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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Hackensack school board drops opposition to Maywood's bid to withdraw its students

Hackensack High School (photo from public schools' Facebook page).


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

HACKENSACK -- Despite the potential loss of $3.6 million in annual tuition payments, the Board of Education won't try to block the withdrawal of 250 Maywood students from the high school.

In a formal vote at their meeting on Sept. 16, school board members said:

"The Board of Education of Maywood and Hackensack have agreed, out of respect for their taxpayers, that litigation ... would be unduly divisive and expensive...."

'Overcrowding'

On Aug. 8, 2019 -- months after rumors started flying -- the Maywood school board filed a petition with the state commissioner of education to end its sending-receiving relationship with Hackensack, and instead start sending Maywood students in Grades 9 to 12 to Becton Regional High School in East Rutherford.

Maywood called overcrowding "a serious problem" at Hackensack High School, where 1,887 students were enrolled in the 2017-18 school year, well over its "functional capacity" of 1,595 students.

Maywood said no other solution to the overcrowding existed after Hackensack voters -- in January 2019 -- rejected a $170 million bond referendum that, among other things, called for the construction of a junior high school on the high school campus.

$3.6 million in tuition

Maywood sent about 250 students to the high school in the 2017-18 school year, and paid $3,659,o11.81 in tuition to Hackensack. 

Mayor John Labrosse has said that "if Maywood and other sending districts [Rochelle Park and South Hackensack] are successful in their efforts to remove their 500 students from our high school and send them elsewhere, the overcrowding issue would disappear overnight." 

Rochelle Park and South Hackensack are paying a little over $14,000 in tuition per student sent to Hackensack High school in the current school year.

Maywood is paying more than $15,000 in tuition per student.

Three weeks after Maywood filed its petition, the Hackensack board filed an answer, opposing Maywood's proposal, and denying all of Maywood's claims.

'Racial composition'

Hackensack's appeal to the state education commissioner had said that ending the sending-receiving relationship would "result in substantial negative impact" on the racial composition of students, the financial condition of Hackensack public schools and the quality of education.

Months before that appeal was filed, board member Frances Cojelga sent an email to board attorney John G. Geppert Jr., noting rumors of Maywood's move.

She asked whether it would be "in our best interest" to tell state education officials "that we are severely overcrowded" and that Maywood "should be let out of their contract with us..."

"I believe our #1 concern and priority should be the students who live in Hackensack and the Hackensack taxpayer who shoulder the burden of our schools," she said. 

And Geppert said in an email to Hackensack school officials that he was advised by Maywood's special counsel that if the borough's petition isn't opposed, "the process [ending the sending-receiving relationship] usually has a phase out over four years."


Board of Education member Frances Cojelga in a photo from the Hackensack Public Schools' website.

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