The results of the Jersey City school board election on Tuesday are still being seen as shocking to some. Sterling Waterman, incumbent Angel Valentin, and Carol Lester finished first, second, and third respectively. All three were endorsed by Downtown City Councilman Steven Fulop.
But two incumbents failed to grasp reelection. Gerry McCann, who is a former mayor, and ex-basketball star Terry Dehere both came up short. Both McCann and Dehere had voted against the recent teachers’ contract at the March 18 board meeting. That led the teachers’ union – the Jersey City Education Association – to endorse Waterman and Valentin along with Sebastian D’Amico, who finished fourth.
Waterman received what is believed to be a record number of votes with 6,946, followed by Valentin’s 6,453, and Lester in a distant third with 3,848.
“I think what they will do, first and foremost, is put the residents first.” – Steven Fulop
Big victory for Fulop
Fulop, a young councilman who is seen as a future mayoral prospect, took satisfaction in the victory of all three of his candidates, and celebrated along with the winners at the downtown bar LITM on Newark Avenue.
“I’m happy for the three candidates,” Fulop said. “I think what they will do, first and foremost, is put the residents first.”
Also taking in the victory was Valentin, a grants manager for the city, who earned his third term to the board. Valentin wants to make “deep cuts” in the administrative positions in the school system for next year’s budget.
“I feel great about the tremendous turnout by the public today,” Valentin said. “Now, I want to work toward cutting out the fat and waste.”
Also on the ballot was the $618 million school budget, which relies on $102 million to be contributed from taxpayers. Since Gov. Christopher Christie lowered aid to schools this year, many of them including Jersey City have expected cuts to services and staff next year.
If the budget were voted down, even more cuts would have to be made.
The school budget was approved by a 59 to 40 percent margin.
Newcomers on board
Lester, the daughter and wife of school teachers and a founder of the Learning Community Charter School, said she feels “hopeful” for Jersey City in making the public schools better for children and parents. She is looking forward to being advocate for teachers and a watchdog against wasteful spending.
“The teachers are being held in a stranglehold from the administration and they can’t make a decision in their classrooms,” Lester said. “The teachers are making $40,000 to $60,000 while the administration is making $80,000 to $150,000.”
Waterman said he is “humbled” and “energized” and “ready to get to work.” He became involved in the public schools as head of the Parent-Teacher Council at Public School 16 on Washington Street, which his son attends.
“We think we really need to give Jersey City residents what they really want, and that is a competitive search for a new school superintendent,” Waterman said. The current superintendent is Dr. Charles Epps, who was appointed by the state in 2000 and earns $250,000 per year. But his contract expires in June of 2011.
Winning the vote
Tuesday’s election saw 32,775 votes cast for three candidates. That is a far more substantial number than the 14,516 votes cast in last year’s election.
Various Fulop supporters, who campaigned on the day of election, agreed that the increase was partly due to a network of volunteers, who worked for weeks reaching out to their neighbors and in community meetings. But lifelong resident Jeff Kaplowitz said it was also the impact of Fulop and the new political landscape in the city that he represents.
“I think that people voted because they trust Fulop, that his recommendation is not for the inner circle,” Kaplowitz said.
Also getting credit for the high turnout was the Jersey City Education Association (JCEA). JCEA president Tom Favia commended the union’s 4,500 members for mobilizing to vote against what he called “distortions” by McCann against the teachers in his campaign flyers, and McCann’s and Dehere’s votes on the teacher’s contract.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.