Facing some hostility during a public forum, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said that the notion that the board of education referendum is a power grab is “a bunch of nonsense,” exclaiming that a ballot question won’t be necessary if the BOE acts responsibly.
“When this came in front of the city council, we spoke about that none of us want an appointed board of education: let me start there. Okay?,” Fulop said during a community meeting at Dickinson High School, organized by BOE Trustee Gina Verdibello, last night.
“And then this narrative about a power grab: ‘he wants this, he wants that’ – it’s bunch of nonsense. Why is it a bunch of nonsense? If I wanted to hire somebody tomorrow, I don’t need the board of education to do that: I could work with a councilman tomorrow and solve that problem. It’s a bunch of nonsense that there’s any advantage to that.”
He also stressed that if voters preferred an appointed board, it would only be temporary until the school funding problem is fixed. If it can be fixed before then, there is no need for a ballot question.
“If the board of education acts responsibly, we’re not gonna have a referendum in November. Responsibly means making responsible choices along the way: that works for teachers, that works for nurses, that works for the taxpayers, that works for students.”
At the beginning of the year, the mayor said the city council would decide on a November ballot question that would allow voters to decide if the school board should remain elected or become appointed in light of the governing body turning into “a national embarrassment.”
At the time, Fulop said that voters would have the opportunity to hold him and the city council directly accountable for the schools. At a chaotic meeting on January 8th, the council approved the ballot question.
According to state statute, the city council has until 72 days before the general election to rescind a referendum.
Since then, the mayor, along with Ward D Councilman Michael Yun, have been presenting ideas (such as auditing all 178 payment in lieu of taxes agreements) to fund the schools, culminating in a three-year, $250 million plan they unveiled during a press conference yesterday morning.
Despite their latest efforts, several parents and school district employees were dismissive of the idea that City Hall was the only place providing solutions.
“I’m having a hard time with this ‘the board of ed is so terrible’ and ‘we don’t have a one- to three-year [budget] plan and blah blah blah … the smoke and mirrors that’s going on right now: it’s terrible,” expressed Jackie Matthews, a school nurse at Public School No. 6.
She was dismayed by the fact that the BOE had already done an audit report published in October and didn’t see why the city deserved any credit for doing their own.
“The timing: it’s all suspect … after 34 years, I’ve got to tell you, I’m tired of coming to fight tooth and nail for that which is right. It’s old already. Why don’t we all get on the same page for one time – let that be your legacy,” shouted Colleen Kelleher.
Not everyone was interested in a slugfest though, with others asking for clarity on the details of a public school slated to be built as part of a redevelopment area Downtown, specifically Saddlewood and Laurel Courts.
Fulop said that the facility would be designated as an elementary school, which would be part of the public school system, and would be suitable for 350 to 400 students.
Another common concern involved crossing guards, with several residents indicating they were sparse in high traffic areas during the beginning and end of the school day.
The mayor indicated that while that it is difficult to retain quality crossing guards, noting that it’s very rare for them to be terminated for any reason besides excess absenteeism, he welcomed recommendations and said that the city was “on the goal line” with finalizing a new contract with them.
He also committed to Jersey City Police Division Director Tawana Moody, who oversees the crossing guards, attending a community meeting in the future.
Nevertheless, the last speaker of the evening, Jersey City Education Association President Ron Greco, said Fulop’s continued call for the BOE to act responsibly “sounds like a threat,” which he feels is unfair since Franklin Walker was only named the full-time superintendent in January.
He further stated that while all vested parties are interested in regaining full local control as soon as possible, the city has to take full responsibility in funding their schools – even if the BOE remains elected.
” … It shouldn’t be a caveat, which in the beginning, I have to disagree, it was: ‘we can fund, we can help out – if I can have an appointed board so I can see who’s doing what.’ It doesn’t work that way in Belmar, it doesn’t work that way in Bayonne,” Greco stated.
” … Yes, larger cities do have mayoral appointed boards. I think it usually leads to chaos with the parents, and the workers, you see in New York – where Marcia Lyles came from – community school boards, all the dysfunction that’s over there.”