BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Representatives and supporters of the Huaxia Chinese School at Bridgewater publicly pleaded their case for lower rents once more at the most recent Bridgewater-Raritan board of education meeting.
Huaxia vice principal Jennifer Chen addressed the school board about recent rent hikes involving her school, a non-profit organization which rents classrooms and other spaces at Bridgewater-Raritan High School on Sunday mornings for the study of Chinese language and culture. She said that, last year, rents to use the high school’s classrooms increased five times, and rents to utilize the high school’s gymnasiums rose six to eight times for what she termed were Class Five users, such as her school.
“It was a stunning, steep rent hike,” Chen said.
She said tuition at her school would have to be doubled to satisfy the rent hikes, just as Huaxia is facing competition from other nearby Chinese language schools for students. She added that school tuition had already been raised 8 percent back in September.
According to Chen, Huaxia hosts students from 250 or so families on most Sundays of the calendar year, from about 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. In the interim, with their children attending classes at Huaxia, she said parents shop and eat at local establishments, and even after dismissal, all of which brings dollars into Bridgewater’s economy.
“We will try our best to keep the school financially sound,” said Chen, “but we will not survive a rent hike.”
She asked the board to decrease the rent, or at least return it to its previous level, both for Chinese culture and to assist the economy, and so the school can remain in Bridgewater for years to come.
A parent from the Huaxia school called the rent hike “a big challenge,” and added that cooperation between Bridgewater’s schools and Huaxia is “beneficial for both sides.”
Eugene Lu, a 26-year township resident, pointed out that Huaxia’s principal had attended the previous Bridgewater-Raritan school board meeting in December to discuss the rent hikes. Lu said he has served at Huaxia for 23 years himself, including 20 years as a teacher, with the school having been established back in 1997 and now existing as part of a chain of schools that also includes institutions in New York and Connecticut.
“They offered us free rent,” he said of the school’s beginning in Bridgewater, although there were some fees to pay.
Now, he said, the fees are coupled with the recent rent increases, with small gym usage at the high school costing six times as much, and large gym utilization costing eight times as much. He also said that Class Four organizations have not been affected, but that their Class Five counterparts such as Huaxia had.
“We were hit the hardest,” said Lu.
He also pointed out how property taxes have risen in town, from about $3,900 when he first moved to Bridgewater, to more than $13,000 nowadays. He also asked about the possibility of integrating Advanced Placement Chinese courses into the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District’s curriculum.
Local resident Yan Zhang, who said she has lived in town for 22 years, asked to keep the Huaxia school in Bridgewater. She said her two children, now both in their 20s, attended the school, with the family having moved back to Bridgewater after previously attending the Huaxia school in Hillsborough.
Local resident Henry Wang, the president of the Bridgewater Chinese-American Association, stated the Huaxia school is a separate organization from his, but that he still wishes to support it.
“I’m asking the board to support Chinese education,” said Wang.
He said he understands there are budgetary issues, and that rents have been raised for all schools. But he added that he would like to see if the board could do something for Huaxia “to help it survive.”