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JC School Board Holds Public Meeting on 2020-2021 Budget


Parents and Educators Implore the Board to Put Children First

Hillary Clinton wrote, “It Takes a Village” to raise a child. In the case of Jersey City’s public-school children, it takes a budget that will address their needs, from counseling to a decent breakfast.

A small yet impassioned group of parents and teachers spoke at the school board’s public meeting held at the Jersey City Board of Education’s (BOE) Claremont Avenue office Thursday night. They were there to give the nine-member board their input as it prepares the 2020-2021 school budget. The first draft goes to the county’s superintendent of schools on March 20, and the budget must be passed by May 14.

The Thursday night meeting in the Dr. Emery Konick, Jr. Conference Center took place two days after Mayor Seven Fulop and Ward D Councilman Michael Yun held a press conference outlining a $250 million school-funding plan to fill the BOEs $120 million budget gap. Fulop and Yun proposed a three-year commitment to transfer $40 million over from tax abatements to the BOE.  Their plan would also include spending cuts on firefighter and police recruitment, a pay freeze for select staff, limits on overtime pay and a school tax levy. School taxes are part of a homeowner’s property tax.

Board President Lorenzo Richardson spoke briefly about the mayor’s press conference, saying that he sent the mayor an email the morning of the press conference “providing directives as to what the needs of the schools are in terms of funding from the city.” In the email, President Richardson requested that the city fulfill its commitment to cover the state’s funding cut, which is projected to be $72 million (previously believed to be less than $55 million).

“At this time, we are dealing with funding issues related to state cuts,” President Lorenzo said at the start of the public forum.

Parent Nancy Pokler address the School Board.  Photo by Sally Deering

The board president then opened the public meeting to the small group of parents and educators who came to talk. Jersey City resident and P.S. 5 parent Nancy Pokler talked about the loss of 200 public school positions including 160 teachers, 25 assistants and aides, 20 janitorial, security and food service staff, and 15 administrator and supervisor positions. She spoke of the state’s SFRA (School Funding Reform Act) formula of 2008, used to determine how much each school district receives in funding.

“The SFRA shows that Jersey City can and should be funding its own schools,” Pokler said. “Jersey City has the largest tax base in the entire state and shockingly one of the lowest school tax rates, ranking 532 out of the 565 municipalities.”

Jyl Josephson, parent of a P.S. 26 fifth grader, said that she didn’t want to talk about the numbers. Instead she wanted to talk about Jersey City’s schoolchildren. Josephson told the board that in the past she attended many public-school board meetings where parents made demands about what they wanted without ever mentioning their children’s needs. Josephson said she hoped the board would focus on the children above all else.

“As you begin to make the many difficult and important decisions that you’ll be making over the next few months, I want you to start right now by thinking about children, children that are your primary constituents,” Josephson said. “Our schools have the task of identifying and finding our children’s talents, seeing their beauty and potential, helping them correct their mistakes and do better next time so they can become adults who live together and take care of each other in this beautiful and vibrant democracy. I hope that throughout this process, you will take a moment and imagine the kids and put those kids first.”

School Nurse at P.S. 6 in Jersey City for 18 years, Jackie Matthews asked the board to hire mental health counselors for children who are suffering from extreme anxiety and parental neglect. She said many of the children who are general education students come to school tired, hungry, and filled with anxiety. These children need counseling, she said.

“The children with IEPs get counseling from the social worker, from the school psychologist,  that’s part of their IEP,” Matthews said. “I’m talking about the general ed students who come to school tired, who come to school in the same clothes, who come to school unable to learn because they’re hungry. They’re anxious children who are empty vessels who I fill up one day and who come back the next day empty again.”

Prof. Jyl Josephson

After all the speakers addressed the board, Superintendent Walker thanked them for expressing their concerns about the students. He said the board will focus on restoring “appropriate staff and services to meet the educational needs of the students.”

President Richardson then closed the meeting with a promise to address the issues brought up by the parents and educators. He said, “We will be keeping all your comments in mind and make sure we do everything we can to make sure this budget respects every student in this district.”

