Filling the vacant seat on the Jersey City Board of Education has perhaps taken a backseat to renegotiating the failed contract for incoming superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles (see “School superintendent contract fails,” Jersey City Reporter, August 19, 2012). But last week’s vote on her contract – which was split 4-4 – underscores the importance of filling the vacancy and restoring an odd number of trustees to the board.
Earlier this month, the ninth member of the school board, Marvin Adames – who is Latino – resigned after being confirmed as the municipal judge in Newark. The remaining eight members now have 65 days from Adames’ resignation to appoint someone to his seat. If the board does not make an appointment within these 65 days the Hudson County Superintendent of Education can appoint someone to the seat.
School board members have not officially said when they might vote on a replacement, but it could be as soon as Aug.30, when the school board has its next regular monthly meeting.
‘I believe that the position should go to the most qualified person.’ – Alexandria Jerez
Among the considerations the trustees will have to weigh is whether they want to give Adames’ seat to another Latino, or give preference to a candidate who ran for the school board in April and placed fourth behind the three winners.
‘A board that reflects that diversity’
This past April, eight candidates ran for three Board of Education seats that were up for election. The three winners of that race were Sangeeta Ranade, Marilyn Roman, and Vidya Gangadin. The candidate who placed fourth with 2,968 votes was Gerald Lyons, who teaches media courses at the Hudson County Schools of Technology.
In the weeks since Adames resigned, several residents have written open letters to the school board supporting Lyons for the vacancy.
In an e-mail sent to members of the board, local newspapers, and several activists, Ty Hodge recently wrote, “The vacant seat should be offered to the next candidate from the past election and that person is and should be Gerald Lyons. He was the fourth top receiver [of votes] and is more than qualified for the position. I ask that we…appoint Gerald Lyons to replace Marvin Adames on the Jersey City school board.”
Another resident, Ethan Kemp, responded, telling the board, “Mr. Lyons would be a fine selection.”
Lyons, however, is white – and some residents have pointed out that Adames’ seat should go to another Latino to maintain the racial and ethnic diversity the board had before he left.
“This school district is two-thirds people of color, and it might even be higher than that,” said resident Arnold Williams, who follows the activities of the school board. “We want a school board that reflects that diversity.”
The school board currently includes one Latino man, one Indian woman, one African American woman, one African American man, three white women, and one woman from Guyana.
Williams and some other residents have said they’d like to see Frank Lorenzo considered for Adames’ seat.
“After the three winners, he was the person of color who received the most votes,” Williams added.
Lorenzo placed fifth in the April election, behind Lyons, with 2,490 votes.
‘Always good to have representation’
Lyons, who said he is interested in the position, last week noted, “While I understand the need for diversity on the school board, I also think finding the most qualified person is more important. I’m in a school environment every day, so I understand issues like bullying, the pressure to do well on achievement tests. Everyday I see innovative teaching that could be incorporated into the Jersey City Public schools. So, I think those experiences qualify me for the school board and that’s why I think I should be appointed.”
Some Latino parents say they support Lyons for the appointment.
“I do believe it’s always good to have representation from many ethnic groups, specifically the Latin community, since we’re a large body of what makes up our cultural Petri dish here in our city,” said Alexandria Jerez. “However, I believe that the position should go to the most qualified person, Gerald Lyons being the most obvious. It would be good to see a strong parent and child advocate who is of Latino decent to represent us, but until that person is willing to put their name in the hat, I’m willing to support Mr. Lyons.”
Another active parent, Akisia Grigsby, agreed with Jerez.
“From the pool of people that we have thus far to date…I do see Gerald Lyons as the best possible option,” said Grigsby. But, she added, “If it came down to a Hispanic person filling the spot I would support whomever the majority of my Hispanic community truly wants.”
Lorenzo, who agreed that Lyons “would make a good candidate,” said he is interested in the seat as well.
“My reason for running for the Board of Education position in April was that I felt that I could make a difference in working with the board, school administrators, and parents to improve the failing schools, stabilize the budget, and bring some new ideas to the table,” Lorenzo said. “I feel that I have the knowledge and experience to proudly. I studied accounting at the Hudson County Community College, Criminal Justice at the New Jersey City University, and Business/management at Phoenix University.”
Special election for fourth seat next year
According to state law, there is no requirement that the trustees select a replacement from among past candidates. They can advertise for candidates, take a recommendation from the public, or hand-pick someone who they think would make a good board member.
Whoever is appointed to the seat will face a special election next year, according to board chairwoman Suzanne Mack.
“The appointment is only till the next election in April,” said Mack. “At that time the fourth seat will be posted for an election for the remainder of [Adames’] term, which expires in April 2014.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.