This column is timely as New Jersey creeps forward with plans to adjust the formula for calculating state aid to schools. Jersey City is, in fact, an emblem of the obsolescence of our old method of school funding, derived from a twenty-five-year-old series of State Supreme Court decision called Abbott v. Burke. During these series of cases, Education Law Center argued righteously and successfully that funding schools through local district wealth is inherently unconstitutional and inequitable. Thirty-one school districts were ordered eligible for compensatory state aid, wrap-around services, free full-day preschool, restoration and construction of facilities, etc. One of those Abbott districts is Jersey City.
That was then. This is now. According to the New York Times profile, Jersey City is drawing up-and-comers from pricey parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan
Countless restaurants are now downtown. Whole Foods Market plans to open near the Grove Street PATH station in 2020. “Everywhere you look around, there is something new happening,” said Nicole Sorgentoni, 33, a jewelry buyer for Loft who pays $2,320 a month for a one-bedroom in 70 Columbus, a luxury rental downtown.
Another couple “bought a three-bedroom rowhouse in 2011 on First Street in the Village, a downtown neighborhood. They paid $515,000; similar properties in the area are selling for around $1 million today.”
On June 1, there were 529 residential properties on the market, according to JCity Realty, with a median asking price of $399,000. Listings ranged from a two-bedroom one-bath condominium in Journal Square for $55,000 up to a three-bedroom three-bath condo downtown for $2.5 million.
Bidding wars are commonplace, said Natalie Miniard, the owner of JCity Realty.Last year, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, who is planning on running for governor, bought a three-bedroom house in Jersey Heights that Zillow priced at $739,000. It has three decks and views of N.Y.C.’s skyline. Fulop's annual property tax bill is only $7K a year but it will go up. After years of warding off reassessments of property throughout his term, this past April state tax officials ruled that "the citywide ratio of assessed to true value is so low it violates the New Jersey Constitution. In addition, a group of pastors and community activists successfully made the cases that stalling a reval protects wealthy residents at thew expense of people living in the city's less affluent neighborhoods."
Here's one consolation for the Mayor as reassessments roll in: if he has any children they will be eligible for free full-day preschool because Abbott districts offer this service. Indeed, the Times article notes in the “Schools” section of its profile that “universal prekindergarten is available to all 3- and 4-year-olds in the city," including those with parents who buy multi-million dollar homes.
Meanwhile back in Trenton, legislators continue to creep closer to addressing N.J.'s school funding problem. Senate President Steve Sweeney, who will oppose Mayor Fulop in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, just offered a new proposal to re-balance the combination of over-funding and under-funding that undermines N.J.'s ability to fairly fund schools. (See Jeff Bennett at New Jersey Education Aid for a great overview.) Sen. Sweeney is proposing a “Commission” that would make recommendations to redistribute state aid, supposedly away from districts like Jersey City and towards many under-funded non-Abbott districts.
Education Law Center Executive Director David Sciarra said in a statement, "there is no need for a Commission to get the job done." Just pony up money that doesn't exist. Ah, there'll always be an ELC.
One other note. The N.Y. Times article describes the Jersey City traditional schools as a “wild card”: great ones like Ronald McNair Academic High School (a magnet with admissions criteria) and not so great ones. However, “popular charter schools have long wait lists. Mr. Flint, 40, an actor, waited in line for two days (hiring someone to camp overnight) to get his son a coveted spot in a prekindergarten charter program at Concordia Learning Center at St. Joseph’s School for the Blind.” Perhaps Jersey City public schools -- traditional and charter -- could benefit from a universal enrollment system weighted towards economically-disadvantaged students.