LETTER: Jersey City BOE and city council shouldn’t hold joint meetings without superintendent

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In a letter to the editor, Jersey City resident Robert Knapp says that the board of education and city council shouldn’t hold joint meeting without the superintendent of schools present.

Jersey City Board of Education Trustees Lekendrick Shaw (left) and Mussab Ali, the president of the board. Screenshot via YouTube.

Dear Editor,

As a proud product of the Jersey City Public Schools and a lifelong resident of 73-plus years in our City of Jersey City, I have been carefully following the matters at the board meetings and the attempts to mince weaken the authority of the school board.

I will place forth from my recollection a series of events in regards to the relationships between the school board and other entities. I further want to again express my support and the support of the community for our esteemed Superintendent Franklin Walker.

I am extremely concerned in regards to the joint city council/school board meeting conducted on March 31, 2021.

The city council is a legislative body and the school board is an oversight body of an autonomous public body. The school board is not a legislative body.

I recall speaking before the Jersey City Council prior to the appointment of Ms. Lyles as Superintendent and I was reminded by the council members at that time that they did not have nor did they intend to possess any powers over the school board.

Several years ago a former school board member called for a joint session of the city council and the school board and this was immediately rejected by the board after a legal review.

In 2019 the city council invited the school board to a budget hearing to discuss school board finances and also requested the appointment of a city council member to the school board. A legal opinion was referenced that prevented this from taking place.

In keeping with my premise of not citing names I do recall however concerns by school board members indicating “the city is not supposed to have oversight on our finances, we are a separate and independent body.”

From a historical standpoint going back to the 1980’s the district was taken under state control because the city and the board of education were too close. There was a patronage mill at the board of education run by city hall. We must learn from history.”

Another school board member brought back memories of the adverse effect the influence of the city has upon the operations of the schools. A comment of pondering if this action was not illegal it was certainly unethical.

It appears that the meeting disrespected the Superintendent of Schools is a reality, if I am correct the school board convened this meeting without the Superintendent present as the Board President asked that he not be present.

The Superintendent is an ex-officio of the school board unlike the make up of the city council and to conduct a school board meeting without the Superintendent is then possibly an illegal action.

Also there are two members of the school board with possible severe conflicts, one who has a spouse who is employed by the City of Jersey City and the other who works for the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority.

In closing I wish to dwell on two points. History is a subject that enables us to learn from the past whether it be positive or negative.

The city government needs to support the Superintendent in the administration of the schools, keeping the influences that existed in the 1980’s and back away from the schools and the welfare of the over thirty thousand students within.

Secondly, we must support Superintendent Franklin Walker and have faith in his knowledge, professionalism, but most of all his caring for the students and staff of the Jersey City Public Schools.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert Knapp
Jersey City