HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Tuesday night, Hackensack voters definitively rejected a $170 million school bond referendum, with an unofficial count of 78% of the vote against the proposal and 22% for it.
The referendum would’ve allowed the Board of Education to finance repairs to existing schools, and build a new 7th-9th grade school next to Hackensack High School. According to estimates prepared by the BOE, the plan would have increased property taxes by $308 per year for the average city taxpayer..
The BOE presented their plan at several public forums in the weeks leading up to the referendum, and several Board Members engaged in heated debates on Facebook posts during that span. Many members of the public asked if the referendum could be split and if voters could have the opportunity to support improving existing schools without spending over $100 million to build a new school.
Hackensack Smart Schools Inc., a citizen’s group, mobilized in the weeks leading up to the referendum, and led the fight to defeat it. Led by Martin Cramer, the group successfully sued the Board of Education for refusing to correct inaccurate language on the voting machines that a Superior Court Judge called, “misleading.” Cramer has charged that several inaccuracies that school officials called, “mistakes” were actually part of an effort to mislead voters.
Councilwoman Stephanie Von Rudenborg, a public school parent and former educator, also raised strong objections about the educational impacts of the plan, particularly opposing the concept of placing high school freshmen in a middle school rather than high school.
While it is not typical for elections to be held in January, the BOE explained at a recent public forum that this was one of only four days in the year for which elections could be held.
"I would like to thank Hackensack voters who made their voices heard yesterday and helped overwhelmingly defeat the $170 million school bond.” said Mayor John Labrosse. “This is a victory for our city's taxpayers as well as for transparency and open government, and it should serve as a wake up call that residents cannot simply be made to open up their wallets for a plan that they don't support.”
“The board is committed to addressing the school overcrowding demands. We will further explore non referendum options available to us to meet these challenges,” said BOE President Lara Rodriguez. “The board’s building and grounds committee has already begun to unpack the results and what they mean in light of the message given and how it was received.”
Unofficial vote tallies from Tuesday, January 22 are 2,225 votes opposed and 638 votes in favor. A spokesperson for the Bergen County Clerk’s office said he expected the certified results to be made available Friday.
“We thank everyone who contributed to this process and voted in this important bond referendum,” said Rosemary Marks, Acting Superintendent of Hackensack Public Schools. “The District will keep lines of communication open with residents, parents, staff and City Officials, as we determine next steps. We are also extending an invitation to the Mayor and City Council for a joint public meeting, to discuss the urgent needs of our schools.”
“As the City Council and I have said since the beginning, we believe in improving our schools and want to work with the Board of Education to accomplish that goal in a fiscally responsible way,” said Labrosse. “We're hopeful that now that this plan has been defeated the school district will finally be open to true collaboration with the city.”