HOBOKEN, NJ – After weeks of vigorously campaigning for the Hoboken City Council to deliver PILOT money directly to Hoboken Public Schools, the Board of Education is now expressing a desire to have the State decide, claiming it is illegal for the Council to make a decision on the matter.
A marathon Council meeting on Hoboken school funding Wednesday night saw a number of residents and officials make their case for the disbursement of funds from the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement at 770 Jackson Street.
At the heart of the matter was whether funds collected as part of that agreement are to be given to both the public schools and the charters. The Board of Education had conducted a letter-writing campaign that claimed the City Council is looking to “defund” the Hoboken Public School District by allocating PILOT funds to charter schools as well. Charter Schools maintain that the PILOT was implemented using a formula that accounts for the students in charter programs, therefore the funding should be applied proportionally.
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“PILOTs negatively impact public education as PILOTs do not require payment into the local tax levy for all school districts. However, the Hoboken City Council admirably and responsibly addressed this issue in the 770 Jackson PILOT by earmarking monies for Hoboken public schools,” said an FAQ circulated by the charter schools. “If 770 Jackson was not PILOTed, that property would pay into the local levy and the property tax money would be allocated to all four districts under the state funding formula for public districts and public charters.”
According to Mayor Ravi Bhalla, “As it pertains to the Hoboken Charter Schools, the PILOT payment has no effect on funding to which the charter schools are entitled. Charter schools are provided a payment each year from the Hoboken Public School District based strictly on a formula established by the State of New Jersey which is unaffected by any previous, current or future PILOT agreements.”
Prior to the meeting, former Hoboken Councilman Dave Mello, who was partially responsible for introducing the 2016 legislation, took to social media to offer his interpretation.
“It was my understanding and intent that the phrase ‘Hoboken School District’ include all four public school districts: The Hoboken BOE, Hoboken Charter School, Hola Hoboken Dual Language Charter School and Elysian Charter School,” said Mello. “Table 5 of the resolution includes the data used to calculate the portion of the payment that should be distributed to the Hoboken School District (i.e. all four public school districts) in lieu of the taxes not collected. The number of students in the table is a sum total of ALL four public schools’ enrollment, and this number was used to calculate the potential negative impact of the PILOT program (i.e. what would be needed to make all four districts ‘whole.’).”
When the dust settled, Hoboken City Council opted to not vote on the matter, but rather have it go to the Education subcommittee in the hopes that some sort of agreement can be hammered out.
Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher told TAPinto Hoboken, “Like ‘following the science,’ we need to ‘follow the math.’ And the math here –in this case the state Funding Formula—says that for every $1 we give to the HBOE, we take $.20 from the Charter Schools.” Fisher added, “I am happy that once the BOE finally came to understand this, they agreed to work with all stakeholders on a better, more equitable solution for our public school students.”
When asked for comment on Thursday, Hoboken Board of Education President Sharyn Angley told TAPinto Hoboken, “I was extremely disappointed in our elected officials last night for multiple reasons. The first is that a resolution was put forth on Wednesday night’s agenda that would have been illegal for the Council to move forward on. The Council knew this prior to Wednesday night’s meeting and did not pull this resolution from the agenda but instead entertained 3 hours of public comments on that agenda item.”
Hoboken Board of Education had launched an online petition and letter writing campaign on the matter after Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s October 9th Nixle Alert.
Angley also zeroed in on comments during the meeting suggesting that the PILOT money is a gift. “In terms of the Hoboken Public School District, that couldn’t be further from the truth. When a City negotiates a PILOT agreement, they are negotiating AWAY levied taxes that the Hoboken Public School District would normally have access to under traditional taxation, to utilize in supporting both the district and charter budgets. Under this type of agreement, the developer contributes nothing to fund public education.” Said Angley, “The resolution put forward by the City Council in 2016 was to address this additional burden put on Hoboken taxpayers with regard to school taxes (if the developer pays $0, that just means everyone else pays a little bit more). The only gift that I see here is the gift the City Council was proposing to the three charter schools as a direct payment which as noted, is illegal to do.”
In light of previous rhetoric from the BOE on “Defunding the Hoboken Public School District,” Angley maintained in her written comments to TAPinto Hoboken that, “The Hoboken Board of Education’s desire is not to keep money due to the charter schools, but that amount due is not up to the City Council nor the HBOE. It is up to the State Department of Education and that is who should have been addressed initially if the charters were concerned about the impact this payment could have on their funding.”
Tax funding for the District is currently broken down so that 78.1% of funding goes to the Public Schools, while 21.8% goes to the Charter Schools. In all, the money in question from the PILOT agreement totals around $50,000.
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