Voting starts today and I have decided to share my current thoughts the proposed New High School.
Vote By Mail ballots were sent yesterday for the upcoming referendum vote on January 25th for the proposed $241 million New High School ($330 million with financing costs). So if you have requested a VBM ballot, it should be hitting your mailboxes today or tomorrow. Let me know if you got yours.
Several of you have asked me where I stand on this – which makes me feel like I did the job I wanted to originally do to provide as much information as possible to as many people as possible in an unbiased a way possible. Where I will always stand is for the best education for Hoboken's children.
Because of how and how little information on the project has been disseminated since the start, and because we were not afforded an opportunity to debate what is arguably the most expensive taxpayer funded investment in Hoboken’s history at $330 million, I felt it important to continue to the discussion and share information including my thoughts on the project as of today:
I am not a yes vote on the New High School as currently proposed. I think the proposal is a Ferrari when maybe all we need is a Honda (or something in between) and would like to know if there is a different proposal that is a better fit (more affordable but still amazing) and determined based upon a process that is more transparent and involves input from many public stakeholders, not just a small few. #morevoicesarebetter
I actually support the need for a new High School, but my current view is a “not this / not yet / no on this proposal, and please try again”. The BOE gave us this path by saying if this proposal is not approved, they would bring another proposal back in a year. Let’s take them up on that offer.
As an informed taxpayer, although I strongly believe the enrollment wave justifies expanded facilities, I am not confident that the Ferrari version of a school costing taxpayers $330 million is what is best for Hoboken without knowing if there is another alternative that could cost less and be a better fit. As someone said to me yesterday that resonated, we would all love to drive a new Ferrari… but maybe all we really need is a new Honda (or Subaru, Jeep, BMW or any other less expensive car than a Ferrari). Ferraris only seat two, have a lot of nice-to-haves, cost a fortune to drive and maintain and often sit idle in a garage. Hondas come in all sizes, have everything you need to drive, can come with plenty of bells and whistles, are priced more affordably to buy and maintain, and are used all the time.
And importantly, if you get to buy a new car using other people’s money, shouldn’t you have to explain why you need to spend so much to everyone you are borrowing the money from, not just those who will get to ride in it (which in this case are about 10% of Hoboken residents and taxpayers)?
The following are questions that reflect a lot of input from many of you. Depending on the answers, maybe this will help me get to yes now. More likely, answers will help me get to a yes next time if the current proposal is voted down. I hope you find them helpful as you consider your own vote:
- What does the detailed $330 million budget include (there is some confusion)?
- What other alternatives were given serious consideration? For example, could the current Hoboken High School be upgraded at a lower cost? Could land be purchased for a new elementary or middle school? Could existing schools be expanded or upgraded? By comparison, Waldwick NJ just approved a referendum for $30 million in November that included transformative upgrades to its high school.
- What high schools are we looking to as models/benchmarks? What features/amenities do they have and what are their class sizes?
- Are the added amenities necessary including the 2nd theatre and hockey rink (both 2 stories) and the 2nd basketball court and wellness center and therapy rooms?
- Can there be a configuration with a smaller and less costly footprint without these spaces that would provide even more classroom space? Maybe ditch the classroom tower and keep all within field footprint? Have some classrooms face Columbus Park for windows in addition to Jefferson St.? Shift away from the park to preserve the much-used public tennis court and basketball court and lessen the shadow and traffic impact on the park?
- Was the hockey rink a need to have / design constraint given how much contiguous square footage it occupies? How much of the total cost to build the rink is attributable to the rink including the cost of building the large, column free structure necessary to house it?
- Why are there no vocational technology programming spaces - like metal shop, wood working and mechanics?
- How much will it cost incrementally, annually to maintain some of the more specialized spaces like the rink and the 2nd theatre – e.g. utilities, technology, experienced staffing, future replacements / upgrades?
- What is the cost justification for two theatres keeping in mind that Hoboken will also still have the big auditorium at the current Hoboken High School?
- What are the future projected costs of operating the new high school? How much of each of these are expected to be funding sources– enrollment, rental revenues, taxpayers?
- Who was included in designing this new high school and determining what was needed?
- How exactly will the community benefit areas work? What will the hours of availability be for each space and how much time will the public have access? What is the total cost of these community benefit areas?
I am also concerned about affordability in Hoboken that impacts people of all income levels and backgrounds. I feel strongly that it is the fiduciary responsibility of all elected officials to find the most cost-effective uses of taxpayer dollars. And it doesn’t feel like that is the case here with a Ferrari version of a high school being put forward without giving voters consideration for other alternatives and hearing from more people who will be paying the bill.
With this 20% school tax increase on top of inflationary pressures we are seeing in everyday costs, we are effectively pushing people out of town, many who have lived here their entire lives. The City’s budget may also contribute to this with all six union contracts expected to have large, four+ year catch up salary increases hitting this year. Shouldn’t we and can’t we do more to see if less of a tax burden can still deliver a great outcome?
I will conclude by saying that I fully support a new school and if I were investing $1 into a new building in our Hoboken District Schools, I would invest in a new high school - not a new elementary school. The enrollment wave is real. But for me to get comfortable having taxpayers foot a third of a billion dollar bill, increasing school taxes by 20%, and your overall tax bill by almost 6% for the next 30 years I would want a full public discussion including what alternatives there are and make sure that the new school addresses the diverse needs of our entire community including affordability.
I just don’t think we can accomplish this before January 25th. We take longer and collect more public input to choose new playground equipment in Hoboken. I would like to see the BOE amend this proposal and bring back a new version ASAP that is more affordable and a better fit for Hoboken but still provides the best backdrop for our Hoboken students to succeed academically.
This is a low turnout and low information election over holidays amidst a pandemic which favors a yes vote. Please make sure you vote - whether by VBM or at the polls on January 25th. And if you choose to withhold your vote in protest, please just know the implications (usually the opposite of what you want). Your vote (or lack thereof) will never matter more than this election.