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Why Hoboken needs a new high school now

Dear Editor:

I am a Hoboken resident and a parent and I would like to offer a perspective on the proposed High school project by addressing some concerns/questions/opinions that are being raised.

My older son is a freshman at Hoboken High School and he will not directly benefit from the new school. My younger son is a fourth grader, so he might. However, regardless of whether or not my child would end up attending the new High school I see this project as something that will benefit our children and our community now and in the future. For that reason I would be supportive in any case.

So, why do we need a new High School? Currently our School District has 3 buildings that are over 100 years old and 2 that are 50+ years old. Two out of the 3 Elementary Schools (Brandt and Connors), as well as ,our Middle school are at full capacity already. All three buildings are lacking in many ways. The Kindergarten program at Wallace is conducted out of a trailer in the back of the school. Another elementary school is lacking a library. The Middle School doesn’t have a normal size gym. The Cafeteria Is not big enough to accommodate all kids so they are forced to have staggered lunch time starting at 10:30 AM. Classrooms are not what one would expect to see in 21st Century America.

Opponents of this project argue that enrollment levels do not justify a new school building and that we have capacity in the existing building. Here are some statistics regarding the enrollment levels. Enrollment for K-5 has increased by 57% over the last 10 years. Freshman class of 2021/22 is 60% larger than the graduating class of 2020/2. 2021 demographic study forecasts 30% increase in enrollment by 2030/31. However, this project is not simply about capacity levels at the High school. Rather, this project is looking to create appropriate capacity at all grade levels by moving existing Middle school to the current High school and then turning the Middle School into additional Elementary school. This project is about creating contemporary educational and recreational space for our children as well as for the Hoboken community at large.

Debate about this project has also turned extremely negative which is disheartening. I have heard statements that basically boil down to “Hoboken school district is horrible and therefore we should not be building a new school”. Even if those comments were true (AND THEY ARE NOT), I do not follow the argument. Is the line of reasoning “our school system is bad so let’s keep it that way”? Are we saying let’s keep the kids in old, outdated buildings and see what happens? Let’s not give teachers tools and classrooms that they need to teach 21st century curriculum and hope for the best”.

While the district has plenty of room for progress, we have seen huge improvements. So, if you don’t like this project for some reason, make a civilized argument against it, go and vote against it, but please do not disparage and deride the progress that the BOE, Dr. Johnson, Hoboken public school teachers and our children have made. It is wrong and unacceptable.

Tax impact and costs are cited as the major reason for challenging the project with 20% tax increase being thrown around. School tax is only a portion of overall property tax, therefore 20% in school tax translates to a smaller increase in property tax. In this scenario overall tax increase would be under 6%. In terms of real dollars, if you own property in Hoboken that is assessed for tax purposes between $600-$800K your taxes will go up between $600-$800 annually. That amounts to $1.60-$2.20 per day, less than what you would spend on a cup of coffee or a pack of gum.

School taxes are NOT paid by residents in the housing authority. I am not sure what the impact (if any) would be on rent-controlled units so potentially there is real concern there which would need to be addressed.

We are buying a Ferrari when all we need is a Honda argument is way off. Average construction cost to build a high school in the US is $500 per square foot.
The proposed cost of the Hoboken High-school is $500 per square foot. The primary driver of HHS construction costs is the building footprint. The construction cost of the ice rink represents less than 1% of the overall construction cost. A similar Ice rink in Hudson County school was able to generate sufficient operating revenue during the pandemic and is an income generator post-COVID.

Calling this project ‘sports complex’ with a few classrooms attached might sound cute but it does not invalidate this project. We live in a town that has experienced significant growth over the past 20 years. Recreational facilities that enable our kids and teenagers to engage in sports, play and physical activities are sorely lacking. Is it so terrible that we are trying to create amenities that are considered standard in suburban schools?

Accusation that BOE and the Superintendent are somehow running non-transparent process with sinister motifs couldn’t be further from the truth. BOD did their job and envisioned a project that they believe is right for our community. They have announced the proposal, held a number of public meetings and made all project-related information readily available. They are putting in front of the voters the proposal as a very specific, well-defined project, as a single issue referendum question. The intent was for the project to be considered on its own merits and avoid having the issue co-opted and abused by special interest groups or political factions. The proverb “road to hell is paved with good intentions” comes to mind in this case…….

Some opponents of this project claim that they are not opposed to getting a new High school, they just don’t think this is the right project. Asking for time to tweak the process and use more collaborative approach is stalling tactic that will probably kill the project outright. The last HHS proposal considered was in 2004 and for past 18 years nobody has made serious effort or any progress on this matter. Cost of financing is currently at 2.2% over 30 years. Delay in the timeline means that potentially a whole another generation of kids will go through the school system with subpar facilities.

Killing this project at the time when interest rates are rising and the inflationary pressures are high will simply result in significant wait for even more expensive alternative. We can’t afford this, our children can’t afford this.

Please vote YES on January 25th.

Rastko Tomin

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