In an opinion emailed to Hudson TV, Hoboken Library Board of Trustees President Jerome Abernathy urges Hoboken residents to vote no in Tuesday’s Board of Education referendum to construct a new, $241 million high school:
Dear friends and neighbors-
This upcoming Tuesday we’ll be asked whether we want to pay for the construction of a new high school at a cost of $241 million ($331 million including interest). Your vote will never matter more than in this referendum. I want to make a final case as to why you should vote NO, and ask the BOE to come back with a better plan.
First the facts:
- According to the BOE’s enrollment projections, the school district needs to accommodate 180 more students in the elementary and middle school by 2032.
- HHS serves about 425 students, of which about 300 are Hoboken residents and about 120 are out-of-district Choice program students.
- The BOE projects the HHS student population will grow to 800 by 2032- still far below the current or future building’s capacity.
- The current HHS, while old, still has good facilities: a gym, swimming pool, sports field, vocational arts facilities, science labs, etc. So good, in fact, that the middle school will move there.
- The BOE’s sole solution to the shortage of elementary and middle-school space is to build a luxurious, highly amenitized high school with capacity for three times the size of the current student population.
Here’s why we oppose the referendum:
- There is no evidence-based connection between luxury amenities and better educational outcomes. Most residents would gladly pay more in taxes if they went toward better academic outcomes for all children in the district.
- There was no community input. Unlike other large public works projects such as Rebuild by Design, the Northwest Resiliency Park, and Vision Zero, the community’s input and feedback were not sought nor considered.
- The lack of transparency promoted by the BOE has led to divisiveness and hostility in our community, pitting neighbor against neighbor. This makes it difficult for voters seeking the facts.
- The BOE will hike our school taxes by at least 20%. School taxes are the “tuition” we pay to educate Hoboken children. Imagine how you’d react if your college raised tuition by 20% or if your landlord raised the rent by 20%.
- The BOE’s proposed luxury high school will be the most expensive in US history on a per-seat basis.
- Unlike other large school projects in New Jersey, this will receive no state funding, leaving taxpayers to shoulder the entire cost.
- The BOE hasn’t released any projections for the operating costsl. Such a large facility will undoubtedly be expensive to operate, implying more school tax hikes in the future.
- It is being rushed through in a low-turnout special referendum. The rollout of the BOE’s plan minimizes voter participation.
We know that it has been hard for Hoboken residents to get unbiased facts about the referendum and that it has been painful to see personal attacks leveled against neighbors. But it was the BOE’s disregard for community engagement and transparency that has brought us here. Most NO voting residents would gladly pay more taxes if that funding clearly and demonstrably improved student outcomes for every child in Hoboken public schools. Rather than focusing only on the valedictorians, the athletes or the AP student, as the supporters of the project have chosen to, we ask you to remember the many students who are none of those things. They are all good kids who need a high school that will give them the academic tools necessary to have a bright and successful future. We wish this plan had shown how it would accomplish that. We are saddened that it has not.
To cast your vote in this important election, you can do any of the following:
- In person on Tuesday, January 25th, polls are open from 6am to 8pm and you vote at your usual polling location – NJ DOS – Division of Elections – Polling Place Search
- Drop your VBM ballot in the mail or in one of two ballot drop boxes (City Hall, Newark St side & Stevens, on Hudson & 6th) on or before January 25th.
- In person via VBM at the County Clerk Office by 3:00 pm on Monday – 257 Cornelison Ave Jersey City
The BOE needs to revise their plan, this time working collaboratively with our community and putting the education of all children in our district first. That can only happen if you vote NO on Jan. 25th.
Jerome D. Abernathy