They’ve promised change, greater accountability, lower dropout rates, fiscal responsibility, and improved test scores. Now that they have complete control of the Board of Education, all eyes will be on them.
They, of course, are the nine school board trustees who, over the last three school board election cycles, were vetted and selected to run for office with the backing of Councilman and mayoral candidate Steven Fulop.
With last week’s victory of candidates Marilyn Roman, Vidya Gangadin, and Sangeeta Ranade, Fulop’s allies now control every seat on the school board. The trio of mothers who campaigned under the “Parents for Progress” banner will now join Sterling Waterman, Carol Lester, Carol Harrison-Arnold, Suzanne Mack, and Marvin Adames, all backed by Fulop, on the Jersey City Board of Education.
What this board accomplishes – or fails to accomplish – over the next near could loom over the councilman’s May 2013 mayoral campaign.
Many of the promises made by these nine board members when they were campaigning, particularly in the area of fiscal prudence, echo ones Fulop is himself making as he ramps up his bid for mayor. While Fulop insisted last week that he was “stepping away” from involvement in the school board, any missteps by the school board could cost him votes, just as he is likely to take some credit for any board accomplishments.
Confident of the school board trustees he has helped get elected, the councilman said the overhaul of the school board will be a centerpiece of his campaign next year.
“I think people will expect results,” Fulop said. “And I think education will be a key component of our platform next year and reforming the city going forward. So, we’re going to tie it in to the employment issues in the city, the crime issues in the city. Because at the end of the day, these issues are rooted in education.”
As they celebrated their victory last week, Roman, Ganadin, and Ranade said they knew the board has its work cut out for it.
“I want to sit down with the other board members and I would love it if we could pick three or four things that we want to see accomplished at the end of one year so that we can show some results, show something measureable and show some momentum,” said Ranade.
“Picking a new superintendent will be one of the first priorities. But once we’ve selected a new superintendent, I’d like to see a general audit of each department so we can get a better sense of how our money is spent,” Gangadin said.
Voters last week approved the portion of the 2012-2013 school year budget that is to be raised from taxpayers. The full school budget is now $661 million, which is higher than the municipal budget, and several residents have noted that, left unchecked, the school budget is on track to be $1 billion in several years.
“That is high and we do need to get our spending under control,” Gangadin added.
“Two years ago we started this process of trying to get good people on the [school] board with the goal of partnering and having better synergy between the Board of Education and the administration, hopefully beginning next year,” Fulop noted.
JC Dems: Rage against the machine
Democratic foot soldiers are meanwhile trying to figure out a strategy to beat Fulop’s ground operation next year. The day after a slate of Hudson County Democratic Organization-backed school board candidates lost to Roman, Gangadin, and Ranade HCDO supporters in the city wondered if the Democratic machine needs to be overhauled and rebuilt before the 2013 mayoral race.
The defeat of Gerald Lyons, Amanda Khan, and Frank Lorenzo, who ran together on a slate, to the Fulop-back ticket stunned many of their supporters. The Lyons-Khan-Lorenzo slate received the backing of the Jersey City Education Association, Hudson County Freeholder Eliu Rivera, state Assemblyman Charles Mainor, state Assemblyman Sean Connors, and Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy.
Given the city’s large Latino population, supporters had expected Lorenzo to sail to victory, in addition to Khan, who ran for the Board of Education in 2011. Sources said Wednesday they expected Roman, who ran on the Fulop-backed ticket, to do well and conceded she had the potential to garner more votes than Lyons, although Lyons was considered to be a strong contender.
However, despite having the backing of the teachers’ union and much of the HCDO’s elected leadership in Jersey City, Fulop’s candidates came out on top in each of the city’s six wards, including Healy’s home base in Ward D.
Fulop’s critics are now wondering whether the HCDO has the grassroots strength to defeat the 2013 mayoral candidate. Fulop and Healy have each announced their candidacies for mayor.
“Fulop keeps talking about the Democratic machine,” said one Lorenzo-Khan-Lyons supporter Wednesday. “I want to know what machine he’s talking about. The only machine I saw yesterday was his.”
Despite numerous reported polling problems downtown – Fulop’s council district and political stronghold – the HCDO appeared to be out-organized. Supporters of the Lorenzo-Khan-Lyons ticket reported such logistical problems on Election Day as botched rides to the polls and a lack of communication between the JCEA and teachers regarding the union-backed ticket. Supporters believe these problems led to the defeat of the Lorenzo-Khan-Lyons slate.
“If it goes on like the way it has been, Fulop is the next mayor,” said one Healy ally on Wednesday.
This is the second election in a row in which the party-supported candidates lost. In November 2011, HCDO-backed City Council incumbents Kalimah Ahmad and Ray Velazquez lost their at-large seats to Viola Richardson and Rolando Lavarro. Indeed, Ahmad and Velazquez came in fourth and fifth, respectively, behind Richardson, Lavarro, and Suzanne Mack.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.