President Richardson also said there will be more public meetings scheduled before the March 20 deadline.

Board members in attendance: Superintendent Franklin Walker, President Lorenzo Richardson, Vice President Gina Verdibello, Alexander Hamilton, Gerald Lyons, Marilyn Roman, Lekendrick Shaw, Joan Terrell-Paige, Noemi Velazquez, and School Business Administrator/Board Secretary Regina Robinson.

 

Next Regular Meeting of the School Board
Thurs, Feb. 27, 6 p.m.
P.S. 41 (Fred W. Martin Center for the Arts)
59 Wilkinson Ave, Jersey City
For more info: jcboe.org

 

Header: School board holds special meeting for input on 2020-2021 budget.  Photo by Sally Deering

 

 

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Officials Promise an End to School Water Fountain Saga


15 Jersey City public schools and facilities were set to have their water fountains lead free and operating by November, but they remain shut off. Now these fountains—plus those in 25 of the district’s other schools that had been inactivated due to threats from lead—are scheduled to be back on by March 1.

“This past November, the district had a press release saying that the fountains will be opened in 30 days, but I went back to McNair in December over break, and there was no progress being made,” said Harshal Rajesh Agrawal, a recent McNair high school graduate and local activist on the issue.

Agrawal questions why the repairs took so long.

“Given common sense and my limited technical understanding of the situation, I would think the fountains at McNair should’ve been opened a few months ago. The filters were installed and tested and the results came back clean.”

It turns out that Agrawal’s assessment was correct.

“The water pipes coming into McNair were all resolved a while ago, and there was no work required by the JCMUA,” said Hudson County Freeholder Joel Torres in an email.

“The reason for the delay was that there were fountains in other schools that still needed to be reviewed to make sure they were fully remediated. The superintendent didn’t want to do a piecemeal type of process and wanted to turn on the fountains in every school at the same time. Therefore, they’re finalizing this review to turn them on this month,” Torres added.

The city has spent $1,800,000 on bottled water since lead was first detected in the schools in 2006, and the board has not said how much more these remaining repairs and related purchases will wind up costing.

“It could be as low as $4-$5 million. It could be as high as $15 million,” said former Board President Sudhan Thomas in November 2019.

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Parents Plea for Funding as Schools

Parents Plea for Funding as Schools Face Massive Budget Gap


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!”

Parent Jenny Pu speaks out against the under-funding of Jersey City 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 Education teacher Maria Enriquez speaks up for teacher’s aides

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

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Jersey City: The Municipality’s Role in School Under-Funding


Courtesy Brigid D’Souza / civicparent.org

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Charges of Political Opportunism and Racism Dominate As City Council Approves Board of Education Referendum


Last night, over five raucous hours punctuated by cheers, boos, and admonitions from City Council President Joyce Watterman, residents of Jersey City trudged up to the podium in the Council chambers to vent over the mayor’s proposal to turn the board of education into an appointed body. And vent they did. The proposal brought out teachers, union reps, activists, and parents, united in near-unanimous  opposition to the plan for a referendum that would put the question to voters.

Phil Rivo was notable as the evening’s sole dissenter.

“Right now, every year there is a board of education election. Every year, the teachers’ union is spending upwards of half a million dollars, and developers are spending half a million dollars for a job that pays nothing,” he said. Rivo then cited the five recent Board resignations before adding, “It doesn’t make sense. I would like to see professional people run it.”

If Rivo’s position was the exception, Josephine Paige’s was closer to the rule and highlighted a deep distrust of the mayor and his motives.

“A mayor who wants to change the democratic process is saying his judgment is better than the voters. I don’t want to see the board of education used to advance his political career.”

Lmani Viney standing and pointing at council, School Board president Lorenzo Richardson in foreground. Photo by Jersey City Times

History teacher Lmani Viney likened the mayor’s proposal to the democratic rights that were ceded to Hitler, Stalin, and Napoleon. Maria Scariati, who recalled fundraising for the mayor, ascribed the proposal to the mayor’s “insatiable appetite for primacy.”  McNair High School athletic director Kristen Zadroga-Hart described the referendum as “nothing more than an opportunistic power grab.”  “It feels sneaky” quipped fellow teacher Colleen Kelleher. “This is straight out of George Orwell,” opined Natalie Ioffe, a parent and Soviet émigré.  Referring to past and present African-American school superintendents and board members, Jersey City Education Association President Ronald Greco accused the mayor of having “a problem with black men.”  Tracey Luz ascribed the plan as an effort to promote white supremacy. And so it went for the mayor.

