Rothman addresses NB's school overcrowding Congressman speaks of problems getting legislation passed; Meadowlands recreational park moves forward
by Jim Hague Reporter staff writer
Feb 28, 2003 | 938 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rep. Steve Rothman (D-Bergen), whose Congressional district includes parts of North Bergen, Union City, Secaucus and Jersey City, paid a visit to the offices of The Hudson Reporter newspapers on Monday to discuss some of the issues that most affected his constituents.

Rothman was asked what the federal government could do to help the constant overcrowding problem that North Bergen's schools have been battling for the last 10 years. In fact, there have been situations with 30 students in a classroom, and the preK students are still attending school in classrooms in rented trailers.

"I'm very familiar with the terrible overcrowding going on in North Bergen's schools," Rothman said during the interview. "It's not only Hudson County, but throughout the country. The numbers of kids per classroom are increasing everywhere."

Rothman said that he was a proponent of a federal school construction bill that would have allocated federal funding to school districts like North Bergen that have not been classified as "special needs" Abbot districts by the state Department of Education. Many of the districts around North Bergen get extra funding from the state because of this classification, but North Bergen does not.

"The school construction bills have been a constant part of the Democratic platform for the last four or five years," Rothman said, adding that he was the author of a federal bill that could have provided school districts like North Bergen "zero percent interest funding" to build a new school.

"I thought it was a good move, one that made a lot of sense," Rothman said. "But the Republican majorities have refused to pass on the Democratic initiative to provide zero-interest funding. There's really nothing you can do." Rothman emphasized that the hands of the Democratic Congress are collectively tied as long as there is a Republican majority in control.

"If you're in the minority, you basically can't get anything done right now," Rothman said. "The plans don't get fully explored. I would hope that people would listen to me, but not if you don't have the majority."

Rothman said that his fellow local Democratic Congressmen, Donald Payne and Robert Menendez, have been "fighting like tigers to try to persuade the majority on the problem."

"I would hope that the Republicans would see the extent of the problem," Rothman said. "It's a daily battle, an effort that goes on 24/7, but the reality is what the reality is. The key to economic improvement, the key to citizenship improvement, is education. It's vitally important. In terms of national health and security, we need to have citizens who understand government, the Bill of Rights, and that's done through education. We need to have strong public schools. Public schools turn out to be the most important place for our young."

Rothman said that despite having his legislation shot down on four occasions, he will continue to fight.

"I have my baseball bat in hand, looking to knock down the walls every day," Rothman said. "I'm not going to take 'no' for an answer. I know that people turn to their elected officials on any level in times of crisis."

Rothman said that he has been involved in an ongoing battle with Republican legislators over combat veterans from the Korean and Vietnam Wars who are not being able to get access to Veterans Administration-run hospitals for outpatient treatment and care.

"That's another disgrace," Rothman said. "The people have to rise up and have their voices heard."

In other news

While Rothman expressed his dismay and frustration over not being able to help North Bergen's overcrowding issue, he was happy to report that the proposed 8,400-acre open recreational space park in the Meadowlands along the Secaucus-North Bergen border is moving forward as originally planned.

"We have the money to remediate the land and begin the environmental study," said Rothman, who spearheaded the approximately $100-200 million project. "It's been a big passion of mine to see this through and it's moving along nicely. The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission is the local partner that will take local responsibility. We just have to agree on the scope of the study, to check for landfills and poisonous areas and find out just how badly polluted the areas are."

Rothman said that the current study should take "anywhere between two and three years," with the idea of "hoping to cut a ribbon to open the park within 10 years."

"The park will have kayaking, canoeing, fishing, walking trails, an environmental center," Rothman said. "It will also be a wonderful compliment to the proposed [Continental Airlines] Arena site [called Meadowlands Xanadu]. It will be a nice passive environmental park."

Rothman also said that the proposed park will have no affect on any future plans to develop the West Side Avenue area. Several plans have been introduced to township officials about the possibility of building commercial development in the future.

"I think we've changed the thinking about the park and the development there from impossible to inevitable," Rothman said. "It's inevitable now."
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