Op-Ed: Don’t let Trump’s campaign tactics sully the Jersey City BOE election

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In an editorial, former Jersey City Board of Education Trustee Matt Schapiro explains why he is concerned that “the Trump tactics are working in Jersey City,” particularly in connection to the upcoming school board race.

Concerns swirl around next year’s national election for President and Congress. Mine go something like this: What if American citizens vote against their own interests again as they believe the lies told to them by our autocratic president and his toxic enablers?

Election Day this November locally provides a more immediate test of that dynamic as Jersey City residents go to the polls to determine the future of their Board of Education.

And I am concerned that the Trump tactics are working in Jersey City.

Currently every seat on the Jersey City school board is controlled by the “Education Matters” team, whose candidacy is funded by Garden State Forward, the most powerful special interest group in New Jersey.

The NJ School Ethics Commission and the NJ Office of Administrative Law have each determined that Education Matters board members acted inappropriately on behalf of the political interests of Garden State Forward.

A Hudson County Superior Court judge stopped them last month from stealing the board seat which I vacated in July.

In other words, these board members have been independently and repeatedly shown to act in the interest of their powerful political leaders over the interests of the children and schools of Jersey City.

The similarity in tactics employed by President Trump and the current campaign tactics of Education Matters is striking.

POTUS does an increasingly able job of muddying up the picture for Americans, accusing others of doing the exact thing which he is guilty of himself. This causes voters to close their minds and hearts to any sort of hopeful future.

Yet despite reams of evidence of its candidates’ malfeasance, Education Matters wants Jersey City voters to believe that the real threat to the schools is their opposition: the “Change For Children” slate, because Change For Children takes some financial support from Jersey City real estate developers.

As a candidate for JCBOE, I was accused over and over of being a tool of charter school interests because some of my campaign funding came from education groups which also support charter schools.

As a board member in 2018 and 2019 I proved them wrong, never saying a single word or taking a single action on behalf of anyone but the students of Jersey City.

Here reams of evidence and court documents clearly show Education Matters board members repeatedly taking sides with the political leadership of Garden State Forward over the interests of the students of Jersey City.

They have done enormous damage to the school system.

Nearly $50 million of new legal liability has been accrued by the schools and staff morale has been affected permanently due to their actions in lurching from crisis to crisis, meddling dangerously in hiring and firing, intimidating educators and administrators, causing a teachers’ strike in 2018, throwing the district’s healthcare program into disarray, and lying to the public about the financial condition of the district.

Perhaps most damning they have been so busy settling political scores that they have done none of the work they were elected to do for the students of Jersey City: the planning, policy-making and goal-setting necessary to move our schools forward!

And now these same Education Matters candidates and their Garden State Forward political bosses want the voters to believe that the real danger comes from their challengers: the Change For Children slate featuring five diverse, community leaders who have indicated that their scruples are not for sale.

Five people who never before ran for office and who have shown no indication that they are susceptible to the same corruption as Education Matters board members have shown they themselves are.

As a former member of the Jersey City Board of Education, I can tell you that these Education Matters board members have taken actions again and again which have hurt this critical Jersey City institution, the school system, by advantaging their political bosses over the students and communities they were elected to serve.

It is now in the hands of the voters to determine the way forward for Jersey City’s schools. The rise of Donald Trump has shown us the ease with which good people can be confused when they don’t know the full story.

He has successfully attached his own corruption to his opponents, and made his weaknesses theirs.

The malfeasance and ethical compromise of Sudhan Thomas and his Garden State Forward cabal are well-known, just like that of Trump.

My fear is that in Jersey City, voters may endorse the use of Trump’s tactics if they are unable to see them for what they are: cover to create just enough confusion that voters will unfairly assume the worst of the newcomers and take a “whatever okay” stance toward those who have shown they don’t deserve it.

 

Matt Schapiro is a former trustee of the Jersey City Board of Education who resigned from the board when his family moved to California in July 2019. He was moved to write this piece after speaking to friends still living in Jersey City about the upcoming election.