The board ultimately passed the resolution, but not before Ryan expressed skepticism about paying $2,000 to musicians in the pit, and suggested that students perform instead. Craig apologized for submitting the request only two days prior, leaving some trustees without enough time for consideration.
“My problem is with you,” Ryan told Craig, while also voicing his “lack of confidence” in the BPSAA President. “The fact that we have to hire professional musicians does not give me a lot of confidence in the way the fine arts academy is being utilized.”
The argument comes amid a significant structural deficit that is pushing the districts to lay off teachers and administrators. Craig represents dozens of administrators in the Bayonne school district, including many who have already been reassigned and paid less, including Craig’s wife, Laura, who was re-assigned in January from Director of Special Needs Programs to Coordinator of Academy of Fine Arts and Academics.
“Everything changed. Our focus instantly shifted to money and how do we manage this.” – Charles Ryan
The rock and the hard place
News of the district’s deficit and subsequent actions made by the BBOED to cut costs have put dozens of workers at risk of either losing their jobs or receiving a pay cut. Teachers and administrators are backed against a wall. But so, too, is the board.
During times of crisis, the margin for error is very low. Any form of spending during a structural deficit can be seen as wasteful and irresponsible. Penny-pinching in the wrong place, meanwhile, can undermine the education of thousands of students, while potentially resulting in a higher burden on taxpayers.
“They put us between a rock and a hard place,” said Board President Joseph Broderick of Craig’s resolution. “If we just say yes, people are thinking we’re losing jobs and we’re wasting money.”
Broderick said the board’s legal counsel reviewed the BPSAA letter and determined there is no merit to the union’s request for Ryan to resign. “If somebody mentions you by name, I don’t see why a trustee shouldn’t be allowed to respond,” Broderick said.
Charles Ryan took office for the first time in November, when the big story at the BBOED was who would succeed the Superintendent at the end of the year. Then news of the deficit broke.
“Everything changed,” said Ryan of the moment the board learned of the deficit. “Our focus instantly shifted to money and how do we manage this.”
A board under crisis is a different board than one that could put more effort into campaign issues that many of the trustees ran on, like transparency, teachers’ pay, and parent engagement. Those inevitably fall by the wayside while there is true risk involved – risk that is in the back of the minds of the BBOED.
“Remember that if we don’t solve this problem, the state could take over the district,” said Ryan. “That’s the worst-case scenario. It’s not like it’s going to happen tomorrow, but you’re aware that is a possibility.”
When he first got to the board, Ryan called his fellow trustees, “motivated, intelligent people,” only now they are working more hours and under more stress. Both Ryan and Broderick admit that the kinds of stress the board is under now make the job more difficult and even less enjoyable.
“We don’t agree on everything, as you can see at our meeting, but it’s people who care and are trying their best,” said Broderick, noting the elephant is always in the room – “that there’s a lot of money that needs to be made up somehow.”
In defense of his fellow trustee, Broderick said, “Mr. Ryan has been nothing but a hard worker and diligent trustee since he’s been on the board. He really does his homework and bases his opinions on facts.”
Ryan knows only crisis. The large structural deficit was an issue when he came onboard in November. As a result, he wants peace. “That’s what we’re all working toward,” Ryan said. “Is getting this over and done with so we can get back to business as usual.”
Tim Craig could not be reached in time for publication.
Rory Pasquariello may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.