Sixteen people are running in the Jersey City Board of Education election on April 20, but only three will prevail.
The election will fill three seats on the nine-member board for three-year terms. The responsibilities of board members include voting on school policy and approving the annual school district budget, which is proposed as $618.8 million for the next school year.
The 16 candidates running in this year’s election are: Kevin Armstrong, Sebastian D’Amico, L. Terry Dehere, Evelyn Farmer, Carol L. Lester, Gerald Maurice Lyons, Gerald McCann, June A. Mulqueen, John R. Muniz, Marimer Navarrete, Aura Ordonez, Hiral Patel, Anthony Sharperson, Angel Valentin, Sterling Waterman, and Arthur Zigman.
Dehere, McCann, and Valentin are incumbents running for another term.
Taxes up, 373 possible layoffs
Also up for a vote is the $618.8 million school district budget for the 2010-2011 school year, down 5 percent from $654 million for 2009-2010. The budget was approved by the Jersey City school board on March 29 by a 5-4 vote.
Also up for a vote is the 2010-2011 school year budget.
The tax levy increase could result in a school tax increase this year of $148 per $93,500 assessed value of residential property. Residents pay an overall tax amount that includes that school tax, as well as taxes for the county and city.
Gov. Christopher Christie has withdrawn some state aid to districts across the state in an effort to plug a state budget deficit, and school districts are forced to make up the difference through taxes, layoffs, other spending cuts, or by using their surplus funds. As it is, the proposed budget is expected to lead to 373 layoffs of Jersey City teachers and other employees starting at the end of the school year.
If the public votes the budget down, it will likely be sent back to the board for even more cuts.
Who are the candidates?
The 16 people running for the school board are all Jersey City residents, a requirement for candidacy, and come from various backgrounds:
• Armstrong works as a driver for the U.S. Postal Service and also drives for the Hudson County Transcend program
• D’Amico is a retired employee of the Jersey City school district;
• Dehere, the owner of Sanai at the Summit House Restaurant in Journal Square and former NBA player, has served on the board since 2007;
• Farmer works for a public relations firm in Jersey City;
• Lester is both an established singer/songwriter of music for children and a yoga instructor;
• Lyons works at High Tech High School in North Bergen as a teacher, media specialist and supervisor;
• McCann, the former Jersey City mayor and current employee of the Jersey City Incinerator Authority, has served on the board since 2007;
• Mulqueen is a retired teacher from the Jersey City public school system;
• Muniz is a church pastor and college administrator, and works in management for the U.S. Postal Service;
• Navarrete is a journalist working in New York and serves in the New Jersey National Guard;
• Ordonez is the co-owner of a restaurant in the Jersey City Heights;
• Hiral Patel was employed until recently at CTB McGraw Hill in New York as an Implementation Specialist;
• Sharperson is a business owner, and a former substitute teacher and football coach in the Jersey City public school system;
• Valentin works as a special grants manager for the city of Jersey City, and has served on board since 2005;
• Waterman is the president of the Public School 16 Concerned Parents Association and has worked in accounting, administration and facilities fields;
• Zigman did not return a call for comment.
This year, the Jersey City Education Association (the school employees’ union) endorsed Valentin, Waterman, and D’Amico while downtown City Councilman Steven Fulop has endorsed Valentin, Waterman, and Lester. Also, school board member Sean Connors, who has served on the school board since 2009, has endorsed McCann, Dehere and Patel.
Turnout usually low
With such a large number of candidates, that means more choices for the voter, but that does not necessarily translate into a large voter turnout. Last year, only 14,516 voters went to the polls, equivalent to 10 percent of the approximately 139,000 registered voters in Jersey City at that time.
Candidates find a way to differentiate themselves from the pack in order to pick up votes by getting endorsements from political groups or politicians.
Which issues will the candidates tackle if elected or reelected to office?
Residents, especially parents of children in the school district, will find out at candidate forums organized by different groups across the city. The Jersey City branch of the NAACP held a forum on April 8, and two more are coming up this week: on Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Public School 16 Auditorium at 96 Sussex St., sponsored by the Historic Paulus Hook Association, and on Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Public School 11, 886 Bergen Ave., sponsored by the Jersey City Families for Better Schools group and the Jersey City PTO Coalition.
However, some members of the public already know the issues they want to see dealt with.
“The proportion of failing students in this city is not acceptable,” said Mahaley Stewart Bowles, the parent of an eighth grader at Academy I Middle School on Bergen School and herself a substitute teacher in the Jersey City public schools. “Whoever is elected to the board should hold teachers accountable to make sure they teach the curriculum that is present and anything else that is needed to help students pass.”
Bowles, so far, plans to vote for Valentin and Dehere, but is undecided on a third candidate. She said she will choose one after seeing how the remaining candidates conduct themselves at the upcoming candidate forums.
The Jersey City school system had been put under state control in 1989 due to due to failing test scores, and has been slowly coming off state control for the last several years. The public has been able to vote on the Board of Education budget since last spring’s election.