A Concerned Parent Addresses City Council re: Classroom Shortage in Jersey City

CorderoAnnexThe letter below was read into the City Council record on March 26, 2014 by Sarah Welt, a downtown mom with a child who is eligible for public pre-K this coming fall.  Sarah has been instrumental in informing many parents in downtown about the PS 37 annex issue.  Sarah waited five hours to speak during the public portion of  the City Council meeting (the meeting was extraordinary long due to contentious public debate over two abatements up for final vote).  Ten of us joined Sarah at the meeting in support of her statement.  We stood with her because we care about our public schools and because she’s a parent, a neighbor, and a friend.  

When it came time for Sarah to speak, she did so clearly and eloquently.  Unfortunately, two council members, Ms. Osborne and Ms. Coleman, talked and at times giggled amongst themselves throughout Sarah’s allotted five minutes.  Sarah was a parent asking for an existing school to remain open; she was not representing a special interest, she was simply representing her child.  That the council women could not remain composed for five minutes to listen to Sarah should be a call to action for all of us: take us seriously, and keep this school open.  

Please read Sarah’s note below.  And please consider signing the petition that follows Sarah’s letter – it simply asks that the PS 37 Cordero Annex remain open. 

Sarah’s Text:

Good evening.

My name is Sarah Welt and I am a resident of Ward E of Jersey City.

I am here to voice my concerns about how the public preschool facilities issues are being handled by the City, specifically the threat of closing PS 37/Cordero PreK Annex at 9th and Marin, and to go on record with these concerns, which I know are shared by those who stand with me here tonight.

Mayor Fulop has repeatedly said that downtown residents shouldn’t qualify for universal preschool as one of the 31 Abbott districts in the state. However, as long as Universal pre-K is an option, then every resident of Jersey City, from the most impoverished families to the so-called “affluent” families, should be able to take advantage of this program.

The majority of the downtown population is not even close to as affluent as the Mayor claims. Over half of the students at Cordero are eligible for subsidized lunch, and almost all of those students are eligible for free lunch, which means that under federal guidelines their annual income is less than $30,615 per year for a family of four.

If the Mayor is committed to improving Jersey City schools, as he stated in his campaign platform, then facilities issues across the city need to be resolved. That means working in tandem with the Board of Ed, and not attacking them in the press, cancelling meetings last-minute, and refusing to respond to negotiation requests.

And I want to be clear, that this is not just a PreK issue, it is an issue for all grades. In one or two years, these preK students will qualify for Kindergarden, and the problems that the public schools face with regard to lack of space downtown and throughout the city will only continue to worsen unless the city works with the BOE on a long-term, sustainable plan.

This year is just the beginning of what is to come.

Here are some facts from the Board of Ed’s 2-volume demographic study commissioned to help them form a long-term facilities plan:

Public School enrollment is expected to increase by 25% by 2017-2018, almost all in Prek-5. Over half of the growth in student population is concentrated downtown.

-At the time of the report’s writing, Over 12,000 housing units were projected to be built downtown, and since then, Mayor Fulop has approved 20+ additional developments across the city.

PS3 and PS16 are at capacity, PS5 is at 85% capacity, and PS37 – the school that currently uses the building at 180 9th Street, is at 85% capacity.  

To put it in perspective, PS16 in Paulus Hook now has a record 118 students signed up for preK as of this morning. Capacity for that school is 30 spots, and PS16 doesn’t even have prek3 classrooms in its facility – children zoned for that school are now bussed to PS22.

And what about the kids who live in the PS22 zone? Is it fair that children who live in that zone aren’t able to go to their home school?

One way to immediately address some of these issues is to allow the BOE to rent four classrooms at 9th and Marin for $78K for the upcoming academic year. This is a very fair offer for the space and will still allow the city to rent out the rest of the building.

While this may help solve the immediate crisis, the goal of the City should be to work in tandem with the BOE to come to an agreement for a long-term lease of no less than 20 years on the entire building.

Then the BOE can focus on the quality of our schools, and not just on housing our students.