The city council came in for criticism as well.

“What’s the rush?” Chris Gadsen asked. “When were you going to discuss it with the people who actually elected you?”  “Don’t let anyone on this council take your schools away from you,” intoned Daryn Martin. Jeanne Daly demanded to know which council members had “been bought.” Echoing several other speakers, Daly promised to exact revenge on councilmembers. “This is going to be a big problem if you move forward,” he warned. “This is a promise.”

Numerous speakers brought up the case of board of education member Joan Terrell- Paige, whose comments on Facebook following the kosher market attack were deemed by many to have been anti-Semitic and which brought calls for her resignation.

Daryn Martin promised to remember at election time that councilmembers Jermaine Robinson and James Solomon had done exactly that.   “No one is going to get a slab of Joan Terrell Paige. She is not raw beef. Four Hasidic rabbis were indicted for organ trafficking,” said Kabili Tayari. “Ms. Terrell didn’t say anything wrong,” added Kathrine Burno. Steve Goldberg, on the other hand, asked the audience to call out anti-Semitism. “You can hate me, you can hate a Jew, but you can’t hate Jews.”  On a night where speakers were cheered liberally throughout the evening, the room responded with silence.

Also in attendance and apparently on a p.r. offensive was a group of Hasidic men, armed with banners, proclaiming their biblical duty to be good neighbors.

“We condemn buying houses and throwing people out,” said Yoel Loeb. “It isn’t right to call people with concerns anti-Semitic.”

Fellow Hasid, Joel Eidlits explained that they had come to Jersey City because they “couldn’t pay the rent in Brooklyn.”  Eidlits and Loeb both distanced themselves from the Anti-Defamation League, the Chabad Lubovitch movement, and the “evil Jews who created the state of Israel.”

In the end, the council voted 7 to 1 with one abstention to move ahead with the referendum. James Solomon noted that in seven years, not a single board member had been elected without the help of a “super-pac.”

“The issues before the board are huge; the status quo is unacceptable,” Solomon noted.

Council president Watterman explained that she “has to answer to parents.”

Summing up the views of several other councilmembers, she noted that “the vote will give the city a chance to reach a consensus. Let the people say.”

As the sole “no” vote, Councilman Rich Boggiano said he had conferred with the board and was “confident” that it could do the job.

The audience did not take the vote sitting down.

When taunted by an audience member, Councilman Jermaine Robinson offered to settle their differences “outside.” Then when the audience was reminded that the JCEA had promoted the candidacy of twice-indicted board president Sudhan Thomas, a screaming JCEA President Ronald Greco rushed the podium under the watchful eyes of two Jersey City cops. Before being led out of the chambers, Greco accused the council en mass of racism.

The referendum will take place on November 3, 2020. If approved by voters, a new, appointed board of education would be seated on July 1, 2021.

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School Board President Thomas Charged in State Ethics Sting


New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced on Dec. 19 that five current and former public officials have been charged with taking bribes as part of a sweeping political corruption investigation by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA), according to a news release from Grewal’s office.

Current Jersey City Board of Education President Sudhan Thomas is among those charged as a result of the investigation. Thomas is specifically charged with second-degree acceptance or receipt of unlawful benefit by a public servant for official behavior, according to Grewal.

According to the AG, between May and July of this year, Thomas allegedly accepted two cash payments totaling $35,000 from a witness who cooperated with the OPIA investigation. The first payment was for $10,000 while the second totaled $25,000. In exchange for the payments, Thomas promised the cooperating witness a contract to be a special counsel for the school board. As part of the scheme, according to Grewal, Thomas and the witness discussed specific assignments the witness could do on behalf of the school board as part of the contract. In a statement Thursday evening Thomas denied the allegations against him.

