Proposed Hoboken high school Will Not Help Students But Will Make Hoboken More Unaffordable

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Dear Editor:

On the January 25 special BOE referendum election VOTE NO because the $330 million sports complex with a high school attached is a boondoggle that will not help students and will make Hoboken more unaffordable for working and middle class residents.

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Despite protests by the BOE, two BOE swimming pools, an ice hockey rink, a rooftop football field, indoor basketball courts, and two covered tennis courts do not improved academics make. Over 50 percent of the proposed structure’s indoor space is comprised of sports facilities either duplicating that which already exists in BOE facilities and Columbus Park (the pool in the current high school, the football field, outdoor basketball courts and three tennis courts at the park) or planned municipal facilities (the Northwest Resiliency Park ice rink).

Boosters of this bad idea may find it unbearable that the less than two year old hockey team (made possible by including children from Weehawken) must travel to Bayonne, but what is truly intolerable is raising rents on tens of thousands of residents so a handful of parents don’t have to schlep to Bayonne every so often. More important than their obsession with sports, boosters of this bad idea don’t want the public asking why the high school class of less than 450 is at an all-time historic low enrollment in a facility built to teach over three times that number (1,506). Of greater weight than even their intentional confusion of a new building with better academics, is yet another question they do not want the public asking – why is each high school grade only 1/3rd of what the entire grade size was when the students began kindergarten together?

The answer is twofold. Just as in many urban areas, Hoboken’s population has a high transient level and second, because the BOE and administration are failing the children. Many people move to Hoboken, live here for a time and move either for work, love, or more space. Many people who do stay in town to raise a family leave when their children are in elementary or middle school, explaining the precipitous drop-off of students as the grades gets higher in the public district schools. A school district’s good academic record is an attraction that pulls families from Hoboken to the suburbs.

Second, the Hoboken Public District School System is not known for academics. Yes, there are amazing students and all should be proud of the scholarships and college bound rates of the current high school senior class, but that does not mean anyone (including the current BOE members, administration, and the bad idea boosters) should overlook the level of math and language arts illiteracy. According to NJ State Department of Education data, the percentage of students in the Hoboken Public District School System rated as proficient in maths and language arts is 8% and 45% respectively.

Boosters of the sports complex may pretend members of the commonsense movement to VOTE NO on January 25th are being offensive by highlighting educational deficiencies, but everyone (regardless of where they stand on the sports complex referendum) should be offended by these numbers. New pedagogic methodologies should be used, teachers should be allowed to experiment with better educational models, and monies should be dedicated to giving Hoboken’s children the support they need. Anything that helps the children in the public district schools increase their literacy and math skills should be on the table; another BOE swimming pool and an ice hockey rink may be fun, but they won’t help raise up 99.9% of the district school students.

Plain and simple, economically this plan will be a disaster. For the working and middle class taxes and rents will go up. Long term property owners, both born and raised residents and those who have been here decades, who are living on fixed incomes and made the choice to put down roots in town before it was the hot spot it is today are pushed out with every cost-of-living increase including taxes. As over 60% of our residents are renters, this means tens of thousands of rents will go up even in rent-controlled apartments (as landlord are allowed to pass on tax increases), pushing more working and middle class residents out of Hoboken.

Boosters of the $330 million sports complex with a school attached like to deflect from the issue, but according to their own numbers the BOE tax levy will have to go up 20% just to pay back the principal and the interest on the $241 million bond they have put on the ballot for January 25. They have not included the added operating costs of the school section of the new building, which can reasonably be assumed to be a minimum of $9 million a year based on operating costs at their current facilities. Nor have they added the operating costs of the majority the proposed facility – the sports complex (which can also be assumed to cost in the millions of dollars per year). This means that at the completion of the construction of the proposed sports complex with a school attached, BOE taxes will likely have to go up another 10%-20%, hitting Hoboken’s working and middle class twice in one decade with double digit BOE tax increases, pushing many of them out and making Hoboken less economically diverse.

A vote yes on this referendum is a vote to bury one’s head in sand about the problems in the Hoboken Public District School System. It is to pretend that most parents do not withdraw their children from the system for better academic options, and for setting back the district by elevating a sports complex over academics. Moreover, a vote yes will further the exodus of working and middle class residents from Hoboken by making it even more unaffordable for the average resident and further shrinking socio-economic diversity. A VOTE NO means the Hoboken BOE is free to return to the drawing board and, unlike during this proposal’s hidden two year development, work with the community on a future proposal that focuses on what education is about – academics.

Helping Hoboken’s students unlock their full educational potential and making Hoboken more equitable must be a priority, VOTE NO on January 25.

Joshua Einstein