After the resounding ‘No’… it’s time to talk

Hoboken officials and residents are open to discussions of future plans after the referendum was rejected. Photo by Mark Koosau.

A months-long and contentious saga leading up to a referendum on whether to create a $241 million high school in Hoboken ended in the project being rejected by voters on Jan. 25, shutting down what was seen as an ambitious plan to create a four-story school with athletic and arts facilities.

According to unofficial results by the Hudson County Clerk’s office, the “no” votes prevailed at a 2-to-1 margin, with 5,401 votes compared to the “yes” votes of 2,847.

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The city’s Board of Education now needs to wait one calendar year before holding another vote. In the meantime, officials and resident groups say they’re open to discussions on crafting a future plan for the school district.

“We believe that local, long-term investment, which includes community involvement, in our education system, is important and necessary, and we look forward to discussing our plans moving forward,” said the Board of Education in a statement after conceding the election.

Since last November, the board had pitched the project as a way to fit the needs of a growing population in the city, citing significant enrollment growth in the lower grades recently as evidence that a bigger school would be needed.

But since the board began hosting public meetings on the project, a number of residents had criticized them the process by which it was presented. One particular point was a lack of transparency, because the plan had only been announced a few weeks after the school board election and was only up for discussion for two months before a referendum vote in the middle of winter. The referendum vote drew a voter turnout of around 17 percent.

According to a report by Hudson County View, the Board of Education submitted a project application in 2019 to the New Jersey Department of Education, which they approved on Aug. 4, 2021. The board then submitted their summary cost estimate on Nov. 3, the day after Election Day when three trustees won reelection.

“We will continue to reinforce that our aim is to create an equitable educational experience, with minimal financial impact, including shielding residents in the HHA or in PILOT’d properties from the impact altogether,” said the board. “We also want to reassure our pre-K population that this, or any project like it, would not threaten the free pre/k program.”

The Hoboken Board of Education said that they are looking forward “to discussing our plans moving forward.” Photo by Mark Koosau.

City officials have said they’re open for future discussions on a new plan. Mayor Ravi Rhalla, who supported the project, said that it is his hope “that stakeholders will work on a revised plan collaboratively, that will meet the needs of our growing school population, and reflect resident feedback.”

Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, who opposed the project, also said that she hopes that “we can work together as a community and support the BOE on an amazing plan we can all get behind next year.”

Jerome Abernathy, the president of the Hoboken Public Library Board of Trustees who lead a group of residents opposed to the plan, had mixed feelings after the election, saying that while they did accomplish their goal, he also believes that the district has issues that need to be solved.

“We do take to heart that their proposal was two years in the making, where people spent countless hours and dedicated their lives to crafting it, where they spent the million dollars on architects and other fees,” said Abernathy. “So we don’t take lightly the idea that we took their efforts and said they’re unacceptable. That’s not a good outcome for anyone”

He followed up by saying that that people should come together to collectively address a shortage of space in the elementary and middle schools, but that the proposal from the board was not the answer.

Pavel Sokolov, the secretary of the Hoboken Republicans and chairman of the Hudson County Young Republicans who also organized efforts opposing the referendum, said that after being “very proud” of their get-out-the-vote effort, he believes a bond proposal should be passed and that he does support addressing enrollment capacity issues in the school district.

“Now it’s time to work together with the Board of Education, the City Council, and the residents of our community to come together and craft a proposal that reflects our community’s values and needs together,” he said.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mark Koosau can be reached at mkoosau@hudsonreporter.com or his Twitter @snivyTsutarja.