Among the details released Thursday by Grewal was a partial transcript of a conversation that allegedly took place between Thomas and the cooperating witness. According to the brief transcript, the witness said to Thomas, “Make me the special counsel for—” To which Thomas allegedly replied, “real estate.” The witness then added, “Yeah, real estate. That’s perfect.” Thomas responds, “Yeah, nobody questions anything. Nobody questions all of that stuff.”

Thomas ran for reelection last month but lost his bid to return to the nine-member school board. His current term on the board ends on Dec. 31.

Four other Hudson and Morris County officials were charged in the OPIA investigation, including former State Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, who also once ran for mayor of Bayonne; former Morris County Freeholder John Cesero; John Windish, a former council member in Mount Arlington; and Marry Dougherty, a former freeholder candidate in Morris County.

“We allege that these political candidates were all too willing to sell the authority of their public office or the office they sought in exchange for an envelope filled with cash or illegal checks from straw donors,” Grewal said Thursday. “This is old-school political corruption at its worst, the kind that undermines the political process and erodes public faith in government. We are working through the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability to create a culture of accountability in New Jersey, where public officials know they must act with integrity or else face the consequences.”

The OPIA investigation began in early 2018 and specifically targeted political figures in Hudson and Morris Counties. According to Grewal’s office, the investigation zeroed in on officials who had allegedly solicited illegal campaign contributions from the cooperating witness in exchange for promises of government work in the future.

“I am not guilty and will be vigorously fighting the charges,” Thomas said in a statement Thursday. He alleged that he was targeted by Attorney General Grewal because he exposed alleged mismanagement and misappropriation of money in the Jersey City Employment and Training Program, where he served as the acting executive director until last summer, following the messy departure of the previous director, former Governor Jim McGreevey. Thomas did not state why exposing the alleged mismanagement would make him a target for Attorney General Grewal.

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Joan Terrell-Paige Should Resign


Joan Terrell, courtesy Jersey City Board of Education website

Nothing could be sadder than the firestorm unleashed by an incendiary Facebook post from board of education member Joan Terrell-Paige following last week’s killings at a kosher market in Greenville. Governor Murphy and Mayor Fulop have called for Ms. Terrell-Paige’s resignation. Because Ms. Paige has refused to apologize for and disavow the post’s contents, we must join in that call.

Ms. Terrell-Paige’s now deleted post was rambling and lengthy. But, if you haven’t read it, here’s how it begins:

“Where was all this faith and hope when Black homeowners were threatened, intimidated and harassed by I WANT TO BUY YOUR HOUSE brutes of the jewish [sic] community?”

Ms. Terrell-Paige goes on to blame Jews for a litany of misdeeds including threatening to bring drug dealers and prostitutes to Jersey City, evicting blacks from Jewish-owned buildings, producing and funding a one-million-dollar ad campaign designed to bring Jews to Jersey City, ending the “Friends of Lifers” and “Second Chance” programs, and destroying community gardens in black neighborhoods. She offers no evidence for any of these claims. She goes on to suggest that Jews should be blamed for the crimes of convicted fraudster Solomon Dwek and the infamous sale of body parts by six rabbis.

Ms. Terrell-Paige concludes by asking whether the perpetrators of last week’s kosher market attack might have had something meaningful to tell us in their decision to kill a police officer and three civilians.

“Mr. Anderson and Ms. Graham went directly to the kosher supermarket.I believe they knew they would come out in body bags.  What is the message they were sending?”

One can assume that Ms. Terrell Paige believes that correct answers would be “they deserved it” or “they brought it on themselves.”

Asked by Politico whether she regrets the post, Ms. Terrell-Page said, “no.”

As an African-American who knows first hand the devastating effects of racism, Ms. Terrell-Paige should have been wiser; she should have known that her stereotyping of Jews is no different than the stereotyping of her own community: cruel, dehumanizing and ultimately dangerous. In a recent article in The Atlantic describing the use of propaganda to ready his society for genocide, Kennedy Ndahiro, the editor of the Rwandan newspaper The New Times, wrote:

“Today, the leaders of powerful nations use dehumanizing language in describing certain groups of people. In mass-shooting incidents, people die because someone has deemed them subhuman on account of their race or religion.”

