In a letter to the editor, former Hoboken Board of Education President Leon Gold explains why “the current proposal is the wrong way” for the $241 million school referendum.
As a former Hoboken Board of Education (BOE) Trustee writing this is difficult because I know first-hand all the sweat and toil in trying to improve education for Hoboken’s public-school children, but the current proposal is the wrong way.
On January 25 the referendum should be voted down. To be as clear as possible, I am voting NO and you should as well.
As the reasons for doing so are manifold, I present my non-exhaustive list of the top 4 reasons why I, as a former Board of Education elected official, advocate voting NO:
1. Lack of transparency – The job of a BOE Trustee is to represent the community in the interest of educating the public’s children in district schools. This BOE has conflated pushing their desire for a sports complex with a school attached over their obligation to the children and people of Hoboken.
For over two years they secretly planned, informing their close clique of supporters, only to tell the people after the November BOE elections and during the holiday season in the middle of winter.
While supporters of the plan pretend the BOE had to wait until the State Department of Education officially acknowledged the proposal was added to the BOE’s long term plan, which happened in August of 2021, the fact remains that they hid the information from the public for three months to avoid answering any questions during the November BOE elections.
Even were this needed for long-term planning (which it isn’t), voters should send a message to every level of elected officials that anti-democratic games in which they purposefully hide things from the voters will not be tolerated.
2. It Won’t Help the Children – Academics and pedagogy are not sports and athletics. The current high school is massively under-enrolled with roughly 435 students (including approximately 125 students from outside Hoboken) for a building that was built with a capacity of 1,506.
If the people of Hoboken were asked to spend more tax dollars on lifting the students’ futures and giving educators the flexibility to reach their students, rather than the $330 million sports complex that is being pushed, no one would be able to say no because everyone wants the children to succeed.
3. This Will Endanger the Free Pre-K Abbot Funding – As an SDA (School Development Authority) or former Abbot District, Hoboken receives state aid for the free Pre-K program.
At the time of its creation, the program (then known as Abbot Districts) was meant to assist economically downtrodden districts that would otherwise have a problem funding education through property taxes.
Even though today roughly 2/3rds of the town are rental units, the situation is different, and Hoboken is the capital of the “Jersey Gold Coast.” Every year support for state education aid in Trenton (in both parties) goes down as does the aid dispersed (the JC BOE just recently lost about $70 million in aid).
The amount dispersed by the state for education aid is decided in a political and bureaucratic process and is not something that is guaranteed.
Pushing an unnecessary massive BOE tax increase for a sports complex with a high school attached (especially when the current one is massively under-enrolled) will only add fuel to the fire of those in Trenton advocating cutting Hoboken’s state education aid.
Moreover, to dampen the impact of the growing Trenton anti-state aid chorus, other SDA Districts will undoubtedly add their voice to the choir as they have an incentive to throw Hoboken under the bus in order to spare themselves additional education aid cuts.
4. Half-truths – The BOE statistics on enrollment are half-truths meant to create the impression of a growing groundswell of enrollment.
Before, during, and after I was on the BOE, people spoke of enrollment booms that never materialized. No one would love for our Hoboken district school enrollment to grow more than I, but the reality is that enrollment is within normal historical fluctuation ranges.
Moreover, the alleged overcrowding is existing in only one of our elementary schools and has existed since 2011 (while the other two elementary schools remain under capacity).
Just as important to note is that when looking at NJ Department of Education data from the Hoboken BOE, it is the Hoboken BOE that self-reports and determines the capacity level at its schools.
The supporters of the $330 million sports complex with a school attached – the people telling others that if we vote “yes” on the $241 million dollar bond referendum question, everything will change are well-intentioned but factually wrong on every level.
Those who want fact-based educational improvements for Hoboken’s children understand that leading by example to integrity and honesty is important.
Good government and education advocates know that this plan requires Hoboken voters to VOTE NO on January 25th because it will make our town even more unaffordable; because buildings are not a replacement for pedagogy nor a synonym for education; because it rewards fundamentally inappropriate behavior of elected officials; and because it will put in danger Hoboken’s free Pre-K program funded by state aid.
On January 25th for Hoboken’s children and commonsense VOTE NO.
Former Hoboken Board of Education President