The Bayonne School District is facing many challenges. Student population is on the rise, which will require more classroom space. But the district’s facilities are aging, and purchasing property or land to expand the school is no easy task. Due to limited space, modular classrooms (trailers) were considered as a temporary solution to accommodate an expanded all-day pre-k program, which the district eventually decided against. So, capital improvements are needed, despite a thin budget made thinner by a significant structural deficit unearthed in November.
The deficit led to the BBOED voting to levy a 3.6 percent property tax, cut programmatic budgets, and lay off close to 300 staff. After a series of promised re-hires, the district still has 26 fewer teachers than it had last year.
Trustees will have their work cut out for them if the federal funds are cut. The Trump Administration’s proposed federal budget would slash Title II funds that help fund teacher training and reduce class sizes. Meanwhile, Bayonne receives almost $5 million in federal funds. Neither houses of congress have voted on the budget yet.
Since the cuts were made, more than $3 million was infused into the district when the state legislature and the governor agreed on a new school funding formula. Still, programs in the district have been cut, and some classes have been combined, particularly in the Academy of Fine Art and Academics. To cut costs, the board also voted to integrate the academy’s lunch period with the rest of the school.
In January, the BBOED and the Bayonne Teachers Association (BTA) came to a contract agreement, but it was mostly retroactive after the district went 18 months without a contract with the teachers’ union. That contract, however, lasted only through June, so the next group of trustees will be tasked with striking a new deal with the BTA.
The next BBOED will be in the market for a permanent superintendent replacement for Dr. Patricia McGeehan, whose contract was voted down by the BBOED last year. Her replacement, Interim Superintendent Dr. Michael A. Wanko, who took over in July, can serve in his position only for a maximum of two years.
The outcome of the November election will affect all these issues, and more. Constituents are encouraged to reach out to the candidates via social media to discuss the issues that matter most to them.
Constituents are encouraged to reach out to the candidates via social media to discuss the issues that matter most to them.
Board of Education trustees Christopher Munoz and Mikel Lawandy will be running for three-year terms, while Theodore Garelick, the most tenured trustee, will not be seeking another term.
Munoz ran for state assembly last June in the Democratic primary, losing to incumbent Nicholas Chiaravalloti. He won his trustee seat in 2014 when Bayonne held its first BBOED election in decades after a referendum ended the former system of mayor-appointed trustees.
After studying at NJCU, Munoz taught AP courses in history and government in the Hoboken public school system. As a trustee, he chairs committees and arts and athletics, and sits on another for superintendent search and evaluation.
Munoz feels he stayed true to many of his campaign promises while on the BBOED, such as increasing the amount of time the public has to speak at meetings and voting to change the passing grade from 65 to 70. His biggest achievement, though, and it is the same for the other trustees, was their ability to unearth and navigate a significant structural deficit. Munozand Lawandy voted against the teacher layoffs earlier this year, which passed with majority votes.
“One of the big issues now is maintaining fiscal health and responsibility,” Munoz said. “Although we’re fragile, we are on our way to economic health. But there’s still a lot more work left to be done.”
Mikel Lawandy, the youngest and most tenured trustee on the board, is also the last appointed. He is running to retain his seat after three and a half years on the board. An architectwho graduated from NJIT in 2006,he sits on five committees – finance, contract negotiation, buildings and grounds.A coach and Sunday school teacher, he ranked 9th in the nation while on the chess team at Woodrow Wilson, winning second place at the state championship.
Lawandy played an important role in uncovering the structural budget deficit last November and has been an integral part of the board’s negotiating team with the teachers’ union.
“Teachers need a fair contract, that’s a must,” said Lawandy, the only trustee to sit on both the finance and negotiation committees. “We can solve problems without raising property taxes, and we need different solutions to generate revenue.”
Sharma Montgomery is Director of Total Solutions at Broadview Networks and has worked in the account management field for telecom and internet companies for most of her career. She is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, where she met her husband, Christopher, from Bayonne. They have two sons, one who graduated from BHS in 2014 and one who will be a junior in the Arts Academy.
