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Jersey City teachers mobilize against gentrification

By staff |
May 14, 2017
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Jersey City, NJ - A group of Jersey City educators and workers got together, March 22, to discuss the ongoing threats facing working-class men, women and their families due to the onslaught of gentrification threatening to rip apart the social fabric of New Jersey’s second largest city, Jersey City.

Jersey City is nicknamed “The Sixth Borough” as New York residents, out-of-state transplants and Wall Street up-and-comers live there and commute into Manhattan for work.

At a recent Jersey City city council meeting, they approved an ordinance to transfer 16 acres of city-owned land to a ‘non-profit’ entity so that the Liberty Science Center (LSC) can develop a charter school named SciTech Scity. The Liberty Science Center is a 300,000-square-foot learning center located in Liberty State Park on the Jersey City bank of the Hudson River near the Statue of Liberty.

The transfer began with the city council selling the land to the Jersey City Redevelopment Authority (JCRA) for a whopping sum of $1. Then JCRA sold the land to SciTech Scity LLC for $10. LSC founded SciTech Scity LLC as a way to become the lead developer of SciTech Scity charter school.

The second major player in the deal is Ironstate Development Company of Hoboken. They will oversee the project from start to finish. This steal of the century only became public after a 61-page document was released, mere days before the city council was scheduled to vote on the plan. The citizens of Jersey City are only now seeing the true intent of the project, and why those brokering the deal worked so hard to conceal it from public scrutiny. The sale passed with a 6-3 city council vote, which amounts to nothing more than selling out the future of Jersey City’s beleaguered working class, to Ironstate and other project beneficiaries.

Ironstate Development Company has a sordid past in gentrifying at the expense of the working class. Their most recent project is the development of a ‘sustainable’ urban rental housing called Urban Ready Living (URL). These apartment buildings, marketed towards upper-class commuters, create an exclusive community in downtown Jersey City. This cuts out workers who depend on nearby public transportation to get into Manhattan.

Jersey City’s Housing, Economic Development, and Commerce Department’s (HEDC) recommendation regarding the drawbacks of permitting publicly owned land to literally be given away to the private sector has been callously disregarded. In contrast to angry Ward F residents, city council President Rolando Lavarro argued that the city-owned land should be “sold” to SciTech Scity LLC, without any guarantees that the revenue would be shared with Jersey City.

The second point of contention is the STEM school that will be built at SciTech Scity. Before the city council meeting, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop released a statement indicating that the K-12 STEM School would be a public school. However, the statement was soon pushed aside as plans for a charter school emerged in its place.

New Jersey charter schools are technically considered public schools since they rely on taxpayer funds to support them. Furthermore, charter schools do not have to make public documents related to their operations, including financial statements and their trustee members. Not surprisingly though, these privately-owned enterprises guised as ‘public schools’ do not have to play by the same rules as their public school counterparts. As a result, they can accept and remove students as they wish, enabling them to ‘juke the stats.’ This is a pathetic attempt at peddling the fiction that traditional public schools are “broken beyond repair.” The fact that charter school teachers and staff are denied the right to unionize and collectively bargain contracts speaks volumes of the charter school PR machine’s true agenda.

At the city council meeting, Lorenzo Richardson (Jersey City Board of Education member), Ron Greco (president of the Jersey City Education Association Teachers Union) and Chris Gadsden (Jersey City Ward B councilman) spoke up to demand that the STEM school to be built at SciTech Scity be a Jersey City public school.

Jersey City Public Schools already has the resources and expertise to operate the proposed STEM school, and if SciTech Scity is allowed to open as a publicly-financed charter school, the people will be powerless to demand that such a school be made available to children from all of Jersey City’s six wards. The recently adopted city council plan does nothing to ease the overcrowding in downtown Jersey City public schools. Nor does it even so much as slow the pace at which working-class people are being displaced, as gentrifiers seek to gobble up ever more property and profit at the people’s expense.

The land transfer ordinance was approved by the city council by a vote of 6-3, despite city residents passionately making their cases as to why the ordinance needed to be defeated. The only members of the city council to vote against the land transfer ordinance were Ward B Councilman Chris Gadsden, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano and Ward D Councilman Michael Yun.

The SciTech Scity project is both the blueprint and end game for the gentrification of Jersey City’s heavily working -class Ward F. Upon completion of SciTech Scity, the property values near the center will skyrocket, which will be the death nail for Ward F’s working-class residents. These residents will be forced to move elsewhere, and more than likely out of the city altogether. These displaced residents are sure to be replaced by New York City transplants and social climbers from other parts of the country.

Jersey City community members are beginning to organize a campaign to fight back against these attacks on public education and the working class.

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