Proposed New High School

If you haven’t already heard, Hoboken has an important election coming up on January 25th

On that day we will be voting on a potential new Hoboken High School to be built for $241,050,000.  The Board of Education is hosting five community meetings beginning tonight (12/14) so you can learn about the proposed new school, can get answers to any questions you may have and provide a forum for collecting feedback.  
The meeting schedule is as follows beginning tonight (12/14).
  • Tuesday, 12/14 – 7pm in person at Demarest School, corner of 4th and Garden
  • Tuesday, 12/21 – 7pm in person at Hoboken High School, 800 Clinton
  • Thursday, 1/6 – 7pm in person at Hoboken High School, 800 Clinton
  • Thursday, 1/13 – 7pm Virtual, VIA Zoom (details to follow)
  • Monday, 1/17 – 7pm in person at Hoboken High School, 800 Clinton
I plan to send out a thorough email on the proposed high school after attending tonight’s meeting.  I have had the opportunity to meet with the Board of Education two weeks ago to see and review their presentation on the proposed high school.  I will shed a little light below on one area for now.
At tonight’s meeting, the Board of Ed will be voting on the following language for the ballot question:
The Board of Education of the City of Hoboken in the County of Hudson, New Jersey is authorized (a) to construct a new Hoboken High School at the John F. Kennedy Stadium site, including acquisition and installation of fixtures, furniture, equipment and any site work; and (b) to appropriate $241,050,000, and to issue bonds in an amount not to exceed $241,050,000.
The final eligible costs for the projects approved by the New Jersey Commissioner of Education are $0. The project includes $241,050,000 for school facility construction elements in addition to the facilities efficiency standards developed by the Commissioner of Education or not otherwise eligible for State support pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:7G-5(g). The State debt service aid percentage will equal 0.0% of the annual debt service due with respect to the final eligible costs of the projects financed with bonds.
Do you approve Bond Proposal Question?
Once approved, this starts the process for populating the Vote By Mail Ballots which are expected to be sent out as early as next week.
One issue I want to touch on and share my views before people go into these meetings that I think is important is the question of enrollment and capacity.  I have been watching and in some cases participating in many of the online discussions about the proposed high school and this topic specifically.  Some numbers for you (source: NJ Department of Education website):  
  • In the 2011-2012 school year, total K-12 enrollment in the public schools – both district and charter schools – was approximately 2,400 kids.
  • In the 2020-2021 school year the same enrollment was approximately 3,200 kids. 
That's 800 more kids or roughly a 33% increase in ten years.  In that same time frame, Hoboken’s population grew by 10,000 or 20%, from 50,000 to 60,000.  These are crazy high growth rates that school systems and local governments struggle with.
Where exactly was the growth in more detail using the same time frame?:
  • District Schools (all approximates):
    • K-12th – 2,200 vs. 1,700 or 500 kids, 30% growth
    • K-2nd – 830 vs. 430 or 400 kids, 91% growth
    • 3rd-5th – 500 vs. 370 or 130 kids, 33% growth
    • Middle School – 360 vs. 320 or 40 kids, 13% growth
    • High School – 420 vs. 500 or (-80) kids, 17% decline
  • Charter Schools – 980 vs. 720 or 260 kids, 37% growth due most to the timing of the opening and growth of HoLa
    • K-5th – 590 vs. 480 or 110 kids, 23% growth
Almost all of the growth is in the lower grades which makes sense.  People having kids, staying longer and growing into our schools. 500 more kids in elementary school means we need about 25 more elementary school classrooms… a whole school’s worth.
So why a new high school then? Especially when high school enrollment has declined.  This is as much about musical chairs and getting a new elementary school as it is about a new high school to meet the perceived enrollment wave growing within our schools.  The decisions are linked.
Demarest currently serves as our middle school without many of the amenities that a middle school should have.  It is over 100 years old and qualified and has been awarded an approximate $30M state level grant to upgrade and renovate school and reposition it as a fourth elementary school.  One problem, its fully occupied with middle school kids.
So instead of using tax payer dollars to build a new elementary school and keep the dated buildings for middle and high school, the BOE decided to build a new state of the art High School, with better amenities including community benefits, and with this investment, they get a new middle school (the existing high school), and a new elementary school adding capacity where it is most immediately needed. 
What is driving the growth in Hoboken's school population?  The 2010 financial crisis.  In that year, many young parents with 3 yr olds who often moved out of Hoboken, had to stay due to the collapse of the housing market.  They tried Hoboken’s free preK-3 and liked it.  Stayed another year and liked the preK-4. They developed a community of friends around their children and made the commitment to our public schools and because of this and the great educational experience their children have had, they have led the wave that is currently flowing through our schools.  Those 2010 preK 3 year olds are in this years Freshman class, which we are told has approximately 150 students in it, an almost 50% increase in one year.   And  this is the head of the enrollment wave that is filtering through the schools. 
Are all the families staying?  No.  Each year some are still leaving the community which many attribute to lack of large enough sized homes in Hoboken.  Especially over the last two years due to COVID where many people moved to the suburbs for more space and less density.  But when they leave Hoboken, the people who buy their homes have small children that enter the schools and support that big growth in the lower grades.
Overall, more are staying than ever before.  Additionally, the potential growth in High School kids due to the added residential development planned for Hoboken combined with the many other schools that end at eighth grade - charter, private and parochial - puts added pressure to build a new school now.
So if an enrollment wave is coming, and I will show you this information in more detail in my next newsletter, when do you build a new school?  When it is too late?  Or when you have enough time to prepare for it.
There are many issues that need to be addressed with this $241 million new High School.  The cost being one of the biggest ones - not only the cost to build, but the cost to operate and maintain this added school.  No one should be making a decision yet on the proposed high school - whether for or against - until they have seen all the information.  But everyone should take the time to learn about the proposal so you are ready to vote in January.  
My current view is I am positively predisposed to the idea based purely on the enrollment argument.  But as a City Council representative who has concerns about affordability, taxes and displacement pressure from rising property values, I feel there are still many unanswered questions that need to be asked and addressed. 
But I will be there tonight to learn more and I hope you will particpate in at least one of the public meetings so you can too. 

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