Life after Hoboken: Suburban Education

I recently had a playdate with a longtime friend who moved from Hoboken to Maplewood, NJ. We use this time to catch up and update each other on the activities of our similar-aged children.

Education is inevitably a part of our discussions, and we discovered a common trend; confusing state policies that seem to address education on a macro rather than micro level. I discussed the recent Hoboken charter school debate and my concerns about property taxes.

Maplewood does not have any charter schools; my friend moved there because four years ago it was designated a blue-ribbon district. However, since her move essentially all the state funding has been removed from Maplewood and reallocated to Newark. Program cuts and increased class size resulted in loss of the blue-ribbon designation; the latest cut involves replacing a Spanish teacher with Rosetta Stone software. Local citizens are outraged, resulting in a highly contentious Board of Education election.

My friend purchased her suburban home, willingly paying $17,000 in annual property taxes, on the assumption that the excellent schools would remain at their high caliber. I purchased my urban home, paying $12,000 property taxes, on the assumption that we could place our children in the decent but not spectacular public schools if my husband lost his job. I paid $9,000 last year in private school tuition for my two children; that amount combined with local property taxes essentially equaled my friend’s property tax bill.

Right now, the state of New Jersey is 100% responsible for charter school approval. With the state budget bleeding red, logic from the state level would seem to dictate approval of more charter schools since students are funded almost entirely by local municipalities, unlike public school students. The three existing Hoboken charter schools have 10% special needs/low-income students versus 70% at traditional public schools; if additional charter schools are approved then will the public school percentage go even higher?* And would I want to place my children in a tiny public school system that lacks programs like art, music, language and afterschool activities? And would I be willing to pay $17,000 per year in property taxes if my children do not attend a charter school?

The one common trend in both the urban and suburban education situations? There needs to be more local oversight in education funding. There needs to be a balance between the best interests of the state versus the interests of the local municipalities. Recent legislation called for local voter approval of charter schools; that seems like a step in the right direction.

* I have been talking to experts about financial ramifications of new charter schools for Hoboken homeowners. The numbers are unclear because of the changing student population. Hoboken charter schools receive approximately 90% of the annual traditional public school per-student funding. There are additional funds provided to special needs and low-income (a.k.a. high risk) students. If a new charter school removes students who do not receive additional funding then the public school per-student cost goes up as the proportion skews toward special needs/high risk students, which in turn increases the funding received by all Hoboken charter schools. Last year, the Hoboken charter schools received an unexpected 15% increase in funding for this reason.

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Kathy Zucker

Author: Kathy Zucker

Mom of 3. Accidental entrepreneur. Fencer. New York Life Shorty Award #KeepGoodGoing winner & judge. Helping parents & kids get to work since 2010 as Metro Moms Network CEO.

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3 Comments

  1. Why do you keep knocking the public schools? Saying they are only decent? You haven’t had any experience with having kids in the district schools (K-12 grades). You haven’t seen the type of homework or school work the kids are doing. There are some truly EXCELLENT!!!! teachers and instruction going on there. The public shools “do not lack music, art, language and extracuricular actitivites. They get art class, Spanish class and music class. They just had a science fair. Grade school kids, starting in 4th, can opt to learn an instrument and be part of the junior band. There is an after school science club, chorus and book club in the lower grades. There is Peer Leadership group, where older kids can get more involved with events in the school. That sounds more than just decent!

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  2. Also, the taxes may be higher in Maplewood (Esssex county is known for high taxes), however, you can get a house for a lot less out there, with more space and a garage or atleast a driveway.

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  3. Kathy Zucker

    Jen,

    I don’t have any problems with the Hoboken public schools. I have written before on this blog that I purchased my condo BECAUSE I think they are decent. Are they spectacular? I have no idea, and am not going to say they are unless I have direct experience to that effect. However, the tour I took of Wallace impressed me enough that I would be fine with sending my kids there, and am talking to my husband about transferring them once they hit second or third grade.

    My concern about the schools lacking art, music and language is not because I think they don’t have them but because those programs could be cut if one or more charter schools open up in town. My sense is that nobody really knows what will happen re. education costs and property taxes because there are too many variables. Taxes will go up and public schools will get squeezed, but how much? Will my taxes skyrocket to suburban levels? In that case, will I feel compelled to send my kids to charter schools to get my money’s worth of property taxes?

    I am happy with the Hoboken public schools as they currently exist, but many people are not. The real question is, is there a better configuration out there? Do we need another charter school? How about one or more magnet programs? I don’t know, but the fact that the state of New Jersey could approve an unlimited number of charter schools without any input from the Hoboken homeowners who would have to pay for them worries me. That was the point behind this post, sorry if it didn’t come across clearly.

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