Referendum for North Bergen High School expansion still set for Dec. 11

Board of Education plans to purchase former High-Tech High School

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Superintendent George J. Solter Jr. presenting the realignment plan.
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A rendering of the proposed campus layout.
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Superintendent George J. Solter Jr. presenting the realignment plan.
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A rendering of the proposed campus layout.
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Superintendent George J. Solter Jr. presenting the realignment plan.
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A rendering of the proposed campus layout.
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Superintendent George J. Solter Jr. presenting the realignment plan.
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A rendering of the proposed campus layout.
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A referendum that would result in a major renovation of North Bergen High School will remain on the ballot for the voters to decide its fate on Dec. 11.

The North Bergen Board of Education on Dec. 7 held a special meeting regarding the referendum that residents have the opportunity to vote at their nearest polling locations from 2-8 p.m. on Dec. 11.

The special meeting was held on Dec. 7, in part, because of a a lawsuit filed by North Bergen mayoral candidate Larry Wainstein in Hudson County Superior Court on Nov. 30.

The suit was an attempt to halt the referendum vote, charging that the North Bergen Board of Education didn’t give proper notice about the vote, according to the Open Public Meetings Act, sometimes referred to the New Jersey Sunshine Law.

North Bergen Board of Education spokesman Paul Swibinski said that the special meeting was called to readopt the referendum in response to the suit, despite the fact that the case was dismissed earlier that day.

The plan’s goals

North Bergen Superintendent of Schools George J. Solter, Jr. presented the plan to the public, which involved purchasing High Tech High School’s former North Bergen campus on Tonnelle Avenue, in order to separate North Bergen High School into two campuses.

The newly purchased building will become North Bergen High School West, while the current North Bergen High School on JFK Boulevard will become North Bergen High School East.

“This school was built at a capacity for 1,800 students,” Solter said. “We’ve been looking to move for almost 20 years now.”

The current number of students attending North Bergen High School is 2,512, while there are 8,000 students enrolled in the entire school district.

The west campus, for grades 7-9, will house Culinary Arts and Expanded Career Technical Education programs for grades 9-12. The plan will also add an auditorium, turf field and student walkway.

“High Tech High School has no auditorium in its current state,” Solter said. “Without one, we can’t hold meetings, plays, or concerts, and it’s an important investment for our new theater programs. It’s a step we need to take to develop a finer performing arts academy.”

“the school was built at a capacity for 1,800 students. we’ve been looking to move for almost 20 years now.” –George Solter

The east campus will house grades 10-12. The Board of Education is eyeing new programs focused on business, medical arts and STEM subjects. Renovations to air conditioning and lighting on the east campus are also in the budget. The east campus will also be made fully accessible.

“I’ve sat down with the vice president of Hudson County Community College, and we’ve discussed establishing a partnership between them and our technical program,” Solter said. “All of our technical programs will be associated with Hudson County Community College, and students will be able to come out of high school with anywhere from 15 to 30 college credits. We’re also reaching out to trade unions, carpenters, and masons to participate in our technical education program. We have a real shortage of students applying themselves in trade fields.”

The proposed budget

If the Dec. 11 referendum passes, North Bergen High School will receive $26 million in state funding for construction. Additional state aid will be given, according to the guidelines of the 2008 School Funding Reform Act. School officials report that there will be no property tax increase for the residents to endure if the referendum passes.

Solter reported that in order to prevent school tax increases as a result of the project, “$34 million in long-term bonding with offsets will be apportioned from property taxes toward the project.”

Solter said that the district is owed $9 million from the state’s School Development Authority, which will be put toward the school’s expansion.

The plan claims that Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) funds from developing construction sites will give the expansion $1.25 million annually through its completion.

Wainstein vs. North Bergen Board of Education

Wainstein, a vocal opponent of the current referendum, filed a claim that the North Bergen Board of Education gave improper notice for a special election that took place on Nov. 7, in which the resolution for the referendum was introduced. The claim alleged that the North Bergen Board of Education sent notice for the Nov. 7 election on Nov. 1 to the North Bergen Reporter too late for the weekly paper to publish and distribute the notice.

“We are thankful that Larry Wainstein’s disgraceful attempt to disenfranchise North Bergen voters and prevent the school realignment plan from moving forward was denied today in court,” Swibinski said. “Now it’s up to North Bergen voters to make their voices heard and vote Yes on Tuesday for better school facilities and no increase in school taxes.”

Mike Montemarano can be reached at mmontemarano@hudsonreporter.com.