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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Enrollment hike of 120 students in 4 years doesn't justify building a $97M junior high

The offices of the Hackensack Board of Education and superintendent of schools at 191 Second St.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

HACKENSACK, N.J. -- When you take a closer look at the proposed $165.1 million building and renovation plan for Hackensack schools, the numbers just don't add up.

A projected enrollment increase and schools that are as much as a century old are the two main reasons cited by school officials to justify the proposal, which will have a tremendous impact on already high property taxes.

Even more troubling is the possibility of holding the referendum on Jan. 22, 2019, when winter weather could discourage many already lazy, apathetic residents from voting to approve or reject the plan.

Past elections

April school board elections usually draw only several hundred people to vote on candidates, and to say "yes" or "no" on the school budget, which accounts for 45% of every home and business owners' property tax bill.

In the April 2017 election, only 3% or 642 of the 21,397 registered voters in Hackensack cast ballots for candidates, and only 341 residents OK'd the $81.2 million tax levy to support a $109 million budget.

This past April 17, when 3 candidates backed by the mayor and City Council ran, turnout was higher -- 1,629 voters cast ballots.

Only 1,142 voted "yes" or "no" on the tax levy, approving the use of $82.8 million in property taxes to support the schools' $117.1 million budget.

Imagine how few would battle January weather to get to the polls and vote in a $165.1 million referendum.

Tax impact

"The tax impact would be decided before the possible January referendum," NorthJersey.com reported on June 30, quoting school board President Lara L. Rodriguez.

Rodriguez also told a reporter that if the referendum passes, it could take up to 8 months for the district to begin the renovations and break ground on the new school and a parking garage, and "we could have the schools open" by September 2021.

Enrollment hike

School officials project they will have to serve 120 more students in 2021-22 than now.

They cite a projected enrollment of 5,834 students in 2021-22, compared to 5,714 in 2017-18.

No mention was made of the 249 students Maywood sends to Hackensack High School, and a possible end to that relationship.

Century old schools

There's no question Hackensack's schools are old and badly in need of renovations and upgrades.

But why did the Board of Education allow them to get that way while raising the school budget every year in the last 10 years -- to where the money spent on schools is now more than the city's own budget?

$165.1M proposal

A new junior high school, with grades 7, 8 and 9, would be built next to the high school at a cost of $97.7 million.

That includes a parking garage for 200 cars to built next to the new school, replacing a high school  parking lot.

Alterations to existing schools would cost about $16.5 million; renovations would cost $17.5 million; upgrades to heating, ventilation and air conditioning would add another $33.4 million -- for a total of $165.1 million.