The “GAS” Jersey City Board of Education team, consisting of Trustee Vidya Gangadin, Neil Abadie and Dominique Smith, discussed teacher negotiations, schools funding, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marcia Lyles and much more in a sit down interview.
“We have amazing educators and we trust their judgement on so many levels. One thing that I would like to see, that can be revamped, is the way our negotiation process is with our teachers’ contract,” Gangadin said after touting the improvements the district has made, such as regaining local control, since she joined the board in 2012.
“Our teachers do not deserve to go on a strike. They deserve better than that and they deserve good healthcare as well. When their health and mental side, of their human body, is being affected, it comes out in the classroom.”
While Jersey City teachers went on strike for the first time in 20 years back in March, the dispute was resolved after just one day of picketing.
When asked about the school district’s continued state funding woes, which could be depleted by $150 million over the next seven years, all three running mates said they would all support the implementation of a city payroll tax, with Abadie noting that marijuana legalization could be a big benefactor for the Jersey City Public Schools.
“One thing that I’ve started saying is that we need to be included in the conversation as cannabis becomes legal – to make sure we’re at the table for these conversations. A new tax revenue for a multi-billion industry comes here: the schools cannot be an afterthought in that – they need to be at the forefront of that,” he began.
“That’s why we’re lucky to have been endorsed from all levels – city, state and county government – members throughout the legislative body so that we can begin having these conversations to make sure that tools that exist, such as the payroll tax or explored properties to help fund the schools.”
Earlier this week, the GAS team, listed on the ballot as the “Preparation, Community, Sustainability” slate, touted endorsements from Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-31), Freeholder Jerry Walker (D-3) and Jersey City Councilwoman-at-Large Joyce Watterman.
“I am happy to support Vidya Gangadin, Neil Abadie, and Dominique Smith on their candidacy for Jersey City Board of Education,” McKnight said in a statement.
“I strongly believe that these candidates will help move the district forward. On November 6, 2018, I ask you to join me and vote for Gangadin (4I), Abadie (5I), and Smith (6I).”
On the subject of several former school district administrator’s suing the BOE for discrimination after their contract’s were not renewed in June, Gangadin said she was strongly opposed to the way the matter was handled – particularly since it could leave the district on the hook for $35 million.
“I said ‘we have not evaluated these employees, how are we not renewing them? There has to be a reason as to why. It’s a non-renewal, when the superintendent is making a recommendation for a renewal. Now we’re faced with a huge liability,” she explained.
“Now we just received a claim, which is public information, and the claim is up to $35 million and that’s where we’re heading to. If I tell you it sounds very capricious … absolutely.”
Jersey BOE BOE President Sudhan Thomas has previously defended the decision not to bring the administrator’s back since they did not have the proper qualifications necessary to hold their positions.
When given a hypothetical scenario asking if they would renew the contract of Superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles in January if elected (her contract is good through 2019), the team was in agreement that they would since the only metric to judge her performance right now is improved PARCC scores.
“There is no voted upon metric right now for that in place. If you look at just scores, they just recently came out with the PARCC scores, and if that was your only metric, because that’s the only thing that’s been tangible that you can point to right now, we’ve improved in nearly every aspect of that,” Abadie stated.
“So if you’re looking at that essentially as the metric, then she’s doing a stellar job, and as mentioned, there’s always room for improvement and we’re looking forward to be part of that change and that growth,” added Dominique Smith, who rounds out the GAS ticket.
When asked what makes them a compelling choice for voters, she exclaimed that given their collective experience in the education field, they are eminently qualified to serve on the board.
“GAS is exactly what it sounds like: we’re going to fuel up the board of education. We have to move forward and fuel our progress. I’m proud to run with these two individuals beside me because of the unique skill sets that we bring to the table,” Smith said.
“For this reason, in such a time as this, in the direction that we need to go in, these are the skill sets that you actually need: proven experience, proven record.”
Smith is the admissions counselor at NJCU, Abadie runs a tech startup and Gangadin has served on the Jersey City BOE since 2012.