Hoboken parents and residents expressed anger on Nov. 4 after the city council again postponed a resolution to determine the fate of a pilot payment earmarked for school funding.
At the center of the controversy is a payment to the city from the development of 7 Seventy House at Seventh and Jackson streets through a 30-year Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement ratified in 2016.
The council earmarked a portion of that payment to the “Hoboken School District” in a 2016 resolution since the district would lose revenues from the agreement under which, typically, no school taxes would be collected.
Four years later, community members are arguing whether the allocation of some $243,000 should be distributed to the city’s three charter schools and the public school district or just the public schools.
The council was scheduled to vote on a resolution, sponsored by Councilwoman Emily Jabbour and Councilman Phil Cohen, that would have turned the funds over to the public school district, but the resolution was tabled with a 5-4 vote before a discussion and public comment could take place.
Council President Jen Giattino noted that the council received a letter from an attorney representing the charter schools prior to the meeting, which strongly urged the council to refrain from adopting the resolution.
The Nov. 3 letter from Guillermo Artiles, an attorney with McCarter & English LLP, which represent Hoboken Charter School, HoLa Dual Language Charter School, and Elysian Charter School, said the resolution would reduce funding for the charter schools, noting that the council at the last meeting “agreed to have the Education Subcommittee work with all impacted parties on an equitable solution. We have been hired to represent the Charter Schools for this effort, and we ask that this process be honored and not be cut short.”
‘An act of cowardice’
Councilwoman Emily Jabbour said the council received a memo from corporation counsel before the last council meeting asserting that the public school district was the only legal entity that could receive the funds and advocated for the funds to go to the district.
“I completely understand the position of the charter community, and while I appreciate the stance they have taken in their letter asking us to hold off on taking this action, one doesn’t preclude the other,” Jabbour said. “We can move forward with authorizing this payment in fulfillment of the legal counsel that’s been provided to us from corporation counsel, and the charters can continue to reach out to the department of education because that is the proper forum for them to take those advocacy opportunities.
“It is unclear to me why they continue to advocate necessarily to the council, when we don’t have influence over the state funding formula … at the end of the day the only legal recipient for these funds is the Hoboken Board of Education, and I have the full assurance in working with those colleagues at the board of education and [Superintendent Dr. Christine] Johnson that we can have faith that they will continue to dutifully provide an annual payment to the charters in obligation of the state funding formula.”
The public school district and district parents said, as it stands now, the district agreed that it is the only entity that can legally accept the funds, with many noting that the funding was not a “gift” as some council members stated previously. Rather, it attempted to make the public school district whole since it was denied the ability to levy taxes from the development due to the city’s agreement.
Other public speakers noted that the public school district would also be responsible for educating the children of families who moved into the development, while the charter schools have caps on their enrollments.
Overall, parents were not pleased with the council’s decision to table the resolution, with one calling the decision “baffling” and another “an act of cowardice.”
“This is about our children’s futures and well being, and what happened tonight is a farce truly,” said resident and former teacher Vera Sirota, adding “It is shameful to use children across all schools like a political football.”
Sirota said the funding should be given to the public school district because the district lost tax revenue from the pilot, calling it “non-negotiable.”
Said public school district parent Stan Zlotsky, “It’s clear as day that the funds should go 100 percent to the Hoboken Public School District. Anybody who disagrees with that simply has the wrong motivations.”
Giattino said the council will continue to work with stakeholders in committee to find an equitable solution.