Hoboken voters rejected a referendum to spend $241 million to build a new high school by a massive 65%-35% margin on Tuesday, dealing a crushing defeat to school board members and Mayor Ravi Bhalla, who had backed the plan.
With about 13 districts still uncounted, there are 4,174 no votes and 2,201 yes votes.
“This was a tough election for Hoboken around a critically important issue – our students. Every one of us wants to see our students thrive. I hope we can work together as a community and support the BOE on an amazing plan we can all get behind next year, said Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, who opposed the referendum. “Democracy is grounded in debate.”
Hoboken wanted to construct a four-story high school on the site of the John F. Kennedy stadium that would include a swimming pool, ice hockey rink. and a rooftop football field. The current high school would be converted into a middle school.
While Hoboken is 66% white, according to the 2020 U.S. Census, about 85% of the public school population are students of color, with many families opt for private or charter schools. Some local officials believe a state-of-the-art high school might be a draw to higher income Hoboken residents.
Bhalla has endorsed the plan, but a grassroots group, the Hoboken High School Concerned Citizens Information Exchange, worked to defeat the referendum. So did the Hudson County Republicans.
“The Hudson County GOP prioritizes good schools and we know upgrades do need to be made. But to spend hundreds of millions to build a new high school in these times makes no sense and was the ultimate payoff to special interests,” said Jose Arango, the Republican county chairman. “Let’s start using more common sense with our dollars and cents,”
School officials last week pushed back on claims that the bond issue would result in a 20% increase in property taxes, saying the number would be about 6%. They also denied claims that enrollment at the high school in declining.