What We've Done
Downtown should be a community where families take root and grow. For two decades, prior city administrations pursued a different vision, planning downtown as a pit stop for the wealthy on their way to the suburbs. They built tens of thousands of units of housing without planning for new schools OR funding those schools. Over the last four years, we made significant strides to reverse these mistakes:
Seeing through the construction of the PS 16 Annex, the first new school construction in Ward E in decades.
Secured the construction of a new elementary school, serving grades Pre-K3 through 5, in the heart of downtown, at no cost to the taxpayer.
Forged a compromise to use half the tax revenue from recreational marijuana to fund our public schools to address devastating state aid cuts to our public schools budget without harming our children or property tax payers.
What We're Going to Do
An Education Plan For Downtown Families
More Funding. New Schools. Vaccine Mandates.
As a parent and educator who juggled childcare and work along with my spouse throughout the pandemic, I know how stressful and uncertain this last school year has been for Jersey City parents.
With my eldest daughter beginning Pre-K3 in September in the Jersey City Public Schools, I, along with thousands of parents in Jersey City, have real concerns about what September will look like for our family:
Will schools be at full capacity?
Will they open at all or will we have to endure another year of Zoom-lessons?
If schools reopen for in-person learning, can I rest easy knowing my daughter will be safe from COVID, that all her teachers and staff will be vaccinated?
As if these concerns weren't enough, Jersey City’s Public Schools face a list of long-term challenges too. In downtown, those concerns center on:
How to address the overcrowding of Pre-K and elementary school classrooms;
How to fund our public schools through devastating state aid cuts;
How to continue to improve the quality of our public schools.
In order to make sure downtown families have access to the best schools where their children can learn and grow, my four-part plan will:
1) Open Schools Safety in September: Vaccine Mandates.
First and foremost, our public schools must reopen for in-person learning this September and must remain open for the full school year. To do that, Jersey City must require vaccinations for all teachers and all school staff. Full stop, with exceptions *only* for narrowly defined religious and health reasons. In addition, we must increase vaccination rates among eligible students using an array of incentives coupled with an aggressive education campaign.
2) Building For the Future By Constructing Two New Elementary Schools in Downtown.
Building off the first new school construction in Ward E in decades, the PS 16 Annex, we need to complete construction of two new elementary schools in the next four years. In 2020, I put together the plan to build one at 1st and Manila Ave, which will seat up to 400 students. I will also work to get a second elementary school built in the Lackawanna neighborhood north of the Holland Tunnel. A new school in that area will reduce overcrowding at Cordero, and ensure students do not have to cross the Holland Tunnel access lanes on their way to school. In total, we will add more than 1,000 elementary school seats in downtown in the next four years.
3) Ensuring High Quality Public Schools: Sustainable Funding Sources.
The state of New Jersey cut Jersey City Public Schools’ budget by over $200M in the last three years, with more than $150M in cuts still on the way. We must address these devastating cuts without harming our children or property tax payers. To that, we must find new sources of revenue such as:
Sharing abatement revenue with Jersey City Public Schools, to ensure the taxes paid by big developers go to our public schools
A tax on real estate speculators that flip land. This “deed recordation tax,” modelled after Washington DC’s, would provide millions in new revenue.
A tax on property owners that let land sit vacant. The tax would assess all vacant lots at their full value as if they had construction on them. This tax would encourage property owners to maintain and improve their lots instead of letting them sit in disrepair.
4) Work Proactively with the Board of Education (BoE):
We need more accountability from the BoE to ensure our tax dollars are spent responsibly and transparently. To do this, we must ensure that there is clear, ongoing communication between the School Board, the City Council, and the public. The School Board and City Council must meet together quarterly, and empower the newly created joint committees to address the short-term and long-term challenges facing our schools. To guarantee transparency the School Board should provide a yearly report on how city tax dollars were spent, and the City Council should provide one on how real estate tax abatements impact school funding.
