When Jersey City voters go to the polls to select four candidates for school board on Tuesday, Nov. 5, the election will be marked by several “firsts.”
It will be the first school board election to be held since residents expressed support, through a non-binding referendum passed last fall, for such races to be held in November instead of April. It will be the first school board election to be held since Dr. Marcia Lyles, the superintendent of schools, was hired in September 2012. And it will be the first school board election since Steven Fulop—who engineered three consecutive winning board of education slates in 2010, 2011, and 2012—was elected mayor in May, a development that could affect the outcome of this year’s race.
Twelve candidates are competing for three school board seats. The three top vote getters competing for these seats will each serve a full three-year term on the board.
The candidates running for a three-year term include Ellen Simon, Micheline Amy, Jessica Daye, current trustee Gerald Lyons, Lorenzo Richardson, Gina Verdibello, Denise Davis, Telissa Dowling, Carol Gabriel, Susan Harbace, DeJon Morris, and Kevaan Walton.
In addition to these 12 candidates, two other candidates are competing in a special election to serve out the remainder of the school board seat vacated last year by former school trustee Marvin Adames. Adames resigned from the school board in August 2012 to become the municipal judge in Newark.
The candidates running to serve out the remainder of his term, which expires Dec. 31, 2014, are current school board trustees Carol Lester and Angel Valentin.
Residents who go to the polls on Nov. 5 will be able to pick up to three candidates running for a full term, and one of the two candidates running in the special election for Adames’ seat.
Davis, Dowling, Gabriel, Harbace, Morris, and Walton are running independently. Simon, Amy, Daye, and Lester are running together on the “Candidates for Excellence” slate, which has been endorsed by Mayor Fulop. Lyons, Richardson, Verdibello, and Valentin are running together on a separate rival ticket known as the Children First slate.
Josephine Paige, a thirteenth candidate who earlier this year filed petitions to run for a three-year term on the school board, recently announced on Facebook that she was dropping out of the race. Paige was originally part of the Lyons-Richardson-Valentin ticket. After she ended her campaign, the trio announced that Verdibello would be joining their slate in place of Paige.
In the second of two stories on the upcoming Board of Education election, the Reporter looks at candidates running for the school board race.
Candidates weigh in
Last year, the winning slate of school board candidates were three women who, despite their professional skills and accomplishments, campaigned largely as mothers in an effort to appeal to parents with children in the school system. This year, Gina Verdibello is the school board candidate who is playing the parent card most often, even though most of the other candidates are also mothers and fathers.
Verdibello has come out strongly against the use of school trailers and the classroom overcrowding that has made them a necessity in the district.
“I want to get the children out of the trailers. They are unsafe and unsuitable for our students,” said Verdibello.
Trailers at some schools have been used longer than the manufacturers recommend and have had problems with mold in recent years.
Verdibello added that trailers also lack the security protocols that are generally in place at school buildings.
Recognizing that overcrowding is the reason the trailers are used in the first place, Verdibello said she would like to see the school board work with the city to tie tax abatements to school construction.
“The planned development at Journal Square is wonderful. It’s going to bring in all these new people, which is great. But we know that those people will be using our school system, if not right away, down the road,” said Verdibello “It’s time we start requiring the developers to make a contribution to the schools and build more schools for us.”
When the city offers tax breaks to developers for new construction, most of the money collected goes to the municipal budget, with a small contribution made to the county. But none of the money goes to the local school system.
Daye, a social services worker, said a focus for her, if elected, would be to help immigrant families with limited English skills gain more access to the district.
“It is important for parents to have access and participation in their children’s education,” said Daye. “I do a lot of work on behalf of limited English proficient parents. I think it’s important to have simple services, such as interpretation and translation services, for example at board meetings, so that we get parents engaged.”
Daye lost her eyesight at age 5 and also understands what it means, she said, to have to navigate the public school system with a special need.
Dowling, who works as a substitute teacher in the Jersey City Public School District, said that if elected, she will try to get more resources directed to schools that have been identified as “failing” and those in danger of failing.
“One thing I want to work on is getting the resources to the focus schools. Not only do we have a tale of two cities in Jersey City, but we have a tale of two cities being educated, where the district’s resources are not being spread around equally,” Dowling said.
Dowling, who has also been a public housing advocate, added that she would like to see the school district promote and advertise its academic and athletic successes so the district develops a better image in the community. Several candidates have said the district must promote its success stories to attract and keep top students in the district who might otherwise go to charter, private, or parochial schools.
“People need to know about the great things that are happening in our schools,” said Dowling. “We’re not selling our schools and that’s why the charter schools are taking over the district.”
Carol Gabriel, a retired school teacher, said she wants to reinstitute programs that have been cut from the school curriculum in recent years.
“I want to be able to justify where we utilize our budget and where it may be better allocated,” said Gabriel. “I want to expand and explore vocation sites for our school’s teams. I want to promote the performing and visual artists we have in our school. I want to ensure that our existing school facilities are operable and in good working condition by implementing mandatory board member school inspections, which would be unannounced to the facilities.”
On Nov. 5, the polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.