-Fact: According to the most recent survey by the NJ State Board of Ed, only 67% of Jersey City public high school students graduated on time, with 13% dropping out entirely and the remaining 20% being left back or simply failing to meet curriculum requirements needed to graduate. If you remove students from McNair Academic from the equation, the percentage of students who are deemed college ready is a 7%.

The Mayor needs to uphold his campaign promise to improve the academic experience citywide and across all grades. If he truly wants Jersey City to be a city to rival Boroughs like Brooklyn or Queens, it needs strong schools. Resolving the facilities issues with the BOE for the coming academic year is a start, but it’s just putting a Band Aid on a gushing artery.

I implore you, Candice Osborne, as Councilwoman for Ward E, that in addition to the great work you’re doing on the PATH service problems, you start focusing your energies on helping the constituents who elected you to office. Commit to do everything within your power to ensure that the educational infrastructure matches the growth of the city, and help ensure that our children have the best opportunities for a solid public school education.

The time for change is now, the time for accountability is now. 

Thank you,
 Sarah Welt

To sign a petition supporting the PS 37 Cordero Annex remaining open, please click here.  To connect with Sarah and join her distribution list, please leave your contact information in the comments of this post or contact me directly at brigid@civicparent.org.

Volume 1 of the BOE demographic study can be found here.  Volume 2 can be found here.

6 Comments

  1. I was there on Wednesday night and witnessed this shocking behavior by council members Ms. Osborne and Ms. Coleman with my own eyes. It was so disrespectful after we all sat there for HOURS, and considering that Osborne represents our Ward E, spoke volumes of her lack of priorities and basic manners. Frankly, the attitude we’ve been getting from Fulop Administration over this issue is that they are tired of hearing about our lack of school space downtown because we are all supposedly wealthy enough to afford private education, and that the Abbott program is “not for us.” This is not only untrue that everyone who lives downtown is wealthy, there is a huge demand for private school and long waiting lists and vetting programs to endure that are outlandish.

    Meanwhile, this same Mayor and city council have no recourse with the burgeoning taxes and cost of living downtown (and other JC areas) for families, while they readily hand out tax abatements to new developers and don’t account for the families that will be moving into these developments. On Wednesday night they voted yes for a tax abated development on 9th street near Hamilton Park that will involve 30+ 2-3brdm units and claim that only 1.88 students will be expected to enter the school system from this development. Who are they kidding? When questioned about this ridiculous figure of 1.88 students total out of this development the council’s legal team said that maybe they do need to “look at the formulation of this number.” YES, I think so folks! Because if they have more than 9 students entering the system, the financial benefit from the abatement to the city is non existent at best. And seriously, who is going to buy these tax abated condos that are 2-3 bdrms…FAMILIES of course!

    The whole thing stinks. And the fact that Mayor Fulop is publicly saying he doesn’t even want to negotiate with the BOE (as if they are the ” public enemy” here), and would rather find other tenants or let it sit empty (perhaps to later claim it a financial loss and sell it to developers?) is at best, UNCONSCIONABLE. Not to mention that he and Ms. Osborne ran on a platform of improving Jersey City public schools, etc., and many downtown residents with families campaigned for him only to now be slapped in the face that we’re not deserving of public pre-school downtown. But the point is this doesn’t even take into account what Sarah mentioned, which is that this is also about Kindergarten and beyond.

    Basically, let’s be honest and let everyone know that if you move to Jersey City with your family, you can forget about sending your child/ren to public school, but expect to pay very high taxes (unless you live in a tax abated apartment). Even so, you may save on taxes, but you’ll also have the privilege of figuring out which private school you will send your children, if there is even enough space in those schools. Or, you can let your 3 or 4 year old sit on a bus for 45 minutes each way. Or, you can buy a car to bring your child to their public school across town and burden the overloaded parking situation. Or, you can move to more dangerous part of town and wait the 10+ years for it to be possibly* be safe enough to walk around with your children. Sorry if that sounds un-PC to say, but I lived in the Bergen-Lafayette neighborhood for over 5 years and I moved back downtown because after multiple robberies, gunshots, regular drug dealing etc., etc., in the area, I just didn’t see it as safe place to raise our daughter. I guess I should have just moved out of Jersey City then since apparently, the Fulop administration doesn’t really care about its young families and children who live in “privileged” parts of town.
    The whole thing is OUTRAGEOUS! End of rant… for now…

