A strong, thriving and high-performing school district is critical to our vision for Hoboken as a place we can call home for the long-term. Great schools have benefits not only for the children and students they serve, but for all residents, as they add to our quality of our community life and can have a positive impact on property values citywide. Hoboken has four (4) distinct public school districts: the traditional public school district, referred to as the Hoboken Public Schools, which services children and students from K-12th grades, and three charter schools: Elysian Charter School, Hoboken Charter School, and HoLa Dual Language Charter School. The Hoboken Public Schools system is led by a Superintendent of Schools and overseen by Hoboken’s Board of Education, who are elected officials serving three (3) year terms. The charter schools are largely publicly funded but operated by private governing boards. The Hoboken Public Schools also administer the Early Childhood Education Program, which consists of Pre-K3 and Pre-K4.
The Mayor and City Council do not have any direct authority to make operational, funding, personnel or other decisions related to public school districts in Hoboken, which are each run by their own governing structures as described above. Notwithstanding this important fact, there are many ways in which the Mayor and City Council can collaborate with and support the efforts of the public schools to ensure they achieve their goals of providing a high-quality, public education to Hoboken’s students.
Team Bhalla – A Track Record of Commitment to Public Education
The candidates on Team Bhalla, in their individual ways, have a demonstrated commitment to the public schools. Councilman Ravi Bhalla is a product of the public schools in New Jersey, and he has been a longtime supporter of Hoboken’s school districts and many of the candidates who have gone on to serve as School Board Trustees and contribute to the great progress he has personally witnessed in the public schools. Ravi has two school-aged children who have attended and thrived in both the Hoboken Public Schools, specifically Brandt School and Wallace School, and one of our charter schools, Elysian Charter School. Ravi has also been an active supporter of the successful efforts of the Hoboken Public Education Foundation to support and supplement the Hoboken Public Schools.
Jim Doyle and his wife, Leah Healey, have been long time supporters, in many ways, of the Hoboken Public Schools, including campaigning for Board of Education candidates who have significantly improved the quality of education in our district. Emily Jabbour is a “Brandt Mom” and a regular volunteer at Brandt School, where her older daughter is attending kindergarten. Emily has also served as the HOPES Liaison for the Brandt Parents Consortium. John Allen’s first foray into electoral politics was when he first ran for school board at the age of 20 and was elected to the Old Bridge Board of Education, and he went on to serve as Board President. Today, John focuses his law practice on education law, representing local school boards across the State of New Jersey, and his knowledge and experience will undoubtedly be an asset as a councilman.
When it comes to public education, all the members of Team Bhalla have skin in the game and a dedicated track record of supporting public schools.
Proposals for Areas of Support and Collaboration between the City & School District
Private Investment in Schools through Redevelopment Process
As our school-aged population continues to grow in numbers, there is increased pressure on our “school infrastructure,” which includes the multiple demands on our school district to accommodate a growing school population and provide an increasingly quality education. Often times, increases in the school population are directly connected to decisions made by the Mayor and City Council on development. For example, the Hudson Railyards Redevelopment Plan and the Southwest Redevelopment Plan will permit a combined increase of 975 units of residential development, all clustered in the southwest portion of Hoboken. Needless to say, the full implementation of both of those plans will, years from now, add to the school aged population. Long-term thinking and planning is necessary to ensure that further development does not adversely impact public education in Hoboken.
With this in mind, as Mayor, Ravi will advocate that residential development is conducted in a manner whereby developers also contribute to the investments in infrastructure required to accommodate increases in the school population created by residential development. The City will explore appropriate mechanisms by which redevelopers can invest in upgrades to our school infrastructure. As explained in a recent Op-ed piece by Councilman Bhalla on mass transit infrastructure, Ravi believes that developers should contribute their fair share of infrastructure investments necessitated by further growth. Such investments should be focused on the middle to upper grades, where parents and students have demonstrated a longstanding commitment to the Hoboken Public Schools.
