A resolution providing millions to a new school in SciTech Scity was the center of controversy at a six-hour-long Jersey City Council meeting last week.
Residents, teachers, students, and elected officials weighed in on the proposed new countywide high school as well as the financial difficulties of the historically underfunded Jersey City Public School District.
While some argued that the new STEM school would give families more options, others said the funds could be put to more use in the district, as the district continues to face millions in state aid cuts.
Specifically, over the next three years, the district projects it will lose approximately $230 million.
Specifically, the resolution permits the city to enter a Memorandum of Understanding to provide $2 million annually to finance some of the Liberty Science Center High School’s operating costs for the next 30 years.
Last week, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, the Board of Hudson County Schools of Technology, and Liberty Science Center signed the formal MOU Memorandum to begin construction of the school.
Under the MOU, the Hudson County Improvement Authority (HCIA) will manage the project and coordinate with the Hudson County Schools of Technology (HCST), the operating authority for the public county magnet high school.
Liberty Science Center High School will be built next to Liberty Science Center on 12.5 acres of land already donated by Jersey City in what will be SciTech Scity, a campus for innovation and technology set to break ground this year.
According to the city, it will offer skill-centric science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) classes for 400 science-talented high school students.
It will also leverage a work education program around the 200 technology startup companies and entrepreneurs that will call SciTech Scity home once completed.
Some council meeting attendees commended the public-private partnership which would create the new school noting that local youth need more high school options.
“It will be a great addition and option for Jersey City residents,” said Vidya Gangadin who urged the council to approve the resolution.
“Education is the key to unlocking life’s many possibilities,” said parent Jackie Cox. “It’s estimated that 65 percent of elementary-age children will work in jobs that don’t exist today. So as parents, we need options for good public schools that will ready our children not for today but for the advanced world of tomorrow.”
Others noted that the Jersey City Public School District, which serves roughly 30,000 students, needed the city’s financial support more.
“We gave the land,” said Jackie Shannon. “Someone else can find the funding…We should reroute the funds to the Jersey City Public Schools and fund all the students of this city, not just the ones that get into a selective high school.”
Students at McNair Academic High School urged the council to instead put the money towards district students.
“The mere creation of this resolution is an insult to Jersey City students,” said Jai Jhaveri. “That kind of funding could mean getting to take a properly bound textbook home, getting a functioning locker, or getting to take a field trip we are not tirelessly fundraising for.”
McNair Junior Sambhabi Bose said she and four other students in her algebra class have to share a science textbook, which is missing its cover and several pages. She noted that her freshman year, almost half of her teachers were laid off and she hasn’t taken a field trip since the eighth grade.
“With $2 million extra we could have computers where the majority of the keys aren’t falling apart or textbooks that we don’t need to hold certain way so the pages don’t fall out,” she said.
McNair student Rosaly Santos spoke about the aging facilities noting that the school basement, where her locker was located, routinely floods when it rains and unfortunately, that means water bugs in student’s notebooks and backpacks.
“With $2 million, my school could fix the piping,” said Santos. “At the very least, they can get an exterminator, so I don’t have to bring home water bugs.”
Board of Education Trustees Alexander Hamilton, Gina Verdibello, and Lorenzo Richardson spoke against the resolution calling for the city to help fund the district.
“I am sick and tired of the city scapegoating the board of education and abdicating their responsibility to the children of Jersey City,” said BOE President Mussab Ali. “I want you to consider the message that you’re sending if you vote on this item. You are saying the county schools deserve additional money from the Jersey City taxpayers while the local schools do not.”
Mayor Steven Fulop said the city is helping the district through shared services and water infrastructure upgrades at school buildings but “what I’m not willing to do is write a blank check.”
He said every municipality would pay for the county school noting that Jersey City would pay a little more as Jersey City students consistently make up about 60 percent of the county’s school’s student bodies.
He said as such, about 240 out of the 400 students at the new school would be from Jersey City.
Ultimately the council adopted the resolution approving the MOU with a 6-1-2 vote.
Councilman At-large Daniel Rivera abstained because he works for High Tech High School.
Councilman At- large Rolando Lavarro and Ward E Councilman James Solomon voted against the measure after first motioning to differ the resolution, which failed.