Last night’s Hoboken Board of Education saw the public portion revolve around their $241 million school referendum that will be decided in two weeks.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
The public portion of the meeting was the last time residents, students, teachers, faculty, and staff could speak openly about the referendum before the polls open on January 25th.
Lucas Daly, an 8th grade student at Hoboken Middle School, led off by speaking in favor of project.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard parents and kids who are not currently in the district system imply or flat out say that my school isn’t good enough. That the academics aren’t strong. That the education isn’t enough. I honestly don’t know how they would know, they are not there, I’m there,” he stated.
Joshua Sotomayor-Einstein, who has been opposed to the new high school plan from day 1, remained unswayed.
“Many are upset because we have the audacity to disagree … Boosters of this bad idea are now resorting to using their children for propaganda purposes … [the board] lied by omission and explicitly.”
Paul Presinzano, a parent and former council-at-large candidate, said the process has been disingenuous, with the media providing more information than the district has and that there was no excuse not to promote the project prior to November school board election.
He also questioned how Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla and his allies on the city council endorsed the project before any public details were released.
“The majority of the community was left out. We should head back to the drawing board,” he added.
Renee Perry, a Hoboken High School math teacher who has three children attending the Joseph F. Brandt Elementary School, said the district is long overdue for infrastructure upgrades.
“My children attend a school that does not have enough bathrooms for all students on each floor … No teacher should teacher stay in a school where they have no classroom and must switch rooms every single day every period,” she began.
She added there is no library in the elementary school which is a detriment to the education of the children, also defended the ice rink, football stadium, and other sports elements attached to the project without getting into specifics.
“If we lived in the suburbs, we would also likely have a baseball field, a soccer field, and other sports facilities spread out on several acres.”
There was more applause and cheers from the audience for supporters after Carey spoke, though detractors still remained.
“I am agnostic on whether we need a need high school. What bothers me is the sense of secrecy. I hate secrets. This project seems to be more than two years old, yet I only learned about it in late December,” said Michael Brown, referencing an exclusive HCV report that provided an itemized breakdown and early costs associated with the referendum.
“I am baffled why we are having a referendum on such short notice … We are asked to pay for a Rolls Royce when we really need a Ford, maybe two Fords.”
Still, several teachers and parents said they were not bothered by the process or the tax hike, roughly $496 annually, since it was going towards students.
“We should be putting our wealth in our schools. Any great suburban high school comes with high taxes. At least if we pay in taxes, it’s an investment in our community,” rationalized Jenny Millman.
Hoboken Education Association First Vice President Christopher Munoz, also a local high school teacher and the Bayonne Board of Education vice president, pushed back hard at the vitriolic tone the opposition has taken at recent meetings.
“I’ve learned a lot of things tonight: I’ve learned that if you talk really fast and yell into the microphone, you must be right and you would know that’s not the case if you took ‘Effective Public Speaking’ with Mr. Huggins,” he began.
“I’ve learned that people don’t know the difference between $240 million and $330 million. You would know that if you took math with Ms. Perry. I’ve noticed that people don’t know the difference between air flow and a lack of oxygen because of a structure, if they took science with Mr. Labay they would know oxygen goes around things.”
Hoboken High School Principal Robin Piccapietra also emphasized that several public meetings have been held, particularly taking umbrage with Brown’s comments from earlier.
“To me, the choice is an investment … I don’t have children in the district [but] I have 466 children at Hoboken High School and I am choosing to invest in them. I think the most ludicrous thing I’ve heard this evening is was it a Rolls Royce or a Ferrari when we could get a Ford. Well, that is really lowering the bar.”
Vote yes advocates mobilized with shirts, signs, and flyers to get their message out, outnumbering those against the project at the meeting as public portion went well past 10 p.m.
Michele Daly is one of the organizers behind the #Morethanahighschool effort to get the referendum passed.
“It’s an investment everybody has to make. I can’t think of anything better to invest in. It’s going to increase the value of people’s homes in the long run by having top-notch high school here,” she told HCV.
“It’s hard for people to fully understand that the process the board of education goes through is a very different process from a citywide election. Whereas city council might refer to the feedback of constituents and all that, the BOE’s responsibility is to the students and to the school system. So, they make their own decisions. Their plans are never up for general debate and consensus amidst the whole town.”
While this was the last BOE meeting before the referendum, there are two more public information sessions: one virtual tomorrow at 7 p.m. and another at Hoboken High School on Monday at the same time.