As a City Councilman, father, and proud product of public schools, I’m urging everyone to join me in voting YES on next week’s high school referendum.
Why did I vote Yes? Because I believe an outstanding public education is key to our democracy, social equity, and ensuring “Hoboken Born and Raised” does not become a thing of the past.
Since the Board of Ed announced their plans in mid-November (which is when I found out about it) – there’s been a lot of passion on this topic. For me it’s been interesting see some in the Vote No camp twist themselves into logic pretzels as they urge you – FOR THE SAKE OF THE KIDS! – to vote against something those kids desperately need.
Some argue the money would be better spent on the curriculum and improved teachers. I wonder…would those same folks support increased taxes to raise teacher pay? Don’t hold your breath.
Sure, the $241 million price tag came with some sticker shock, but turns out it’s about $500 per square foot – which is the average cost to build a school today. Pointing to prices of schools that were built over a decade ago are not meaningful comparisons. Also, criticizing a 2.2% interest rate (essentially free money if you factor in normal inflation) is laughable – after all, if you were buying a home and were offered a 2.2% loan, you wouldn’t turn that away, you’d jump for joy and start measuring for drapes.
Some argue to “wait and see” – I suppose hoping that the Board of Ed “will come to their senses” and propose a cheaper alternative. Last time I checked, though, you can’t order schools from Ikea, and both the cost of borrowing and building will likely only go up.
But enough of the back and forth, let’s focus on why this is a good choice for Hoboken. Here are my top three positives:
#1. A Proactive Approach (for once). Time and time again we are reactive to the problems that ail us. Flooding didn’t suddenly become a thing after Superstorm Sandy, but it took that catastrophic event for us to get serious about our mitigation efforts. Improvements (e.g., resiliency parks, detainment measures, sea walls) which should have been kicked-off 30 years ago, are only now being implemented meaningfully. This school, on the other hand, is forward-looking, seeking to solve for not only the wave of students making its way through the junior grades, but also the increased expectations for what education looks like in the 21st century.
So, let’s not wait until we have to sacrifice lab space to accommodate the wave coming into the high school. Let’s not wait until we have to bus our middle schoolers out of town to renovate Demarest. Let’s not wait until our elementary kiddos are packed like sardines in classrooms. Let’s enable the Board of Ed to follow through on their three-part plan to modernize our district now.
#2. World Class Facilities to Match World Class Students/Teachers. Did you know that the college acceptance rate for the classes of 2018-2021 is 94%, with last year’s class getting over $17 million in academic scholarships? In fact, last year’s valedictorian was accepted to Yale! Our high school currently offers 23 advance placement courses, participation in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (where one experiment was selected for flight to the International Space Station in the spring!), and a slew of engineering, medical, and vocational training opportunities. All this using outdated facilities.
This new school give our students and teachers the opportunity to match their world class programs with the world class facilities (e.g., science labs, music/theater facilities, bio medical rooms, culinary facilities, collaboration centers, etc.) they deserve. Imagine if the Yankees, Nets, or Rangers played with the same equipment and resources they had in the ‘70s… sure they’d be impressive because of their inherent talent, but they’d be limited. Our student and teachers punch way above their weight with what they have now. Let’s give them the tools they need to continue to grow their successes.
#3. Flood/Parking Mitigation & Community Benefits. The site of the proposed high school doesn’t currently contribute significantly to flood mitigation in the area – whereas the new school will have an estimated 300,000-gallon storm water detainment system included. That’s bigger than the Southwest Resiliency Park. This all amounts to reduced stress on the local sewer system during big rain events and fewer instances of flooding, fewer headaches for residents, and fewer insurance claims to file.
Additionally, the new school will come with about 100 parking spaces for staff – which means 100 cars off the street, and fewer laps for drivers looking for parking. Further, can you imagine being a teacher driving to school and trying to find a parking spot after a snowstorm? Besides eliminating the competition for parking between teachers and neighbors, this will also help the district to attract and retain the best talent.
Finally, all indications are that any future proposals would almost certainly include a multi-use track/field on the roof. That’s just how the physics of the space works out. So, the Board of Ed smartly chose to fill that void underneath with amenities that our community needs and can generate revenue. In Hoboken, we bemoan the lack of a pool, the lack of recreation space, the lack of arts facilities – in one fell swoop many of those needs can be filled. While cynics may say we’ll never get access to the new pool, gym, theater, or rink – I for one take the Board of Ed at their word. The main reason? This space is specifically designed to be shared with the community, with the vast majority of these amenities separated from the main classroom facilities and with a specially-design community entrance. And with respect to the rink – did you know it accounts for less than 1% of the total construction cost, and will very likely be either cost neutral (at worst) or a revenue generator? All this accounts to four seasons worth of recreational facilities for us all to share.
Bonus Reason. Schools SHOULD be Palaces! I’ve heard some commentators argue that this is building a palace not a high school. My answer (besides the fact that the project is in line with today’s average building costs)… why shouldn’t our schools be palaces? We say time and time again, that the way out and up for most of us (myself included) is through education. Yet we continually look for the absolute cheapest way out when it comes to educating our most precious resource.
Of all the things we spend our money on in this country – a military budget larger than the next 10 countries combined, billions of dollars in subsidies for companies that pollute our environment, tax breaks for conglomerates that undermine the wellbeing and safety of their workers – I think gorgeous, modern, amazing public schools are EXACTLY the things we should be investing in. Our schools should be the jewels of our communities. Our students should learn in the finest buildings. Our teachers should have the best resources available. So, let’s set the example for NJ and the country. Our kids are the princes and princesses of Hoboken, let’s build them the palace they deserve.