Jersey City BOE President Thomas retains his leadership post as three trustees sworn in

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The Jersey City Board of Education voted 7-1 to re-elect Sudhan Thomas for another term as president, but Trustee Matt Schapiro still voted no and refused to shake his hand, making it clear that their feud is far from over.

It was right after the seven board members in attendance (Trustee Amy DeGise voted via conference call, while Trustee Pastor Luis Felipe Fernandez was absent), voted to approve Thomas for another year as president that he then approached each board member to shake their hands, but it was only Schapiro who didn’t oblige.

It’s no secret that both Thomas and Schapiro for some time have been at loggerheads over the board’s direction and policy objectives.

“There’s certainly some personal animosity that exists between the two of us. I can give a reason … why I didn’t shake his hand was that he has simply leveled extraordinary, offensive insults at me over the course of the last year both in writing and in person,” Schapiro said in an interview after the meeting.

“He has said truly vulgar things to me, and I’m not that type of person that can be fake and pretend to be friends when there is someone who has treated me that way.”

In response, Thomas said that he had no issue with any of his colleagues going in a different direction, though also seemed to indicate Schapiro wasn’t acting in good faith.

“In democracy, you have the right to dissent and the right to exercise your choice, but at the end of the day this is one board, nine members who have to work together for the interests of the 30,000 children that we serve. It’s obviously disturbing and sad, but it is what it is, we’ll deal with it,” Thomas said.

Schapiro also noted that he voted no for Thomas’ re-election because Thomas’ governing style is combative and that he’s a pugilist.

Thomas brushed it off.

“At this point, we have seven of the eight board members present today who obviously instilled their proof of confidence in me by voting for me. Trustee Schapiro has a right to his own opinion but I’ve always said that he doesn’t have a right to his own facts,” he began.

“I’m going to reach out to him again to see if we can identify areas where we can work together, but not shaking hands with the president who just got re-elected, that is a sign of combativeness, that is a sign of non-cooperation.”

Schapiro wanted the opportunity during the voting to explain why he was voting no, but he was informed by the board’s counsel, Michael Gross, Esq., that he couldn’t comment.

“This is not a motion, as a result [this] does not require any debate, does not require any comments, it’s no different than going into the ballot box, you vote yes, you vote no or you abstain. There is no public comment with regard to this, there is no board comment with regard to this. Anyone who does not pass the vote when they’re called by the roll as a yes or a no vote will be counted as an abstention,” said Gross.

Just before the board recessed for 10 minutes, Thomas spoke briefly about how the board, despite the serious challenge of impending funding cuts in state aid by $175 million, worked hard to find savings and efficiencies without leading to layoffs in the past year.

“For the first time in 10 years the employees of the Jersey City Board of Education will not see their health insurances premiums and their Chapter 78 deductions go up in January as has been the case for the past 10 years. This board will take credit for this by leading from the front and moving from the state plan to a self-insurance plan,” Thomas said.

“We have confirmation that the state employees’ insurance plan was increased by close to five percent on the medical side and 200 percent for prescription drugs. Obviously, by hunkering down and shifting to a new plan, this board has been able to save our employees from significant price increases.”

We then asked Thomas about whether the district will be forced as a last resort to lay off teachers if the district can’t offset the state aid cut.

“We are continuously evaluating the operational reality of this district. Last year when we balanced the budget we were able to knock off $70 million without touching any jobs. But the reality is if we have to look at optimizing our funding, and we’ll explore legal, legislative and operational efficiencies. And operational efficiencies means that everything is on the table.”

Just before the meeting concluded, Trustee Marilyn Roman introduced a resolution that told Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marcia Lyles her contract would not be renewed at the end of next year.

That measure passed 7-1, with Schapiro voting no, then a subsequent add-on resolution to approve a search to find Lyles successor passed unanimously (8-0).