More than 16,000 Bayonne residents voted in the Board of Education election on November 7, voting in two new trustees and keeping one incumbent, according to the most recent unofficial results from the Hudson County Clerk.
Election officials may still be tallying mail-in ballots. Currently, the county clerk has 521 counted. Each trustee will serve a three-year term beginning in January. Christopher Munoz kept his seat with the most overall votes, followed by newcomers Michael Alonso and Maria Valado.
Munoz, who ran unsuccessfully for the State Assembly in the June primaries on the Democratic ticket, became a trustee in 2014 during Bayonne’s first Board of Education election after decades under a system that empowers the mayor to appoint trustees. He will become the longest-serving trustee after Mikel Lawandy, who was appointed by former Mayor Mark Smith and sat on five committees. He lost his bid to retain his seat in this election. Munoz, who teaches AP courses in history and government in the Hoboken public school system, chairs committees on arts and athletics, and sits on another for superintendent search and evaluation.
“I’m really honored that the community has faith in me to continue representing them on the board,” said Munoz, who admitted that his confidence in winning the election waned toward the end. “I’m happy we pulled through.”
Munoz’s opponent in the Assembly primary, Nicholas Chiaravalloti, won handily over unopposed Republican challenger, and newest Bayonne Board of Education Trustee, Michael Alonso.
Alonso pulled out a win, setting himself apart from the crowded field of ten candidates through his simultaneous Assembly run after running unopposed in the Republican primary in June. He eschewed the campaign methods of his challengers, instead opting for a marketing campaign of mailers and television ads.
By running for both positions, Alonso managed to gain recognition and identify politically as a Republican on the ballot. He’s lost a few elections before, including for the BBOED and Assembly, which he says helped him win this time around.
“I always say, sometimes you win, sometimes you learn,” Alonso said. “My conservative message has never changed. I don’t blow in the wind.”
Alonso’s ads sold the candidate on a platform that included providing property tax rebates to seniors and families of students not attending public school, and hiring teachers only from Bayonne.
Alonso and his campaign proposals have been the object of derision by local officials and BBOED candidates alike, calling them unfeasible and out of the purview of the BOED.Alonso’s reputation often precedes him. He is known in Bayonne for filing a notification to recall Mayor James Davis, advocating for marijuana legalization, and protesting a proposed mosque on the city’s East Side, referring to members of Bayonne’s Muslim community as “anti-American” and likening them to terrorists. Nevertheless, Alonso remains as positive as any first-time elected official.
“It’s going to be an exciting three years,” he said.
Maria Valado, chair of the Bayonne Planning Board who ran unsuccessfully in the 2016 BBOED race, 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. A frequent BBOED meeting attendee, she has called for better public engagement at meetings and emphasizes raising teacher morale, which includes a fair union contract.
Valado was inspired to run after experiencing a lack of leadership in the state-controlled Newark School District. “I believe that policy is being made by politicians on education without listening to educators,” she said. “But these positions are elected, and teachers can run for them, So, I decided to run.”
During her tenure in Newark, she said that she’s seen it all, describing the district as the “guinea pig” of education policy in the state, even watching as a $100 billion donation from Mark Zuckerberg dried up in short time due to, what Valado said, was inefficient use of the money. Valado said that much of the success she’s observed in Newark came from strong leadership at the high school level and instructional flexibility for teachers.
Valado said she won the race the old-fashioned way, knocking on doors starting on Labor Day to meet her constituents and gaining face recognition.
“My conservative message has never changed. I don’t blow in the wind.” – Michael Alonso
The problems they face
Trustees on the Bayonne Board of Education have much work ahead. The least-popular thing they can do is levy more property taxes, which they voted to do after unearthing a budget deficit of more than $2 million, in addition to laying off nearly 300 staff. The results of a state audit are expected to be released this week.
Since that deficit, the district hired back most of that staff by the start of the 2017-2018 school year, and received $3 million in state aid in July when the governor and the legislature came to a school funding agreement. That agreement also set aside funds for expanded pre-k in Bayonne, which began this fall.
The Bayonne Board of Education may be looking down the barrel of federal budget cuts as well. 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. The U.S. Senate is currently marking up that bill.
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 also be searching 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 for a maximum of only two years.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at email@example.com.