Seven of the eight Jersey City’s Board of Education candidates discussed a slew of topics including school funding, bullying and a forensic audit during their first public debate.
Hosted by Gina Verdibello of Parents Take Action and moderated by Hudson County View’s John Heinis, the debate took place at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Wednesday evening.
BOE Trustee Gerald Lyons, Amy DeGise, and Lorenzo Richardson are up for re-election, while Youssef Saleh, Matthew Schapiro who are challenging the incumbents for three, three-year terms.
Additionally, David Miranda is running against Mussab Ali, who was unable to attend the forum, for a one-year term.
Lyons, DeGise, Richardson and Ali have been endorsed by the Jersey City Education Association, while Schapiro and Miranda are running together under the Jersey City United banner. Saleh is running independently.
Gerald Lyons, recently named principal of the HCST’s KAS Prep Program, and HCST’s Supervisor of Instruction and the Director of its Food Services Program, tackled the importance of a forensic audit due to overspending throughout school districts.
“We received a great audit…We then found out a few months later, our district overspent a million dollars on them. They were budgeted at $4 million, which I voted against,” said Lyons, focusing on the $5 million dollars spent after the audit.
According to Lyons, there was a recent $19 million deficit prevented due to a “fantastic” audit.
On the contrary, Schapiro was adamantly against such a procedure, which could lead to “unenforced errors” or “self-inflicting wounds.”
“A forensic audit would be an extraordinary mistake because it would tell everyone that there’s something very wrong going on in the district, which is not actually happening,” said Schapiro.
Legally, a forensic audit is used to prosecute a party for fraud, embezzlement, or other financial claims, which Sc nohapiro firmly stood against, while all the other BOE candidates found the audit necessary.
At Thursday’s BOE meeting, the board approved a forensic audit by a vote of 8-1, with only Trustee Vidya Gangadin voting no.
Jersey City’s public regard for school district budgeting and voucher programs coincided with many of the candidates duties if elected.
Taxpayer voucher programs provide public funding to pay either fully or partially for example, charter schools.
Amy DeGise conveyed charter schools as an unrequited educational system. Ten percent of the school districts budget goes to charter schools.
Instead, students attending public schools need full funding and resources, according to DeGise and all of the other candidates on the forum.
“They have weighted lotteries and again, they take less students of color, less students that are economically disadvantaged, and students who have special needs. That’s not fair, that’s not right, nor is that the school’s choice,” said DeGise, a social studies teacher.
Another topic broached was how inequality and discrimination in the classroom may cause bullying.
Richardson, as well as the other two incumbents, discussed the alleviation of all bullying cases by focusing on training programs and the HIB committee.
Saleh, who was the president of student government at Rutgers University in 2010 when Tyler Clementi committed suicide due to cyber bullying, suggested better communication between students, parents and educators.
Furthermore, Miranda noted how the diversity of the BOE candidates in itself is a strength of the school district and the school system.
He stressed that all ethnicities should be taught in the curriculum to promote inclusiveness and disable hate.
Our friends at SpeakNJ were able to film the entire two-hour debate from start to finish and the video is embedded above.