Jersey City Board of Education trustees took the opportunity at last night’s marathon meeting to respond to criticism over why they didn’t appear before the city council on Wednesday to discuss the BOE budget in light of their request for funds to shore up the budget.
We reported that the reason why no BOE trustees were in attendance at Wednesday’s council meeting was that board counsel had informed them not to participate in the budget hearing because “it will create a wrong precedent and give out the wrong optics,” especially since the board just reclaimed local control of the district from the state last year.
Several BOE trustees based their arguments around this explanation, with one BOE trustee describing the relationship then as “a patronage mill at the BOE run by City Hall.”
Trustee Marilyn Roman said she had several reasons why she didn’t go to Wednesday’s meeting.
“I didn’t go. One of the reasons was that I didn’t quite understand why they [the city council] wanted to put one of their council members on our board. One of the reasons why I didn’t want to be involved in that is that I was here 31 years ago and I saw what the influence of the city had to do on this district, and why we were taken over, which was a very, very big reason why that happened,” said Roman.
“So we cannot go around inviting people to come on our board…if it isn’t illegal, it certainly is unethical to do that.”
Additionally, BOE Trustee Mussab Ali echoed Roman’s comments, and also pointed to the legal reason that BOE counsel provided for not attending Wednesday’s council meeting.
“We got a legal opinion that it was not recommended for us to go this meeting. The city is not supposed to have oversight on our finances, we are a separate, independent body. From a historical perspective, this district was taken under state control because the city and the BOE were way to close. There was a patronage mill at the BOE run by city hall,” began Ali.
“For us, to say 31 years later, right after we get back local control, to say we want to go right back in to that situation, we want to be right next to one other, I think it’s not learning from history.”
Furthermore, BOE Trustee Gina Verdibello said the trustees were right not to attend the meeting, in light of the board counsel’s advice.
“If we’re paying all this money to these attorneys to tell us not to go to something, then I’m not going to go to it, I’m not going to risk ethics charges because I wasn’t listening to what our attorneys that we pay for lots of money. I’m not going to show up to something that I don’t understand, what is was or what is was for, and I’m not going to make any apologies for it.”
However, Trustee Matt Schapiro expressed astonishment that no other board member other than himself attended, especially since the board and the board president have been pleading with City Hall to allocate money towards the budget to offset an over $170 million funding shortfall from the state over the next four years.
“This idea that we want money from them, but we’re not going to talk to them about it, even tell them how much we want, is ridiculous. And the legal opinion [why board members shouldn’t go to the meeting] was ridiculous,” began Schapiro.
“Members of this board attend meetings all the time without board approval, and the idea that there is something wrong with our chief school administrator, our board president and our business administrator speaking to the city council about the money that we want when we’re asking them for money, is frankly a discussion this board should have.”
While no other board members other than Schapiro were at the city council on Wednesday, Ward E Councilman James Solomon attended yesterday’s over six-hour board meeting.
He, like other city council members, chided the BOE for not showing up on Wednesday, but offered an olive branch when he spoke to the board during the public speaking portion of the meeting.
Thomas has said publicly that the only way that the city council could contribute funds to the school district is through a “shared services agreement,” similar to the shared services agreement that the city has with sanitation and security officers in the schools.
Solomon explained there could be another legal path for the city to allocate funds to the BOE.
He noted that last year, city council members sought a legal opinion on how the two entities can work together on school funding, and he went on to cite that opinion to the board.
In essence, the legal opinion explains how a municipality can allocate surplus revenues and funds to its BOE through annual appropriations as set forth specifically in N.J.S.A. Section:40:48-17.1 legislation.
He read the full statute to the board.
“When any municipality, the boundaries of which are identical with the boundaries of the local school district, shall have on hand surplus revenue unappropriated, or anticipated receipts unappropriated for municipal purposes, the governing body may, in its discretion, by resolution adopted at a regular or special meeting thereof, authorize the transfer of, and cause to be transferred, all or any such part of unappropriated surplus revenue, or unappropriated anticipated receipts as the governing body [the council] shall deem advisable to the BOE of the school district of the municipality, provided however no transfer of surplus revenue or anticipated receipts by a governing body to the BOE of the local of school district, under the authority conferred by this section, shall be made unless and until such proposed transfer or appropriation shall be included in the local municipal budget for the year in which it is intended to make such a transfer available from a prior year’s appropriation reserve and shall have been regularly approved, advertised and adopted as a part of such local municipal budget.”
Solomon then proceeded to ask the board to vote on a resolution that would ask the council to authorize to send funds under the auspices of N.J.S.A. Section:40:48-17.1 legislation.
“Help us, help you,” Solomon concluded.
We live streamed most of the meeting to our Facebook Page, which can be viewed below: