JERSEY CITY - Outgoing Jersey City Board of Education member Sean Connors continues to raise questions about an e-mail sent earlier this month to Board President Sterling Waterman by the state's Acting Commissioner of Education, Chris Cerf.
In an e-mail dated Dec. 2, Cerf wrote: "It is now abundantly clear to me that this board is not interested in pursuing an agenda of transformational change for the children of Jersey City. You are presented with a unique moment in time in which courageous leadership would make an extraordinary difference. Parochial concerns, interest group influence, and personal political ambitions need to give way to boldness and willingness to accept the inevitably challenging [consequences] of real reform."
Cerf encouraged Waterman to share his e-mail with the other members of the board, which Waterman did.
The Jersey City school board is currently conducting a national search to replace School Superintendent Charles Epps, who will leave his position on Dec. 31.
Cerf's e-mail has raised questions among parents and several members of the board for two reasons.
First, in his e-mail Cerf appears to be alluding to some problem regarding the candidate search for a new school superintendent.
Second, as first reported by the Jersey City Independent, Waterman circulated two versions of Cerf's e-mail to the remaining eight members of the board, one version of which was apparently altered. One version of the e-mail included the sentence, "Feel free to pass this on to your board and to Mr. Fulop," referring to Ward E City Councilman and 2013 mayoral candidate Steven Fulop, who is allied with the new board majority. The other circulated version of Cerf's e-mail appears to have had the Fulop reference removed.
At the Dec. 15 school board meeting Waterman said he didn't know what Cerf was referring to in his e-mail and did not know how the Fulop reference was removed from some versions of the correspondence.
All of which has parents and board members scratching their heads.
In a Dec. 18 letter addressed to Waterman and circulated to the BOE, School Trustee Connors wrote: "It has become evident that you are clearly not the person who came to the public Board of Education expounding the needs of the children in Jersey City as a parent representative. You spoke transparency, yet you are the most secretive school board president in the history of our Jersey City Public School System. I still do not know what Acting Commissioner Cerf is talking about, but obviously you and he know exactly what he has communicated in an e-mail. It seems the commissioner is speaking in code to you, President Waterman."
Connor adds that several attempts by board members to get clarification on Cerf's e-mail have not been fruitful.
"If you are going to be a detriment to good relations in Trenton and the state Board of Education, for the sake of the children and residents of Jersey City, I suggest you resign from your post immediately," Connors concluded.
The controversy over the e-mail threatens to undermine the search for a new school superintendent. Epps' supporters were already unhappy with the superintendent's resignation, which was forced by the Fulop-backed majority. And parents often question the motives of Fulop's allies on the board, who include Waterman, Carol Lester, Suzanne Mack, Carol Harrison-Arnold, and Marvin Adames. Any superintendent candidate backed by this quintet could face an uphill battle winning the support of parents.
The BOE has appointed Franklin Walker to be the interim school superintendent beginning Jan. 1.
Connors' tenure as a trustee also ends Dec. 31. Next month he will be sworn in as a state assemblyman for New Jersey's 33rd District. - E. Assata Wright