The 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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.