Jersey City School Board Meeting Gets Emotional as Parents and Teachers Demand Action
To Fix Budget Deficit
Ninety-nine Jersey City residents—mostly moms, dads and teachers—signed up to speak at the Jan. 30 Jersey City School Board meeting at PS 41 (Fred W. Martin Center for the Arts) to address the $150 million budget gap. Many of the parents shared personal stories of the negative effects underfunding has had on their children’s education, and after they addressed the board, the parents ended their speeches with the battle cry, “Fund our schools!”
“I’m a parent at PS 37,” Jenny Pu said, addressing the board. “Tonight, you’re going to hear what underfunding means for parents in every part of the city. But beneath each story is a question you as the Jersey City Board of Education will get to answer in the coming weeks: How much do you value our children?”
The Jersey City Board of Education continues to grapple with an estimated $150 million deficit for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. Last year, the district lost $27 million in state aid, which was replaced with a new Jersey City payroll tax. Last year, the Jersey City school board sued the state over the loss of aid and to stop an anticipated $180 million in funding cuts over the next several years.
The PS 41 auditorium filled to capacity with parents lining up to speak at the public comment section of the meeting. Many held “Fund Our School” signs as Jersey City mom Rya Cawley stepped up and spoke about building issues at PS No. 39 where her son Taylor attended Pre-K. On the first day of school, Cawley remembers the toilets in the Pre-K bathroom were broken, so teachers had to shuttle kids to the main bathroom where there was only one working sink.
“I spoke to parents who had children in that school for many years, and they said that sometimes the school can’t afford water so they send letters home to please send their children to school with bottled water,” Cawley said. “Let’s give our children a sense of dignity where they can go in and drink clean water and wash their hands with clean water. Fund our schools.”
Special Ed Teacher Maria Enriquez works with students in the Leaps and Bounds program at Ferris High School, where she relies on teachers’ aides to help students who have cognitive impairments and who need one-on-one assistance to go to the bathroom and perform everyday tasks. Enriquez’s biggest concern was losing teachers’ aides.
“As you decide what to cut and where to cut your budget, please consider our aides,” Enriquez says. “We need them. The students need them.”
Jersey City mom Emily Peco reminded the board of the importance of standing up for its constituents with disabilities. She said it doesn’t matter whether a child has physical challenges, behavioral challenges, cognitive challenges, speech challenges or any other special needs, the experience of living with a disability “permeates a child’s life and their parents’ life”.
“I’ve heard countless parents share their struggles with our special-education department,” Peco told the board. “We are exhausted. Money will fix this. Each of you will need to be brave enough to do the right thing. Integrity cannot be quantified. Show your priorities. You know what’s worse to increasing taxes? Closing schools. Your constituents are here and we are asking you to fund our schools.”
Other Matters Discussed
During the meeting, Superintendent Franklin Walker updated the parents on the Wuhan Coronavirus. According to the World Health Organization, the Wuhan Coronavirus is a global health emergency that has claimed the lives of more than 300 people in China and has spread to at least 23 countries including the U.S. Superintendent Walker assured parents there was no need for alarm.
“You likely have seen or read reports about the new Coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China,” Walker said to the packed auditorium. “There were a number of calls that have been made to the Jersey City public schools questioning whether or not cases have been identified. I need to let you know there are no suspected cases or confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New Jersey. Our school nurses have been in communication with the Hudson County Regional Health Commission to monitor the situation and will follow their recommendations.”
Superintendent Walker also introduced eight new principals assigned to Jersey City schools for the 2019-2020 school year.
At the meeting, all school board members including President Lorenzo Richardson, Vice President Gina Verdibello, Mussab Ali, Alexander Hamilton, Gerald Lyons, Marilyn Roman, Lekendrick Shaw, Joan Terell-Paige, and Noemi Velazquez were in attendance.
Header: Jersey City School Board meeting held Thursday evening at PS No. 41