Open Schools Safety in September: Vaccine Mandates
Jersey City families can not have a repeat of last year. In conversation after conversation, it’s clear that downtown families need more leadership. They need to know there is a plan in place to ensure their kids are in school and learning. Despite heroic efforts from our teachers and parents to make remote learning work, it simply is not a substitute for in-person education. One recent study found that due to COVID disruptions and remote learning, “most students will have fallen behind where they would have been if they had stayed in classrooms, with some losing the equivalent of a full school year’s worth of academic gains.” Another study found that these disparities, on average, will be even more damaging for students of color. We cannot fail our kids by letting last year happen again.
A thoughtful and responsible approach, guided by the advice of healthcare and science leaders, is required. That includes:
Mandate vaccines for all teachers and school staff should with only narrow exemptions for religious and health reasons. This mandate is stronger than Governor Murphy’s recent order because it does not allow for the option to avoid a vaccine with weekly CoVid tests.
Implement Gov. Murphy’s requirements for masks in schools.
Aggressive Vaccine Campaigns:
Increase vaccination rates among eligible students using an array of incentives coupled with an aggressive education campaign.
Our teachers, students and parents are heroes for getting through a trying and uncertain year. Now it's time for our education and political leaders to step up to the plate and provide a workable plan for Downtown families to get our kids back to school in a safe and sustainable way.
Building For the Future By Constructing Two New Elementary Schools in Downtown:
One needs only to spend an hour walking around Downtown to see signs of how fast Jersey City has grown. New high-rises going up on every other block, fleets of baby carriages, and new restaurants catering to every taste you can imagine. Just last week, the US Census figures showed Jersey City grew by a staggering 18%, with most of the population growth in downtown. In that decade of growth, we built *zero* new schools. You don’t exactly need to be a mathematician to see these numbers don’t add up.
If you’ve been following me since I was first elected to council in 2017, you know this issue is one of my top priorities. After taking office, I worked to ensure the PS 16 Annex was completed on time for the 2021 school year. I then spearheaded the efforts to build a new elementary school for 400 students, scheduled to open in Sept. of 2023 at 1st and Manila. But even two new schools is not enough to fix the planning mistakes made by prior administrations.
The right thing for us to do now is:
Complete construction of the new elementary school at 1st and Manila Ave. on schedule
Start construction on a second elementary school in the Lackawanna neighborhood north of the Holland Tunnel.
I am committed to building these two projects to 1,000 needed new school seats in downtown.
Ensuring High Quality Public Schools: Sustainable Funding Sources
Improving our children’s education must be a priority for Jersey City. Our public schools have been slammed with massive cuts, to the tune of over $300M, to its budget from the state of NJ.
We must address these devastating cuts without harming our children or property tax payers. We already took on big waterfront real estate developers to implement a payroll tax to make up for a portion of the funding shortfall, and we can do more to ensure our schools receive sustainable funding sources such as:
Share abatement revenue with Jersey City Public Schools (JCPS), to ensure the taxes paid by big developers go to our children’s education. This should provide JCPS with $20-30M annually.
Taxing Real Estate Speculation:
A tax on real estate speculators that flip land. This “deed recordation tax,” modelled after Washington DC’s, would provide tens of millions in new revenue.
Vacant Lot Tax:
A tax on property owners that let land sit vacant. The tax would assess all vacant lots at their full value as if they had been improved. This tax would encourage property owners to maintain and improve their lots instead of letting them sit in disrepair.
Work Proactively with the Board of Education
We need more accountability from the BoE to ensure our tax dollars are spent responsibly and transparently. To do this, we must establish clear, ongoing lines of communication between the Board of Education and City Hall. Transparency and communication between both entities and the public is the key to ensuring we provide every Jersey City student with a world class public education.
Establish Quarterly Public Meetings:
The Board of Education Trustees and the City Council should meet quarterly to discuss the Board’s plan for reopening schools, responding to the changing realities of COVID-19, and improving school infrastructure. These meetings will also cover City Hall’s responsibilities to the school district, including shared service agreements.
Strengthen Joint Committees:
The newly established joint committees between the Board of Education and City Council must be empowered to make a real impact on school operations and financing.
Yearly Report of Use of City Funds:
The Board of Education should provide the public with a yearly report that itemizes how funds from City Hall were spent in the prior academic year AND City Hall should provide the public with a yearly report that itemizes the reductions in school funding from tax abatements.