“It is horrible what I had to do tonight. We have forgotten that this is about our children,” said Superintendent of Schools John Fauta at the Board of Education meeting in West New York on Thursday, May 16, after reading a scathing state report accusing the mayor of meddling in school personnel matters.
The report was released earlier this month by the New Jersey Department of Education’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance (OFAC) and the FBI. The report alleged that Mayor Felix Roque and his political organization controlled hirings, promotions, reassignments, firings, and demotions in the school district. The report alleged that Roque pushed school employees to buy $2,000 tickets to one of his fundraising events.
“Once people get into office they forget about the people.” – Anonymous audience member
According to the report, Roque hired family and friends for school jobs, and placed them in better positions. Anyone not in support of Roque, including people who showed support for Vega or failed to contribute to Roque’s campaign, was considered for termination, demotion, and reassignment, the report said.
At the meeting, Fauta read excerpts from the state report aloud so that school officials could figure out what to do about the allegations.
The investigation started in July 2012 after the FBI was alerted to possible wrongful involvement of politicians in school hiring practices. Among the claims, the report says that town Commissioner Ruben Vargas, a Roque ally, was hired in 2011 for a school position as a direct result of his political involvement.
When asked by investigators, Vargas could not explain his job requirements and was barely qualified to be in such a position, according to the report.
The report said that this type of solicitation was “traditional practice” in West New York, but had gotten worse under Roque.
The crowd hissed and whispered as the report dug deeper into the potential violations of the state’s School Ethics Act.
Little public response
Fauta read the report into the record and the approximately 50 audience members listened. There were few public comments afterward.
But after the meeting, audience members and people in the neighborhood expressed disappointment with the allegations.
“I voted for Felix Roque believing he would actually change stuff around, but once people get into office they forget about the people,” one woman said. She did not want to give her name.
“I’m tired of the politicians taking advantage of us,” said another resident who wished to not be identified. “We put them in office and get nothing in return. I feel like our votes don’t even matter. The government just wants us to feel like we’re doing something important.”
Roque is set to attend court for his indictment on hacking charges on July 23 on this year.
Other meeting news
Also at the meeting, board members selected Trustee Adrienne Sires to be the board president. She is the wife of Rep. Albio Sires, a former mayor of West New York.
Trustee Vilma Reyes was selected as vice president.
For more on those choices, read Al Sullivan’s political column this week.
Christian Diaz may be reached at ChristianD@hudsonreporter.com.