In a letter to the editor, West New York Board of Education trustee Jonathan Castaneda is critical of fellow board members walking out of a meeting earlier this month.
I was compelled to write the following because of how I felt at the Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, October 5, 2016. I was disappointed to be part of a board that resorts to pettiness at the exact juncture when such behavior would erase the hard work our board has done to get our teachers the contracts they deserve.
Fortunately, however, albeit the obstacles and hurdles put in place by particular members of this board, Monday night we were able to approve an agreement thanks to the leadership of President Parkinson and Vice President Gonzalez.
Our teachers show up to work every day to train our communities’ next generation of leaders – our future scientists, engineers, police officers, teachers, doctors, lawyers and so on. Our teachers show up. Our children show up.
Why are members of this board not showing up to do the job they were elected to do? Why are members of this board leaving meetings in an attempt to delay our teachers from getting the contracts they deserve?
Why did we have to call upon a bedridden member of this board who has the limited use of one lung and is recovering from a four-month illness that has rendered her disabled to ensure that the agreement that passed tonight went through?
This trustee took off her oxygen mask and got to our meeting so that we could have enough trustees for a quorum necessary to continue our meeting, one that our members knew was important because it would get us closer to a mutual agreement with our teachers’ union.
Ultimately, actions speak louder than words, and at the last meeting certain members of our elected body turned their backs on our children and our teachers.
Unfortunately, our teachers and our community have been led to believe that certain trustees are fighting for them – that leaving a meeting when a vote doesn’t go their way is “fighting the good fight” or “doing the right thing.”
It was certainly nothing other than a slap in the face of our democratic values and our community. Our teachers were desperately waiting in the audience for hours as members who were duly elected by the people to sit on stage, decided they had other priorities that did not involve our board.
Understand, walking out and not being present at meetings prolongs the negotiations process; which in turn does not give our teachers and our students what they deserve.
The reason is simple – they didn’t care about moving the negotiations process into the next phase because all they cared about was posturing at the expense of our teachers and our children.
Individuals who walked out along with individuals in the audience running for seats on our board in November tried to take advantage of negotiations in order to get their political sound bites in before the election; their intent was merely to grandstand – petty to say the least, but definitely not surprising.
I was ashamed that members of our board felt it was alright to hold our governing body, our teachers and children, and democracy hostage. We were not elected by the people to do that; I wholeheartedly wish I could apologize to our community on their behalf.
But how do you forgive holding hostage the paychecks that feed our teachers, our support staff, our janitors, our bus drivers and their families? This was not only unethical but immoral.
On the other hand, I was inspired – particularly by Vice-President Gonzalez and her resolute spirit. I was inspired that she had the ability to get out of bed despise her illness – to take off her oxygen mask and stand as one with our children and our beloved teachers.
Most importantly, however, I was inspired that members of this board are still committed to continue fighting for our community and for our children like I am.
I hope that teachers do remember in November, I hope they remember exactly who has been there when others haven’t. I hope they remember the individuals who have always cared for their community. I hope they remember and acknowledge the truth of our present as we work together towards a brighter future.
That being said, I want to thank our teachers and support staff for their dedication to our school district and to our students – for their patience and for never losing sight of the fact that our students are the single most important element in our discussions.
While negotiations are inherently strenuous, it is comforting to know we are working towards the common goal of providing excellence for the children of West New York.
Jonathan Castaneda is a Trustee of the West New York Board of Education and President of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Alumni Association for the New York Metropolitan area.
Opinions are his own and not those of the West New York Board of Education or its other trustees; nor are they the specific views of anyone affiliated with the Board of Education including but not limited to other trustees, administrators, staff, or its’ contractors.