New Hoboken High School: a solution in search of a problem


Dear Editor:

The endeavour to build a sports center with a new high school attached in Hoboken is a solution in search of a problem. Supporters of this bad idea, Hoboken Board of Education Trustees and “Team Bhalla,” have been in behind-the-scenes conversation with each other and in official communication with the state Department of Education for months. They have only deigned to let the public in on their massive spending program in the last few weeks. Their plan was to take advantage of the holiday season to push propaganda during the statutory public meeting period and claim, what they believed to be, an easy victory.

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Like their much noted problems with basic mathematics (see, their supposition that public opposition would be muted due to the holiday season has been proven wrong. In fact, they created more public opposition than otherwise might have been by engaging in the opaque politics of closed door conversations rather than public consultations. Yet more important to note is that Team Bhalla and the bad idea boosters foisting the hundreds of millions of dollars sports center with a high school attached on the Hoboken taxpayer and renter, don’t have a reason why.

While boosters of this bad idea have no reason why Hoboken should spend $330 million to build a sports complex with a new high school attached, they do have a long list of alleged justifications for their misadventure. They assert new excuses one after another as each is shot down with their own, and state Department of Education, data. If one doesn’t cherry pick stats, there is no “historic” upswell in enrollment. The current high school is old and outdated they claim but is perfect for a middle school with some updates they also state (and with no sense of irony). It matters not to them that the current high school student body is below 450 and the current middle school is below 400. Nor are they phased by the fact that as more make permanent remote work, the pull of living in Hoboken has receded and more families than ever want greater space just in case a Covid occurs again. Indeed, they seem to be immune from the demographic fact that urban areas generally pull in young and that most of those formerly younger people leave to grow families amid more space.

Rather than articulate a problem that needs addressing (such as the low SAT numbers or the score levels in literacy and maths) and proffer potential solutions, the Bhalla Team and the bad idea boosters imply that a wasteful spending project will make the Hoboken Public District School System “too big to fail.” Yet fail it will, not because the students don’t deserve a topflight education, but because new construction is not a replacement for effective education and good pedagogy. Mayor Bhalla, the biggest bad idea booster of this boondoggle has stated that it will be “transformative,” that it will be “paving the way for an improved educational experience”, and that it will “increase property values in our city, providing a win-win for all of our residents.” But an ice rink is not a substitute for empowering educators on the front lines to teach children how they need to be taught. Another swimming pool (in addition to the one at the current high school), will not make more buoyant the SAT scores. Two covered (rather than the 3 current uncovered) tennis courts and a community room will not uplift the students’ futures; rather good teachers experimenting in every method to reach and uplift their pupils (and supported by the community) will. Nor is raising property values a universally good thing, as it comes with raised taxes and rents which push more of the middle class (the very people who might keep their children in the district public schools longer) out of town.

From the Board of Education Trustees to Team Bhalla, the bad idea boosters have failed to say what need their sports complex with a high school attached is filling. When confronted with the fallacy of their propaganda that there is a massive increase in enrollment, they switch to telling the public that despite the consistent lack of growth over decades and decades they believe in a “Field of Dreams” type solution to a problem does not exist – that if they build it, they will come. By engaging in a fiction-like flight of fancy with taxpayer money, they ignore the actual problem – that they are failing too many of the students currently in the middle and high schools. Only when that result is arrested and reversed will more families consider sending their kids up through the grades in Hoboken, only then will the Hoboken middle and high schools actually grow in enrollment.

Joshua Sotomayor Einstein