Hoboken Uses Fake Numbers To Push for a High School Palace

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Dear Editor:

How can we trust Hoboken Schools Superintendent Christine Johnson to build a high school costing a third of a billion dollars (including interest) when she can’t do basic percentages?

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The 10-page brochure posted on the district’s website makes the case for this gold-plated school — by using completely phony numbers. Some examples:

–It says Hoboken’s Pre-K through 12th grade enrollment has increased 127% in the last 10 years. The actual number appears to be just 15%, but Johnson doesn’t give the actual numbers or tell us which years the bars on the graph represent. And, of course, if you change the base year to one in the late 90s or mid-00s, enrollment is flat.

–It says Hoboken’s Pre-K through 5th grade enrollment has jumped 154% in the last 10 years. The actual number also appears to be just 15%. Johnson again doesn’t give the real numbers or tell us which years the bars represent.

–It says Hoboken’s population has grown 180% since 1990. The true number: 81% (33,397 to 60,419).

Why can’t Johnson get the numbers right? (And why is the brochure so sloppy, with typos and mislabeled years?) Perhaps her F in math is not surprising, given that only 8% of Hoboken High students were proficient in math for their grade the last time the state test was given. (Statewide average: 44.5%)

And why is she muddying the waters by combining Pre-K and K-12 students in these numbers? The brochure says the greatest need is for Pre-K space. That may be true, but then why is she planning to build a high school?

In any event, the state fully funds the annual $16 million Pre-K program; the district does not need to provide a district building for these children. They can be housed in private Pre-K schools or other private buildings, and many already are. What’s more, the Pre-K enrollment is stagnant, falling from 899 in 2018-19 to 870 the next year, then rising to 917 last year and now falling to 865 this year (that last number comes from the referendum brochure). May 2020 Pre-K projection for 2020-21: 1,050. Actual number: 917, or 133 fewer.

The public-school district has a long history of overestimating enrollment numbers. In most years since I moved to Hoboken in 2001, the budget document has generously overestimated the expected enrollment for the next year. In the spring of 2020, for instance, it projected 294 more K-12 students to sign up for the 2020-21 school year than did. Enrollment actually fell by 19 students. In 2019 it said it expected 972 Pre-K children for 2019-20; the official census that October counted 870, some 29 fewer than the year before.

It would be reckless for Hoboken to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars to this superintendent. She’s proven herself incompetent. Vote No in the referendum Jan. 25.

(Maureen Sullivan was a Hoboken school board member from 2009 to 2013.)

Maureen Sullivan