hoboken. That means $241mil (+interest) for 300 students, or $800K/per student. Not a chance in hell.

  5. Mayor Bhalla claims in this letter that $30 million in state funding for Demerest will be lost if the voters don’t agree to build the new high school as proposed.

    Is this true? If it is, the BOE should be able to produce the documentation from the State DOE showing both the $30 written commitment and the condition requiring the High School be built. Has anyone asked to see that?

      • This isn’t spin. It’s either true or not. I can’t believe Mayor Bhalla, who I voted for twice for council and then twice for Mayor, would outright lie about something this important, so I really want to believe it’s true. If it’s true then I’m a yes vote since I don’t think we should walk away from $30 million and the combined package is much more appealing than just a High School I’m not sure we really need. But we shouldn’t be asked to vote on anything, much less a massive project like this one relying on the hope that we’re being told the honest truth. If there is a conditional funding commitment like the Mayor says then there’s a commitment letter that confirms it. We should all get to see what it says well before we vote.

  6. Might the timing of the referendum, late January vs November or June, be a form of suppression or, at very least manipulation? This Mayor speaks about progressive values and, yet, I feel the city is moving backwards; uncontested elections, pay to play reversals, endorsements from elected officials who receive newly created jobs etc. It once felt like we were moving forward – now I am not so sure.

  7. What next, Cricket? LaCrosse a Sailing School?
    This is the urban version of a wealthy suburban school…

    Wait until the area is jam packed with double parked SUV’s picking up the children to take them home 2 blocks away or to Jersey City

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