Op-Ed: $241M Hoboken school referendum is ill-conceived and too expensive to approve

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In an editorial, Hoboken resident Joshua Sotomayor-Einstein explains his stance why the upcoming $241 million school referendum is ill-conceived and too expensive for taxpayers to approve.

With public backlash growing against the plan to build a new (and unnecessary) high school, many boosters of the project to waste hundreds of millions of tax dollars are in full force pushing back against the facts.

Laden with an army of half-truths and cherry picked manipulated statistics, these bad idea boosters would have the public ignore important details and seek to paint dissent as somehow “against the children.”

Infantile attempts at rhetorically shutting down debate aside, there are crucial points the public has been, as of yet, misled about – the monetary cost, the surprise nature of the special election right after the November 2021 election (and only 10 months before the next BOE election in 2022), and the consistent cohort (ie group of students who travel up the grades together) drop off.

First, while many have parroted the bad idea booster line that the bond will be for $241 million dollars, confusing the bond amount with the cost of the bond, the reality is that all bonds come with interest.

Assuming there is no hidden special state government source of funds supporters of the plan have neglected to share, even a bond at a rate of 2% a year over 30 years would result in a true cost of over $385 million.

The current high school, with a capacity of 1,500 students (compared to the proposed new building’s capacity of 1,200) may need updating but doing so in a school that has less than 350 students from Hoboken (and less than 500 students total) will cost hundreds of millions of dollars less.

Second, the bad idea boosters have been dishonest with the public by withholding their plan to charge the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars from them for months.

In fact, at some point before August 4, 2021 (when they received their response) the Hoboken Public School District submitted paperwork to the State Department of Education informing them of this plan.

The bad idea boosters thought it was important to tell the state of their machinations but not the Hoboken voting public.

Moreover, while the boosters are attempting to rush the vote and have presented it to the public as a fait accompli, the reality is that there is no law that requires this to be voted on in January.

Rather state law mandates that ballot question elections initiated by school boards can be held on the fourth Tuesday in January, second Tuesday in March, third Tuesday in April, last Tuesday in September, first Tuesday in November (when the annual BOE elections are held in Hoboken), and the second Tuesday in December.

If the supporters of this massive spending program are so confident in its necessity, why are they rushing a late January vote when they know the public will be paying less attention to the public meetings held during the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year vortex?

The likely truth is that they know this idea is unpopular and thus want to push it through a low turnout election when the majority is distracted by the holiday season.

Finally, but no less important, are the propaganda level statistics the boosters of this bad idea spending spree are spouting.

Honoring the phrase popularized by Mark Twain that “there are three kinds of lies – lies, damned lies, and statistics,” the boosters cherry pick data to manipulate an overall 25% increase in enrollment in the Hoboken Public Schools.

Had they not chosen the year with the largest dip in enrollment but went instead with the year prior, their cooked-the-books number would have only shown about a 13% increase in enrollment – a number within the normal student enrollment variation over the years.

Just as crucial is the fact that the bad idea boosters never mention the decline in cohort numbers. Cohort, in terms of education, refers to students in the same year who travel up the grades together.

In Hoboken, the size of a cohort, or group of students in the same grade, as they travel from early childhood education to high school continues shrinking with approximately only 1/3 as many students in any given cohort in high school than there were in that same cohort when they were in early childhood education.

With the total class size shrinking to one third across cohorts as they go up through the grades; the transparently manipulated statistics implying a mythologically massive enrollment increase which does not in actuality exist; the top to bottom dishonesty that characterizes this bum-rush of an election; and the bill of hundreds of millions of dollars to be paid by the taxpayer – the bad idea boosters plan speaks for itself.

It is no wonder its proponents have been resorting to off-topic juvenile attacks to deflect from the facts. The fact is that the new high school proposal doesn’t make sense and more and more people are seeing the truth.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Will wonders never cease: I finally, for once, agree with Joshua on something.

    Let this comment on an earlier story, applies here:

    Why is this referendum being held in late January? It’s as if they want to sneak this in the back door and planned the vote on it’s own in the depths of January when no one is paying attention and voter turnout will be extreme low.

    What’s the rush? Hold the meeting, allow a few months for public review and input, make revisions to the plan to make it the best it can be and then put it on the ballot in November.

    I might very well think a new HS is a good idea. However, because of the shady January referendum, I will vote against it — and urge everyone else to do the same — on principle alone.

    • The idea is to get parents to vote for more spending and let the rest of the public sleep through the boondoggle’s approval. This is what they call “transparency.” Ok, it’s a scam but at least you see it. Tell others.

  2. I was indifferent to this project but once I saw Josh’s opposition I knew this was a great project. I hope everyone supports this new high school project.

    Josh is wrong 100% of the time

    • It is doable to have younger children is say a two bedroom apartment but much less so for older children. Larger apartments in Hoboken are hard to come by and very costly to rent and even more to buy and that is why a very large percentage of parents have and continue to move out of Hoboken. A fancy new school building will not change that.

  3. Remember the Hospital? “Oh how risky to keep it and bond 250 million! ”
    Residents would be ” On the hook”

    Now it’s okay?

  4. This boondogle has made for strange bedfellows in the Hoboken community, which speaks to the arrogance of this school board and administrators. Sotomayor-Einstein hits a lot of the important points that are driving the opposition, and I can be counted as one who hardly ever agrees with him.

    While the opposition is vocal, I fear there is an invisible campaign within the “stroller moms” and others who are eating up the lies, so let’s make sure we get enough people out to vote down this ill-conceived plan. For many of us, the additional $500+ in property taxes may be the final straw, and ironically, the new residents who can afford the higher taxes will be rich enough to pay private school tuition, turning this into the most expensive white elephant in Hoboken’s history.

  5. The BOE candidates who ran for reelection in November had to know about this project kept silent to prevent it becoming the only campaign issue. When they and Dr. Johnson played dishonest games like that they should not be trusted to be honest about anything about this project. It is impossible to believe that this massive project was not planned in lockstep coordination with the Bhalla administration. The large tax increase that will be needed to float this half a billion dollar bond and the even larger tax increases that will be needed to redo the other school buildings and increase staff. These increased school board taxes will push out many existing residents from Hoboken and increase the costs those who remain.

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