LETTER: ‘Our children can’t afford’ to have $241M Hoboken school referendum voted down


In a letter to the editor, Hoboken parent Rastko Tomin details why he feels “our children can’t afford” to have the $241 million school referendum voted down.

Dear Editor,

I am a Hoboken resident and a parent and I would like to offer a perspective on the proposed High school project by addressing some concerns/questions/opinions that are being raised.

My older son is a freshman at Hoboken High School and he will not directly benefit from the new school. My younger son is a fourth grader, so he might.

However, regardless of whether or not my child would end up attending the new High school I see this project as something that will benefit our children and our community now and in the future. For that reason I would be supportive in any case.

So, why do we need a new High School? Currently our School District has 3 buildings that are over 100 years old and 2 that are 50+ years old.

Two out of the 3 Elementary Schools (Brandt and Connors), as well as our middle school are at full capacity already. All three buildings are lacking in many ways. The kindergarten program at Wallace is conducted out of a trailer in the back of the school.

Another elementary school is lacking a library. The middle school doesn’t have a normal size gym. The cafeteria is not big enough to accommodate all kids so they are forced to have staggered lunch time starting at 10:30 AM.

Classrooms are not what one would expect to see in 21st Century America.

Opponents of this project argue that enrollment levels do not justify a new school building and that we have capacity in the existing building. Here are some statistics regarding the enrollment levels.

Enrollment for K-5 has increased by 57% over the last 10 years. Freshman class of 2021/22 is 60% larger then graduating class of 2020/2. 2021 demographic study forecasts 30% increase in enrollment by 2030/31.

However, this project is not simply about capacity levels at the high school. Rather, this project is looking to create appropriate capacity at all grade levels by moving existing

Middle school to the current high school and then turning the middle school into additional elementary school. This project is about creating contemporary educational and recreational space for our children as well as for the Hoboken community at large.

Debate about this project has also turned extremely negative which is disheartening. I have heard statements that basically boil down to “Hoboken school district is horrible and therefore we should not be building a new school.”

Even if those comments were true (AND THEY ARE NOT), I do not follow the argument. Is the line of reasoning “our school system is bad so let’s keep it that way?” Are we saying let’s keep the kids in old, outdated buildings and see what happens?

Let’s not give teachers tools and classrooms that they need to teach 21st century curriculum and hope for the best”.

While the district has plenty of room for progress, we have seen huge improvements.

So, if you don’t like this project for some reason, make a civilized argument against it, go and vote against it, but please do not disparage and deride the progress that the BOE, Dr. Johnson, Hoboken public school teachers and our children have made.

It is wrong and unacceptable.

Tax impact and costs are cited as the major reason for challenging the project with 20% tax increase being thrown around. School tax is only a portion of overall property tax, therefore 20% in school tax translates to a smaller increase in property tax.

In this scenario overall tax increase would be under 6%. In terms of real dollars, if you own property in Hoboken that is assessed for tax purposes between $600-$800K your taxes will go up between $600-$800 annually.

That amounts to $1.60-$2.20 per day, less than what you would spend on a cup of coffee or a pack of gum.

School taxes are NOT paid by residents in the housing authority. I am not sure what the impact (if any) would be on rent controlled units so potentially there is real concern there which would need to be addressed.

We are buying a Ferrari when all we need is a Honda argument is way off. Average construction cost to build a high school in the US is $500 per square foot.

The proposed cost of the Hoboken High-school is $500 per square foot. The primary driver of HHS construction costs is the building footprint.

The cost of running the ice rink is brought up as a potential issue down the road but similar ice rink in Hudson County school was able to generate sufficient operating revenue during the pandemic and is an income generator post-COVID.

Calling this project ‘sports complex’ with a few classrooms attached might sound cute but it does not invalidate this project. We live in a town that has experienced significant growth over the past 20 years. sRecreational facilities that enable our kids and teenagers to engage in sports, play and physical activities are sorely lacking. Is it so terrible that we are trying to create amenities that are considered standard in suburban schools?

Accusation that BOE and the Superintendent are somehow running non-transparent process with sinister motives couldn’t be further from the truth. BOD did their job and envisioned a project that they believe is right for our community.

