The Hoboken Board of Education held its third community meeting on the $ 241 million school referendum on January 25, during which officials occupied several different stations to answer individual questions.
By Daniel Ulloa / Hudson County View
The architects of the proposed plan were on hand, along with the bond attorney and other school officials, to answer questions.
“This plan has been appropriately developed and approved by the NJ Department of Education,” said Melanie Tekirian, Hoboken school counselor.
Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Christine Johnson, explained that the population of the younger classes is growing so rapidly that they need space to accommodate them.
“There have been conversations about enrolling our school district for a number of years. And that conversation was originally centered on the preschool population and the first elementary school population, ”Johnson said.
She said those grades have been increasing rapidly since 2015, noting that Mile Square City now has 70 preschool classes, as well as elementary schools currently do not have enough space for art classes.
“Because of this growth and the projected growth that we were potentially looking at, we started exploring a plethora of options,” Johnson said, adding that the district was looking for different rental properties in Hoboken for preschool classroom space.
“We realized that there weren’t a lot of rental space opportunities in Hoboken. None of these spaces provided us with enough opportunities to move as many classes as we needed. None of these spaces were in a price per square foot range that was even feasible for us at the time. For years, there has been talk of building a new high school.
Earlier this week, HCV exclusively reported on a detailed cost breakdown of the plan, which included other information from the New Jersey Department of Education, such as student enrollment and projections.
According to an Aug. 4 letter from Johnson to the NJ DOE, the district at the time only had 26 pre-K students enrolled, with projections for the 2025-2026 school year seeing that number ballooning to 820.
The superintendent also explained why the referendum was held on January 25, with many opposing the project, previously saying it was intended to stifle voter turnout.
“There was no approval needed for the November elections. He was reportedly ready for the November and December special elections, but that was pushed back following a county-level clerical error.
Johnson described the concept as “holistic,” with elements of professional and technical preparation that include professional programs, as well as a swimming pool, two gymnasiums, an ice rink and many different science labs that she says are part of the program. state studies.
There will also be an engineering lab, a biomedical science lab for an existing program, computer labs, TV and film production, a small cafe for the culinary arts program, among others.
“There’s a community hall in the community section that’s going to be functioning, uh uh in the area of community learning. Classes for seniors and adults will be held there, ”Johnson continued.
There will also be a “Teen Center” so that students have a place to go when school is not in session.
“We love the idea of being able to bring our Girl Scouts back to school buildings,” she added.
Johnson further said may may also be offering yoga programs to the public, acknowledging some public controversy over the equipment.
“The purpose of this building is to create equity at all levels for all students. There’s $ 60 million in contingencies to deal with any potential escalation in costs, any inflation. If these contingencies are not used, they cannot be kept by the board of directors. They cannot be reinstated in the budget of the board of directors. They have to go back to the taxpayers.
A woman in the audience asked if there would be an opportunity at a forum to ask questions.
“These are information meetings. These are not hearings, and neither are they education council meetings. So you can absolutely make public comments, whatever you want at our education board meetings, ”she said.
“As a school board, we collectively decided that these would be information sessions. These are not hearings.
Several people in the audience were unhappy with his response.
“We are not a city council, so there are no public hearings… None of your comments will be taken lightly. That’s for sure.”
The most recent forum on December 21 had an open-ended question and answer session where a good chunk of the crowd was against the project.
A few people came to the meeting with placards advising to “vote no” against the referendum.
“I think it’s excruciating that they introduced this over the holidays, after Thanksgiving, when they actually submitted plans for it to the state in April. So they had ample opportunity to tell the public that they wanted to do it. They don’t want to hear from the public, ”said Donna Antenucci.
“In Hoboken under Mayor Dawn Zimmer, we have a process in place to hold hearings and consider public comments. “
The referendum would result in an annual tax increase of about $ 496 per household and if defeated, council would have to wait a year before presenting an amended plan.
The next Education Council meeting will be held on January 12 at Demarest School, 158 4th Street, at 7 p.m.