The Jersey City Board of Education named Gerald Lyons as their new president, later passing a resolution to allow Gina Verdibello and Natalia Ioffe to both serve as vice presidents at their reorganization meeting.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
The first order of business was swearing in Ioffe, Younass Barkouch, Paula Jones-Watson, who won easily in November running under the “Education Matters” banner.
Trustee Lekendrick Shaw nominated Lyons for president, while Trustee Gina Verdibello nominated Lorenzo Richardson. Lyons was approved 6-3, with Ioffe, Verdibello, and Richardson voting no.
Once he was made president, Lyons said the Newark and South Orange Boards of Education both have two vice presidents – one for instructional and one for non-instructional – and felt the Jersey City BOE should do the same, given it’s size.
“There is a need for us to split the work. I think it’s great for us to get more leadership,” he rationalized.
After the motion was approved, Trustee Noemi Velazquez was nominated to be instructional vice president, which failed before Verdibello was approved 5-4. Velazquez, Hamilton, Richardson, and Shaw voted no.
Ioffe was then named non-instructional vice president by the same tally.
While there were a wide array of topics discussed during public comment, one common theme was showing fiscal responsibility for the students.
“You made an oath, all y’all made an oath to worry about these children. And then you get up here, and you start making decisions for that man, Mayor Fulop. He already took over this board. I watched it happen. Some of you should feel really bad about it,” said Monique Andrews.
“This district has a very large budget, over $800 million. The state recently approved another approximately 126 million. You have enough money to start making a difference in the facilities in this district,” said Joan Terrell Paige, a former board member who opted not to seek re-election in November.
Jersey City Education Association President Ron Greco warned the board to proceed with caution, especially when selecting a new superintendent in light of Frank Walker’s retirement.
“There’s a huge budget here. There’s monitors from the state watching. So be careful what you do because the vultures are always circling Jersey City,” he said.
“You have a big responsibility choosing a super for the interim or acting period. Choose wisely Don’t let the mayor influence you on who the new superintendent is! We don’t need chaos here. Don’t let me bring it here because I will. It’s not a threat, but I will.”
From there, Robert Gordon complained about schools shutting down in Jersey City this week, claiming it was mentally damaging to young children who are the least vulnerable to the virus.
Additionally, Sylvia Charles said they should not be intimidated by the union when choosing a new superintendent.
“I am very disturbed when Ron Greco comes to a meeting and seemingly threatens the people on the board that we can flood the streets with a sea of red. I really do not think that that puts board members in a state of mind to be able to choose without coercion who the best candidate will be,” she said.
Verdibello then nominated Dr. Norma Fernandez, who is the deputy superintendent, to be promoted as Walker’s successor, but Velazquez thought the issue would be addressed in a closed session. Lyons said he also thought they would discuss it in a closed session.
“If this board is choosing to go for a national search, it should really talk about that if we really want to do a thorough search,” Velazquez said.
“I’m a bit caught off guard as well,” Shaw added.
“I’m suggesting we table this and have a discussion in closed session,” Lyons said.
Ultimately, the motion was tabled. Later, Lyons suggested forming an ad hoc committee solely to address COVID-19 issues. All ad hoc committees will be assigned at the next meeting.
“We anticipate returning to in-person learning on Monday, January 10th. We will continue to update you as circumstances change,” added Fernandez.