HACKENSACK, NJ — Seeking more information about a $170 million school bond referendum taking place on January 22, about 50 city residents attended a public forum organized by the school district and held at the Family Life Center of Mount Olive Church on Tuesday night.
School officials attending included Acting School Superintendent Rosemary Marks and Board of Education members Lance Powell, Robin Coles, Johanna Calle, Frances Cogelja, Modesto Romero and Timothy Hoffman.
If approved by voters, every current school would be renovated and a new Middle School would be built next to the high school. School officials say the project is necessary due to deteriorating conditions in the aging school buildings and overcrowded classrooms caused by increases in enrollment.
Most of the residents who asked questions raised concerns about the significant cost of the project. One homeowner asked how much of an increase in taxes would be necessary. Marks replied that the owner of a home assessed at $245,000 would see an increase of $308 per year, assuming that the expected amount of state aid is received. “Without the state aid, the tax impact would be much higher,” she added.
Many private homes in the city have a higher valuation and would pay more than the $308 estimate. Mayor John Labrosse has previously stated that his own taxes would increase by more than $400.
One resident asked if the $170 million figure includes the cost of operating and staffing the new building if voters approve the referendum. Marks replied that those costs would be additional and would come from the school budget.
One resident who said that he and his family have lived in the city for 49 years asked why so little information about the January 22 vote has been made available. “Why are there so few people here tonight,” he asked. “Why weren’t we notified before this?”
Calle replied that the state Department of Education regulates when school referendums can be held and local officials did not receive approval until after Thanksgiving. “We had to rush to get this referendum scheduled for January,” she said.
Other residents wondered why renovations to existing schools couldn’t be done before a new school is constructed but Calle replied that the entire plan must be approved by voters before the school district can apply for grant funding.