Outcome of Board of Education Races Could Shift Future of Jersey City Schools | #Education

JERSEY CITY, NJ – With large property developers backing one slate of candidates and the teacher’s union another, and with majority control of the body at stake, this year’s Board of Education elections in Jersey City could have a major impact on the future of the city’s public school system. 

The district is in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the state takeover in the late 1980s, due in part to massive cuts in state aid and the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. In May, the board approved at $736 million budget that will raise local taxes by $53 million. While this was a reaction to the $175 million in planned state aid cuts, local officials said the state has cut $120 million, and could see even more cuts in aid due to the expanded growth of Jersey City’s tax base as a result of new development.

Although the situation is more dire, the conflict between the two slates represents two sharply different philosophies and pits  “Change for Children” – seen as a progressive slate –  against a more traditional union-backed slate of candidates under the banner “Education Matters.” 

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Last year’s contest saw the highest spending in any board of education race in state history, and ended with “Change for Children” taking two of three seats but leaving the “Education Matters” side still in control. 

Angered at the imposition of a payroll tax that city officials hoped could offset some of state budget cuts, large developers spent big in the 2019 race, including The LeFrak Organization — one of Jersey City’s most prominent developers — who put $312,036 on Change for Children through the super PAC Fairer NJ. Change for Children spent an additional $223,556 on the race and got Alexander Hamilton and Noemi Velazquez elected to two of the five BOE seats available.

While just one seat short, and with no incumbents on the tickets, taking control of the board may not be an easy task, even if developers support “Change for Children” to the same amount as last year.

Running with “Education Matters” are incumbent Board President Lorenzo Richardson, Vice President Gina Verdibello, and Trustee Lekendrick Shaw. Verdibello, who ran and lost during three previous attempts, won a one-year term, along with Shaw, in 2019. Both are seeking three-year terms in the 2020 contest.  

The “Change for Children” slate includes formerly unsuccessful candidates Asheenia Johnson and Sonia Cintron, and newcomer Karen Poliski. 

The conflict has already become heated, not just over the fiscal conditions of the district which could increase the number of students per class as well as cut programs, but also over philosophies regarding students returning to the classroom.

“Change for Children” has already blasted the current board for its delay in implementing in classroom studies, while “Education Matters” has defended the position proposed by Schools Superintendent Franklin Walker, who said the district might not see kids back in classrooms until November, or even as late as the beginning of the New Year.

One of the key issues is the perception that schools in poorer neighborhoods in southern Jersey City do not get the same resources as those in the wealthier neighborhoods, an assertion that a report issued four years ago showing the schools in Jersey City Heights and elsewhere are overcrowded while schools in Greenville are underutilized, perhaps backed up.

But even some of the better schools, such as McNair Academy – arguably one of the best high schools in the state – have serious maintenance and upkeep issues.

“Education Matters,” has defended the district’s effort to find funding for the school district, at the same time attacking “Change for Children” as being funded by developers, who through tax abatements, failed to properly fund the schools in the past.

Mayor Steven Fulop, who had in the past supported progressive tickets, has decided to stay out of the educational battle this year but that hasn’t kept other elected officials including Freeholder Bill O’Dea, a Fulop allow, and a strong advocate for the unions endorsing  the “Education Matters” candidates. Freeholder Joel Torres, a former JCBOE member, followed his colleague’s endorsement on Wednesday, while Councilman Daniel Rivera did the same Thursday.  

 

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