On Thursday evening, the Board of Education held their reorganization meeting, electing Natalia Ioffe as the new president despite the ethics charges lodged against her for a letter she published during the last election cycle.

Ioffe had written in support of three candidates running as the “Education Matters” team. Those candidates were elected only a month later and were sworn in as board members during the reorganization meeting. The concern over ethics carried into the night, as public comments spotlighted concerns the public had about the new board. 

In a vote of 5-to-4, Ioffe was elected as the new board president, beating out Gina Verdibello. Both nominees previously held the title of vice president, instructional and non-instructional, a change to the typical board structure that was created by former president Gerard Lyons for the 2022 year. 

Despite the charge against her, which implied Ioffe had supported the then-candidates to later garner their votes, Ioffe only won two of their three votes, with Afaf Muhammad voting for Verdibello. 

Noemi Velazquez, who started with BOE in 2020 and won her re-election campaign in November, was voted as the new vice-president, again with only a slim margin of one vote. The other nominee was Lorenzo Richardson, who has been on the board since 2021. 

Despite the contentious start, the nomination and voting was quick, taking less than 10 minutes of the two hour meeting. 

Public comments started with an unexpected twist as the first speaker, Monique Andrews, a community activist and staple of BOE meetings said she was declining to comment. Andrews said this was the first time she had ever refused to speak but did not provide a reason for her silence, only slipping out of the meeting early. 

Ron Greco, President of the Jersey City Education Association, came to the podium to discuss ethics charges against an unnamed current board member for “their unscrupulous behavior in Atlantic City” but instead veered into the article published by the Jersey City Times regarding the ethics charges against Ioffe. 

“I’m glad you weren’t bamboozled by a former employee of this district,” he said in support of Ioffe. “Any of you can write a letter to a newspaper and support a slate of candidates. It’s been done many times before.”

Greco then went on to talk about his concern over vacant positions, “Stop creating vacancies. When we have the money to attract people to come here to teach, we can create all the fluff jobs we want” for patronage. He said that the district cannot continue to take teachers out of the classroom to “house them up in central office.” 

Elizabeth Perry, the only speaker who called in, directed her comments at Noemi Velazquez saying, “How dare she try to hold a member of society and a constituent hostage because of her emotions? Clearly, she is unable to be objective.”

She was referring to Velazquez’s rhetoric last week, when she criticized a speaker for what she referred to as an “attack” against her and Latinos.

Perry said she did not hear anything that targeted the trustee directly during last week’s public comments and felt personally targeted by Velazquez’s words even though they were not aimed at her. She also warned that she would lodge an ethics complaint against the new vice-president. 

“If she believes that the board and her friends should stand up against speakers, she is asking speakers to unite and to stand up against her, board members and leadership.”

Additionally, requests for the board to focus on the children and to listen to constituents along with a few thankful sentiments made their way onto the public comments but most of all, there seemed to be a lingering animosity towards the new board. 

In responding to the public comments, President Ioffe said, “We do not have to agree but we do have joint goals and a mission.”

No responses were made directly to Perry’s or Greco’s comments. 

Proceeding with the agenda, the board approved the calendar for the year, reaffirmed the code of ethics and designated financial investments, including textbook and supply purchases, petty cash funds, and bid thresholds, concluding the meeting early in the night. 

Vincent Onofre is a journalist based in the tri-state area. Raised in Texas, he has found a love for the northeast and New Jersey pizza. His go-to beats include politics and civics, healthcare and education....