For her work, Montgomery does a lot of hiring and management and wants to bring those skills to the district. She said that she is concerned about low teacher morale after hundreds were laid off and hired back within a span of months. “Teachers are also constantly under contract negotiations, which isn’t easy for anybody,” she said. “They are very good at what they do, and I want to make the workplace better for them.”
Maria Valado has 23 years of experience as a teacher, holds a master’s degree in urban education, and currently teaches elementary school in the Newark School District.
She ran in the November 2016 Bayonne BBOED election. “So I’m back again to keep quality teachers in Bayonne so our kids have quality education,” she said.
A frequent BBOED meeting attendee, she calls for better public engagement at meetings. Valado also emphasizes raising teacher morale, which includes a fair union contract. “We made our teachers put their lives on hold,” said Valado, of the teachers’ contract negotiations and the subsequent layoffs. “It’s been hard, but teachers are the backbone of the school system.”
John Cupo, a local real-estate agent, has run twice before, always on a message of “efficiency.” He would like to see the $130 million school budget cut by five to 10 percent and get rid of the academies altogether.
“I will stop the inefficiency,” he said. “If we were efficient, the deficit never would have happened in the first place. We have too much wasteful spending.”
Daniel Acosta, a retired union contract negotiator, is active with the Bayonne Hispanic Association. He moved to Hudson County when he was six years old, married a Jersey City teacher, and has lived in Bayonne for 14 years, where two of his grandchildren attend school.
He said that his experience negotiating with unions will benefit the BBOED, which struggles consistently to strike a deal with its teachers’ union. His last job before he retired was as a corrections officer, an experience he said helps prepare him to vote on matters of school security, which he said needs improvement.
“I’ve wanted to run before, to contribute to my community,” Acosta said. “Kids can’t vote, so we have to vote for them. I think I can make a difference.”
Anthony D’Amico, who works in construction management in Manhattan, is focused on improving the district’s aging facilities.
“Our buildings are ancient, and we’re five years behind our maintenance plan,” said D’Amico. “We don’t necessarily need to spend more, we need smart investing.”
D’Amico is critical of the district’s practice of completing facilities upgrades in-house rather than going out for bids. As a contractor himself, he sees the advantages, such as a warranty on service and a strict timeframe for completion. “If you’re not going to bid, you’re not getting the best deal,” D’Amico said.
Reverend Dorothy Patterson is vice president of the Bayonne chapter of the NAACP, the first female pastor of the Wallace Temple Beth A.M.E. Zion Church on Avenue C, and was formerly a teacher in the Paterson School District for 28 years.
“I would like to see every single child get the education they need to be prepared for a globalized world so they can compete with people from everywhere,” she said.
Patterson said a speech to children and parents at the church “pricked something in me to run.” She is keenly aware of economic and education trends, particularly seeing young people today graduating from school without job opportunities. While solutions to such macro-economic problems are multifaceted, Patterson said there are a number of things public schools can do better, such as improving teacher training, compensating teachers better to attract better talent, and expanding pre-k to all students.
Former BBOED candidate and 31st District Assembly candidate in 2013, Michael Alonso, is running again for both simultaneously. He is running in the 31st District Assembly race on the unopposed Republican ticket against incumbent Nicholas Chiaravalloti. He would have to choose which seat to fill in the event of victory in both elections, leaving the unfilled seat to the runner-up. Alonso is known in Bayonne for filing a notification of intent to recall Mayor James Davis last year, then not submitting the petition, and advocating for marijuana legalization. Alonso did not return a request for an interview.
Gene Perry, who works in shipping transportation and studied business administration and finance in college, stresses the importance of re-staffing the school district, and financial transparency. “I think our students need to have teachers in place in the beginning of the year, and somebody needs to be held accountable for the mismanagement of the funds,” he said.
Gene Perry, Dorothy Patterson, and Maria Valado are running as a group, called “Building For Our Tomorrow Today.”“If we don’t build quality education today, then what do we have for tomorrow,” said Valado.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at email@example.com.