They have announced the proposal, held a number of public meetings and made all project-related information readily available. They are putting in front of the voters the proposal as a very specific, well defined project, as a single issue referendum question.

The intent was for the project to be considered on its own merits and avoid having the issue coopted and abused by special interest groups or political factions. The proverb “road to hell is paved with good intentions” comes to mind in this case …

Some opponents of this project claim that they are not opposed to getting a new High school, they just don’t think this is the right project. Asking for time to tweak the process and use more collaborative approach will probably kill the project outright.

The last HHS proposal considered was in 2004 and for past 18 years nobody has made serious effort or any progress on this matter. Delay in the timeline means that potentially a whole another generation of kids will go through the school system with subpar facilities.

Cost of financing is currently at 2.2% over 30 years. Killing this project at the time when interest rates are rising and the inflationary pressures are high will simply result in significant wait for even more expensive alternative.

We can’t afford this, our children can’t afford this.

Please vote YES on January 25th.

Rastko Tomin
Hoboken parent

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  1. Unlike the majority of taxpayers in Hoboken the author of this opinion lives at 800 Jackson Street which has a PILOT agreement which shields from the Hoboken property and school tax burden.

  2. Hoboken High School serves 412 students in grades 9-12. Hoboken High School placed in the bottom 50%of all schools in New Jersey for overali test scores(math proficiency is bottom 50% and reading proficiency is bottom 50%) for the 2018-19 school year.
    The percentage of students achieving proficiency in math is 8% (which is lower than the New Jersey state average of 44%) for the 2018-18 school year. The percentage of students achieving proficiency in reading/language is 43% (which is lower than the New Jersey state average of 57%) for the 2018-19 school year.

    Will spending an additional couple of hundred million dollars on non-academic venues like an ice hockey rink make Hoboken students more proficient in the basics and prepare them for the competitive real world ?

    Rejecting the referendum on the ballot will allow the funding be reallocated to better academic to improve our students futures.

    • Do you or anyone else here know how those test scores are distributed? Is it that honor class kids are thriving and getting super high test scores while everyone else is struggling?Or are there even kids in the honors classes, who by definition should be exceeding standards, who are struggling to meet state standards? Are kids in AP classes scoring well enough on AP tests to get AP credit? I’ve heard different things from different people about this and the answer will determine how I vote.

      • Last year’s valedictorian went to Yale and HHS graduates got $17.4 M in MERIT scholarships, my kid got a combined SAT score of 1570. Dr. Johnson could answer your questions, don’t try to get facts here from a handful of anonymous miscreants. Unless you’re one of them.

  3. If the discussion of the $241,000.000 bond issue has become negative it can only be laid at feet of Christine Johnson who constructed a plan with zero public input and purposely withheld that plan from the public until after she had already put it on the ballot. The sheer arrogance of her, take it or leave it, referendum is astounding and not at all what should be happening in Hoboken.
    I encourage all voters who believe in a inclusive, transparent process to leave it and vote NO next Tuesday.

  4. Yeah, sorry but this letter ignores and/or glosses over important problems with the process and the building that have been expressed here and elsewhere a million times. There is no rush, this is not an emergency. No child or family will be hurt by revoting on a better, more appropriate plan this fall.

    The BOE know they were being deceitful when they withheld information about this until the day after the BOE election last November, and tried to ram it through during the holidays and with a vote in the depths of January when turnout will be very low.

    That alone is reason to vote NO.

    • The writer has been a supporter of Zimmer and Bhalla for years, MetroStop /800 Jackson pays NO SCHOOL TAXES , a few years back they were allowed to reduce their 5 affordable apts down to 4 while keeping their PILOT for units valued from 500,000 to over 1 million.

      This guy is a leach

  5. Former Hoboken City Councilman Peter Cunningham has issued a statement today asking voters to VOTE NO on January 25th reject the $241,000.000 high school proposal.

  6. Nor can we pay for the residents of MetroStop ( 800 Jackson St Condo tower ) who pay ZERO school Taxes and just got another new park in front of their 125 ft +++ HIGHRiSE