Such dehumanizing language has been used for centuries against African Americans, Jews, Tutsis, Armenians, Muslims and Catholics, just to name a few. Always, racists use the deeds of a few bad actors to justify their hate of the larger group to which they belong. One need only survey the history of the 20th Century to know the terrible results of scapegoating.

Ms. Terrell-Paige can’t be blamed for her anger. The injustices visited on the black community are shameful and long standing, and her concern about the changes that a new and insular group of settlers might bring to her community is entirely legitimate. But she can and should be blamed for falling victim to the very same prejudice that so hurts her own community. As an educator, she has an obligation to educate. This could have been for her a “teachable moment,” one where she brought people together to fight the scourge of prejudice. Instead she gave a lesson in hate. Moreover, when given the opportunity, she refused to retract her poisonous tirade and acknowledge the pain she had caused another minority, one that has suffered too. Such a person has no place on the board of education.

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Your Property Taxes and School Funding


Courtesy Brigid D’Souza / civicparent.org

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Education: “We Want to Go Home!”


Despite months of back-and-forth discussion regarding the future of Jersey City’s A. Harry Moore Laboratory School, located at 2078 JFK Blvd. opposite New Jersey City University, a long-term solution to the school’s shuttering remains up in the air.

During the Board Of Education’s meeting November 1, A. Harry Moore School was discussed with parents, teachers, and administrators giving their opinions regarding the Jersey City school whose entire operation was recently relocated to Regional Day School after its ceiling partially collapsed in September.

“We are, right now, in a very challenging setting,” Patricia Holzman, teacher at A. Harry Moore school said, referring to the lack of space for their student population at Regional Day School.

“We want to go home,” pleaded A. Harry Moore’s principal, Steven Goldberg, to the BOE.

The A. Harry Moore Laboratory School has been a learning institute for children and adults with physical disabilities ages 3 through 21 since 1931. The school offers an “employment opportunities workshop” an “adapted” physical education program, and a preschool while also offering physical, occupational, speech, and music therapies. Although operated under the College of Education of New Jersey City University, it is funded by the board of education.

In early September, A. Harry Moore’s roof partially collapsed, but before repairs could begin, further inspections deemed the whole building unsafe for students to return, leaving the school’s future  uncertain. Board President Sudhan Thomas stated the school will remain under the Regional Day School until a better solution comes along, declaring they are searching for a fully utilized space for the school to accommodate staff, students, and the equipment the school will require.

Thomas had disclosed four possible options for the future of the school: refurbishing the entire facility, which may cost up to $25 million and take about five years to complete, purchasing a new building altogether, keeping the program at Regional Day School, or renting a space within New Jersey City University.

“We have collectively, with NJCU, decided that that program will continue at Regional Day School for the interim until we find a proper solution,” he added.

In recent months, there was some speculation regarding NJCU’s discontinuing the program and the Jersey City Public School district’s taking over. Superintendent Franklin Walker addressed this rumor at the BOE meeting. “It’s never been our intention to take over the A. Harry Moore program,” he said. “It’s A. Harry Moore Laboratory School that’s been sponsored by New Jersey City University as a part of their college education program.” Walker went on to say they are still viewed as district students and will be provided for.

Both Goldberg and Holzman explained why providing adequate space is of the utmost importance for these students. “This is not only an academic and therapeutic setting for many of these medically fragile students; this is their lives.”

Thomas addressed the situation by announcing the BOE will be creating an ad hoc committee following the board meeting, which will consist of two board members, a couple of A. Harry Moore parents, and appointees from the board and NJCU’s side and that will meet monthly to devise a solution for the school’s permanent — or possibly temporary — location.

Regional Day School is located almost two miles away from the original site of A. Harry Moore School and is home to about 100 students of its own.

Goldberg urged the board to understand the urgency of the situation, explaining the students thrive in this program. “That’s what happens at A. Harry Moore. They live.”

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