  2. The 1.8 number sounds like a rediculous figure until you realize the 30 units are rental. That is not a building for families with school age children, on purpose. Its supposed to be for DINKS. Now I really have a problem with our focus on those people, but that’s who can afford those units. They stay less than 3 years. They are transient, non voters for the most part. Thats how developers get projects through.. I once went to a meeting about a huge bu ilding where the developer’s attorney said to the crowd: “don’t worry about school expenses, there won’t be kids here” . I raised my hand and asked why, since most people think children are Gods greatest gift to us, would he want to have no children in a community.” I highly recommend it to you as a question. You should have seen him change his BS fast. You should have seen his true colors. What a face. He sputtered, grew red and screamed …WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE WANT.?

  3. $ 78, 000 by the way is way way way below market. Its a city building. He can get more, and must get more. Besides the BOE really needs to grow up. They are getting the treatment they deserve from the mayor. They could solve this problem, but power has gone to their heads, and they are out of their depth.
    This isn’t East Newark where you can slap around the mayor, cut off filming and generally make the public irrelevant. I can understand why they would WANT TO. There are not many people who can listen to some of the nimrod numbnuts who waste everyone’s time at meetings week after week, turning off real , nice, ordinary constituants. Its not about the children, its about power.
    As for the Abbot comment, that was dumb. Its true, but its a universal program. The BOE is really not there to coordinate convenient schedules for everyone so they have a program nearby in the numbers that are always needed. They pretty desperately want to get toddlers out of homes where they have huge disadvantages and into a learning environment with food if they have to bus them, wait till they are picked up, carpool them or anyway possible. Its THAT BAD.

    • Mary – schools typically pay below market rate. So yes, $78,000 is below market, that’s a known fact and the BOE has not been shy about stating this. I’ve been told by multiple sources on the school side who have looked into this issue that the private schools located in the bottom of the high rises are given their space at close to cost because a neighborhood school is an amenity that will attract families, thus it’s in the developer’s interest to have the space go to a school. A public school is a public service, or should be viewed as such in my opinion, thus not sure I understand the argument for why the City should look to charge market rate for a facility that the public already paid for (at 180 9th Street). I suppose the mayor’s argument is that “the preK funding is the state’s – not the city’s – money…so funnel that state aid into 180 9th Street for the good of the City’s coffers…” And I further suppose I find this troubling, considering it’s yet another tax levied on conventional taxpayers in Jersey City (and beyond) for a public building that Jersey City’s conventional taxpayers already paid for when the building was built in the mid-1990s.

      Can you substantiate or give insight to your comment “Besides the BOE really needs to grow up. They are getting the treatment they deserve from the mayor. They could solve this problem, but power has gone to their heads, and they are out of their depth.”? Not sure what you mean, or what you’re trying to say, but would be interested to learn more about your perspective here.

  4. Hoo boy, where to start.

    1. I do not believe the mayor has repeatedly said that downtown residents should not qualify for pre-K. What he has said, and what is true, is that the ruling in Abbott that mandated full day pre-K in Abbott districts was not intended for affluent residents. They are a beneficiary of the ruling, but it was intended to give poorer students a boost.

    2. I would be very interested in seeing the composition of Pre-K at Cordero compared to the older grades. I suspect they are not the same.

    3. There is other space, downtown, that BOE could use if they utilized their space efficiently and didn’t turn downtown pre-K’s into de facto magnet schools.

    4. Allowing Hamilton Park moms to send their kids to the Cordero annex is not going to address Jersey City’s graduation rate.

    5. And where in the world does this person get off saying that dealing with the lack of PATH service on weekends is “outside of [Osborne’s] jurisdiction”? That is a pressing need for all Jersey City residents and in particular downtown residents. I am grateful that the city, led by the Ward E councilwoman, is seeking to hold the Port Authority accountable.

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