To this end, as Mayor, Ravi will work closely with the Superintendent and School Board Trustees to identify appropriate ways in which the City can assure that in negotiations of redevelopment agreements our schools are not left holding the bag – an empty bag. For example, in July 2016, Ravi proposed a Resolution expressing the intent of the City Council and Mayor to ensure that the Hoboken School District is not deprived of any tax revenue it would have otherwise received in connection with the PILOT agreements for a development at 7th Street & Jackson Street. As Mayor, Ravi will continue to ensure that tax abatements do not deprive the school district of tax revenue necessary to accommodate the impact of development on our public schools.
Supporting Early Childhood Education
Hoboken’s Early Childhood Education program, a state-funded program for pre-K 3 and pre-K 4 students, has been an outstanding success. The challenge faced by our school district is that, because the program is so popular and there is a growing number of children in this age range, there are consistently waiting lists for admission into the Early Childhood Education Program. The limited school space and state-funding to accommodate the high demand for participation in this program creates a real challenge to our parents and our school district.
Team Bhalla proposes the following solution to help with this problem. A significant factor that distinguishes this program from the regular K-12th grade school program is that there is no requirement that the Early Childhood Education Program be conducted exclusively in the Hoboken Public Schools’ facilities as there is in the K-12th grade. This creates an opportunity for the City to support this program by determining if any suitable space exists in City facilities that could be re-purposed as classrooms, and consider the need for more classrooms in the planning process for new City facilities. Shared-services agreements could be entered into through which the City would make such space in City-owned facilities available at a reasonable rate to accommodate the space demands for the program, which would also free up space in existing facilities for classroom space for higher grades.
One good example of where additional space may be possible in the future is within the parameters of the Hudson Railyards Redevelopment Agreement, which requires the designated redeveloper to construct 23,000 square feet of space for a public use. This public space is designated to be located in close proximity to the Hoboken Terminal and PATH station. If appropriate, a portion of this public space can be allocated towards classroom space for our expanding Early Childhood Education Program, providing a convenient location for parents to drop off their children to school before commuting into work. Such a shift would in turn create more space for our growing elementary school population.
As Mayor, Ravi is committed to early childhood education, and he will work with Hoboken Public Schools to provide the facilities necessary to help ensure that every child in Hoboken has the benefit of an early childhood education.
Exploring a New High School
There has been some discussion about the development of a new high school and where it may be located, or the renovation of our existing high school. On this topic as with other public school-related topics, Team Bhalla is cognizant of the limitations of the Mayor and City Council vis-à-vis our Superintendent and Board of Education in such a process. It is the function of the Superintendent and Board of Education, not the Mayor and City Council, to make policy decisions and implement this type of project, if the School Board so chooses. With this in mind, Team Bhalla, as Mayor and Council Members, would accord appropriate deference and support to the leadership of our school district in its efforts regarding the development of a new high school or the renovation of our current one.
Supporting all schools
Charter Schools are in integral part of the overall public education school system in Hoboken because they provide distinct approaches to education. Team Bhalla supports the entire school aged population, including the Hoboken Public Schools, charter schools and private schools, and is committed to collaborating on various projects, events and recreation activities.
City Council Subcommittee on Education
In order to establish a meaningful dialogue with the public schools, City Council candidates Doyle, Jabbour and Allen would advocate for the creation of an ad hoc Subcommittee of the City Council focused exclusively on identifying means in which city government can support the efforts of the school districts to reach their goals of academic success. This subcommittee can serve as an important platform for the City Council and Mayor to maintain regular dialogue with the Superintendent, boards of the charter schools, and other stakeholders to collaborate with and support ongoing public school initiatives.
Additional Recreation Space for Children
The City has new recreation facilities and open space coming online in the immediate future and next couple of years. I am also proposing a new, state-of-the-art multi-service center. Providing space for after school programs for our children, including for example the successful Passport to Learning program, is a priority for me.