Jersey City supt. asks state for fiscal monitor, conduct review, after ‘coup’ at meeting


Jersey City Superintendent of Schools Dr. Norma Fernandez is asking the New Jersey Department of Education (NJ DOE) to provide a fiscal monitor after a ‘coup’ at last month’s meeting that saw five trustees unceremoniously vote in new leadership.

Photo via

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“Based on the information available, the decision to remove the president was made hastily and, without sufficient evidence or justification, was made for personality issues and revenge since President Ioffe filed ethics charges against the alleged president of the rogue board,” Fernandez wrote in a four-page statement on March 6th.

“Then, the rogue board voted to enter into a contract with the law firm connected to the ethics charges. The circumstances raise concerns about the transparency and fairness of the Board’s decision-making process and may directly violate the purchasing laws for public entities,” she added. also calling their actions a “coup.”

At the February 29th meeting, the Jersey City Board of Education had an over five-hour meeting for the record books, with President Natalia Ioffe calling for a recess about mid-way through after the decorum had deteriorated significantly.

While none of her colleagues seemed to acknowledge her at first, Ioffe, Vice President Noemi Velazquez, Trustee George Blount, and Trustee Alpa Patel, along with Fernandez, General Counsel Robert J. Pruchnik, and others from the administration got up and left.

In their absence, Trustees Dejon Morris and Younass Barkouch spearheaded the effort to continue the meeting and voted out Ioffe and Velazquez as president and vice president, respectively, with Morris voted the new president and Barkouch the new VP.

In the immediate aftermath of the meeting, the DOE declined to comment on what transpired, prompting Fernandez to up the ante.

“I kindly request that the Department of Education provide immediate relief with a fiscal and governance monitor. At the same time, I would also request that the Commissioner refer the conduct of the five members involved for a comprehensive review of the circumstances and a determination regarding whether sanctions, including removal may be warranted as the five individuals have put JCPS on such a dangerous path,” she said.

“It is crucial to ensure that all parties involved have a fair opportunity to present their case and that any decisions are based on solid evidence and just cause as stipulated by code, policy, and regulations.”

She also mentioned that the district’s annual and operation audits showed that financial resources were managed ineffectively under former Business Administrator Regina Robinson, who did not have her contract renewed in May 2022.

Robinson subsequently sued the district, but it was dismissed by the end of that same year and she has subsequently been placed on administrative leave.

“The Business Administrator regularly failed to submit the treasurer and secretary reports or certify the funds on a regular basis. The BA’s mismanagement forced JCPS to pay millions of dollars in fines and unnecessary expenses,” Fernandez asserted.

“The audits by the two firms found significant deficiencies and material weaknesses in the JCPS financial records. Hence, in my capacity as Superintendent, I presented to the Board on February 22, 2024, twenty-three counts of Tenure Charges for the Board to certify since the BA failed to safeguard the district’s financial resources and prevent potential mismanagement or fraud.”

However, she further stated that the five trustees that voted to have Morris and Barkouch lead the board, which also includes Trustees Afaf Muhammed, Paula Jones-Watson, and Christopher Tisdale, “would not vote to certify the tenure charges.”

Fernandez also said one of the trustees said the only conversation they would have about Robinson would be about reinstating her, though she did not name which trustee she was referring to.

In a seven-page response from those five aforementioned trustees, claimed that what transpired at the meeting at the end of last month has been blown out of proportion.

” … Particularly if the trustees’ actions did not entail violence or unlawful activities, the
superintendent’s use of the term ‘coup’ to describe their conduct during the February 29, 2024, meeting might be considered provocative and extreme,” they wrote in their joint statement.

“It is crucial to provide an accurate account of the events that transpired and to address any concerns or disagreements respectfully and professionally. During the February 26, 2024, meeting of the Caucus, Trustee Ioffe confirmed that she was completely informed of her impending removal. Effective and transparent communication among members of the board is of the utmost importance in cultivating confidence and comprehension among the governance team.”

They further stated that despite contentions from Fernandez that say otherwise, the current board majority is adamant that they ousted Ioffe and Velazquez since they were not confident they could govern the board “in an unbiased and efficient manner.”

They also shot down the notion that Ioffe was removed for filing an ethics complaint against Morris over allegedly mingling with a law firm at the League of Municipalities after he had been elected and before he was sworn in.

The board hired that firm, Souder, Shabazz and Woolridge Law Group, as special counsel after the meeting proceeded with only the five trustees.

“The superintendent’s decision to adhere to the positions of the deposed president and vice president, disregarding the viewpoints of the remaining board members, gives rise to inquiries regarding the district’s emphasis on collaborative decision-making and governance processes,” the trustees stated.

“Regardless of leadership transitions, the superintendent must exhibit an unwavering dedication to collaborating with every board member in order to guarantee consensus on critical initiatives and priorities that have an effect on both students and staff.”

Furthermore, Fernandez is accused of stonewalling Morris when he inquired about the upcoming budget and adhering to her own personal agenda, rather than collaborating with all nine elected board members at the community at large.

Morris, Barkouch, Muhammed, Jones-Watson, and Tisdale also contend that she did not paint a full picture of the situation involving Robinson.

“A comprehensive assessment of the Tenure Charges should be predicated on a precise comprehension of the chronological sequence of occurrences and the measures implemented by Ms. Robinson to enhance the district’s financial administration,” they wrote.

“Additionally, it is critical to specify that attributing JCPS’s unnecessary expenditures and penalties exclusively to Regina’s mismanagement would be both erroneous and unjust. The notable inadequacies and vulnerabilities discovered in the financial records probably stemmed from systemic problems that existed prior to Regina’s tenure as leader.”

On last week’s episode of HCV Live & Uncut, Jersey City Education Association President Ron Greco expressed that he didn’t think the actions of the five trustees were legal and that he expected the state to get involved.

“The department of ed, the commissioner of education in New Jersey, that’s the entity that oversees the board of education in all the municipalities … The department of ed I’m sure will weigh in on this …”

NJ DOE spokeswoman Laura Fredrick said on Wednesday that the matter has been referred to the Office of Administrative Law, and since the matter is pending, they have no comment at this time.

As of this writing, the Jersey City BOE’s website still lists Ioffe and Velazquez as the board president and vice president, respectively.


Editor’s note: This story was updated on Wednesday afternoon with a comment from New Jersey Department of Education spokeswoman Laura Fredrick. 

Warning: A non-numeric value encountered in /home/hcvcp/public_html/wp-content/themes/Hudson County View/includes/wp_booster/td_block.php on line 353