Frank Ferreiro says he wants to see his hometown of West New York grow. He has been dreaming of reforming West New York’s low public school rankings, 381st in the state out of 558, according to schooldigger.com. And how to go about doing that? For Ferreiro, the first step is to open up West New York’s school board positions to elections.
Currently the board’s seven members are all appointed by the mayor, appointments which he says tend towards nepotism. One member is the wife of the local congressman, another is the current deputy mayor. In the past, Mayor Felix Roque’s sister has been a member.
Ferreiro claims that the top 19 public school districts in the state are run by elected school boards.
“It’s the popular way,” he says.
Ferreiro, who currently lives in Sayreville but owns and operates a business in West New York, has had little difficulty attracting local support for his cause, quickly collecting petition support the old-fashioned way.
“Ninety percent of it was knocking on doors and standing on street corners,” he says.
In all, Ferreiro claims that he and his supporters have garnered 854 signatures, plenty more than the 401 required to place the issue as a ballot question in the November election.
“These kids are being cheated.” – Frank Ferreiro, Residents for a Better West New York
It starts with City Hall
A vocal critic of the current town administration under Roque, Ferreiro has decried the mayor’s appointees and their influence on the district.
“It’s like a cancer,” he says.
And for Ferreiro, adding a little bit more democracy to the town’s government is the first step towards a cure.
Town officials contest Ferreiro’s view of the administration.
“The mayor is here to represent the people of West New York, and that’s what he will do,” said West New York Spokesman Pablo Fonseca.
“If the people decide to vote for an elected school board, then that’s the will of the people.”
In the past, accusations of corruption in the school district have extended beyond the board itself. In April, the New Jersey Department of Education’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance (OFAC) published a report alleging “potential ethics violations and the abuse of office” on the part of Roque and other elected officials, mainly concerning the school district’s hiring practices and the alleged solicitation of political contributions on school grounds.
“Family and friends who supported the mayor were hired, promoted, or reassigned to more desirable work environments,” according to the report. Conversely, those who expressed support for the former mayor, Silverio “Sal” Vega, whom Roque ousted in a 2011 election, or declined to contribute to his campaign, allegedly “were selected for termination, demotion or reassignment to less desirable work locations.”
Roque has denied any wrongdoing in the matter.
Now comes the hard part: campaigning
But now that a referendum will be offered to the voters, a new question for Ferreiro and his organization has surfaced. If voters approve an open election for the school board, who’s going to run?
The answer remains unclear. Ferreiro, for his part, is seeking candidates. He cites one as-yet-unnamed educator from outside the town who is supposedly planning on making a run. However, as he concedes, “nothing is set in stone.”
And indeed, nothing will be until the residents clear another important hurdle first: making sure residents vote “yes” on the question.
Ferreiro, who graduated from the district himself but currently has no children in the schools, believes such a response is vital to the future of the town’s school children.
“These kids are being cheated,” he says.
Ferriero has founded an advocacy group called Residents for a Better West New York. Ferreiro and his fellow residents made headlines in the past by pushing for West New York to move to a mayor/council form of government from the current Board of Commissioners system. In the current system, five commissioners are elected and they choose a mayor from among themselves. Each one also gets a department to specialize in.
Neighboring Union City and North Bergen also are run by part-time commissioners including a mayor. Bigger cities like Hoboken and Jersey City have mayor/council governments.