The West New York Board of Education backtracked and approved $1.5 million in shared services last night, including police security details and recreation programs.
The meeting, which included about a two-hour public portion session, largely centered around the BOE voting down a shared services agreement for police security details – which would cost $515,568 for the 2017-2018 school year.
Policemen’s Benevolent Association President Thomas Mannion reiterated what he told Hudson County View last week: that the department has taken more than a 50 percent pay cut to work in the schools and that there is much more to this situation than money.
Another officer, Luis Gonzalez, Jr. ( commonly known by his nickname “Gonzo”), dedicated the beginning of his speech to a moment of silence that would occur in the event of an unspeakable tragedy at one of the schools.
“This is what it sounds like at a funeral. This is what is sounded like at [the] Sandy [Hook shooting],” he said to loud applause.
“You may agree with budget cuts. You may find justification for what you need to do. But you know, like I do, you will spend 10 times more on funerals and rehabilitation to families because they suffered a great loss.”
Dozens of others spoke on the topic, including local parent and resident Manuel Bernal.
The other main point of contention, hindering recreation programs by not giving them access to all school facilities, was not lost on the crowd – such as Public Affairs Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo (who oversees the rec program).
“However, I do want to point out that recreation goes well beyond the six weeks in the summer. We are in these facilities, each and every day, from September to June, non-stop,” explained Cirillo.
“We have cheerleading, we have basketball, we had baseball, we had for the first time a football clinic right next door in the middle school gym.”
Additionally, Danny Casarez, a West New York football coach, illustrated the number of student athletes that needed these shared services agreements to pass.
While they were the minority in the crowd, some in attendance remained skeptical of the the fairness of the shared services agreements.
“Of course we need police officers in schools, of course, no one is denying that. Of course we need these recreational services. But at the same time, like these three trustees that stood up to this agreement are also standing up to the corruption in this town,” said Nadia Pena, a 2009 graduate of Memorial High School.
“Isn’t it weird that the town is paying them $4 when they’re bleeding out $1.5 million dollars?”
Prior to the vote, Superintendent of Schools Clara Brito Herrera explained that the amount of money received from the town for shared services was actually $92,849.
Furthermore, Trustee Matthew Cheng, one of three trustees who voted against the shared services on Wednesday, drew the ire of several speakers and wanted to explain his stance on the issue prior to the vote.
“This is money that’s coming from the State of New Jersey, for the school district. We are capped at raising taxes two percent every year. We can’t raise an unlimited amount of money to cover our expenses,” said Cheng.
“Our expenses are going up more than two percent every year. The town, on the other hand, can raise taxes by five percent, 10 percent. One year, a few years ago, they raised taxes 40 percent to cover expenses. This money is specifically meant for the board of education – not to be transferred to other entities – this is for our students, for our kids.”
The first four measures, including police security details, were approved by a vote of 6-1-2 (only Cheng voted no and Trustees Damarys Gonzalez and Jonathan Castaneda abstained).
Trustees Lorena Portillo and Ron Scheurle also voted no on resolution 1.5, a shared services agreement for recreation facilities that cost the BOE $607,584, for a vote of 4-3-2.
The other three shared service agreements were for refuse removal, valued at $195,416, fuel reimbursement for school vehicles such as buses, which means making a $100,000 payment to the town, and rec maintenance and preparation – with a cost of $64,1000.