Op-Ed: There is no hard data available to support approving $241M Hoboken school referendum

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In an editorial, Hoboken resident and parent Paul Presinzano states his case as to why there is no hard data available to support approving the $241 million school referendum.

As of Jan. 3rd 2022, the amount of information released by the HBOE (Hoboken Board of Education) on the $331 new high school project has been limited.

Dr. Johnson and the leadership of the Hoboken BOE graciously gave me 3.5 hours of their time to discuss the project. They have our children’s best interest as their focus and as a parent myself there is no debate that our children deserve a world-class education.

However, there remain some critical questions. Two main issues concern me: First, much of the financial details are vague. Second, the community use of school facilities play an oversized role in the plan.

I wanted to learn more about how the HBOE project compares to other high school projects of recent and underway in New Jersey. The information below gives us a general idea of how the HBOE proposal relates to other projects. Draw your own conclusions.

I was informed that 78% of the project, ~$188 million, is for Hard costs [the building structure, ~$34 million of that is miscellaneous cost].

The remaining 22%, ~$53 million, is slated for Soft costs [Fees, contingency, etc.]. The overall proposal consists of ~$60 million of contingency costs, amounting to ~25% of the bond. Contingency costs are extra amounts “built-in” for unforeseen expenditures.

Research says those costs should be 7 to 12% for a project that involves constructing a new building. Contingency and left over money is supposed to be returned to the taxpayer if not used.

Additionally, we need to remember the interest costs of this bond (2.2%) will bring the total to $331 million.

We have asked the BOE, what happens to the price if we don’t build the pool or the hockey rink? We are awaiting that response. Once we have that and detailed financials in hand, the price tag might be more explainable.

The New Jersey School Board Association [NJSBA] states the school board has a dual role: the first is to represent the concerns of the citizens, taxpayers, and parents to the school administrators.

The second is to represent the needs of the students and school district to the citizens, taxpayers, and parents of the community.

The HBOE’s formal responsibilities do not include a mandate to provide community facilities or to run recreational services for the town.

Those responsibilities rest with the mayor and the city council. However, that does not preclude the HBOE from allowing the community to use school facilities.

Did you know that there is a priority list for the use of school facilities? Guess where the community falls on that list: dead last. If that’s where we the community stands now, what can we expect in the future?

We were told that the community would be promised a seat at the table after the bond referendum is passed and the project completed.

However, the process would have been more transparent and democratic if various stakeholders were at the table during the planning phase of such a large project, not after a public vote or project completion.

Providing a world-class education is a challenging puzzle to solve. The process is not something that educators and communities rush to implement. They take their time to build a plan, use their experience and take stakeholder input.

This same process should have been followed for the high school proposal but it was not. The referendum is on the ballot this month, nothing will change that.

We as the community now must ask the right questions and understand that some answers might not be what we want to hear, but being open-minded is needed for us to make a well-informed decision.

I strongly urge you to do your own research and share your findings. Your findings should be based on facts. It is much easier to have a productive discussion with facts than emotions.

If you turn to social media to share your findings, remember that the reader will have preconceived notions. Don’t be surprised if you get pushback from different points of view. This is the beauty of debate.

Your goal is to be informed and have all the facts before going to the polls on January 25, 2021.

Based on available information, my own research and the project being announced so close to the referendum date, I cannot see how the current proposal works for our town. If, I were asked to vote today, I would vote NO.

Paul Presinzano
Husband, father, and 25 year Hoboken resident

7 COMMENTS

  1. A vote NO on January 25 is not a vote against anything other than a lack of clarity, collaboration, and community. Don’t believe the privileged few who currently don’t send their kids to public school telling you we are voting “against kids.”

    Nothing could be further from the truth. We are PRO-education and PRO-fiscal transparency for ALL residents of Hoboken, especially as ALL are being asked to fund this massive investment for the next 30 years. To that end, voting NO to this backdoor plan – a plan that was submitted in 2019 (see documents below) – would allow ample time for us to better digest it. More critically, we need to address the immediate needs of the CURRENT public school students by improving the quality of programming, paying our educators more, and holding everyone – including ourselves – to higher standards.

    This same administration that voted to give themselves 45% pay increases submitted the itemized cost for this plan the DAY AFTER the November election (see documents below). After this referendum, we will continue the fight to improve our public school education, and believe me, it will include getting to the bottom of this mess that is currently pitting neighbor against neighbor, and putting the privileged over our priorities.

    So do we take the next several years to build what would be the country’s most expensive high school complete with an ice hockey rink, aquatics center, rooftop football stadium, and aquaponics lab? Or address the immediate needs of a public school population where only 14% are proficient in mathematics and 38% in reading comprehension? We can do both, Hoboken. We can do better.

    Clarity, collaboration, and community.

    Please vote responsibly, for all children of Hoboken, and vote NO on January 25.

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/18x2NIcejjU3OvPMP6dtATWlJrJl-GaFH/view?usp=sharing

  2. You do realize that the BOE is not part of the Municipal Government, don’t you? The BOE does not draw any pay – no BOE in the State of NJ does. If you are so poorly informed about the basics of government in the state you reside in why would anyone trust your opinion.

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