The Bayonne Board of Education (BBOED) swore in three trustees at a January 9 reorganization meeting. Bayonne residents voted in two new trustees, Michael Alonso and Maria Valado, and one incumbent, Christopher Munoz, in the November 7 election, in which more than 16,000 residents cast ballots.
The BBOED also made various contract appointments, such as renewing the contract for Robert Clark as legal counsel. Clark is integral to the collective bargaining process with the teachers’ union. The BBOED also ended its contract with its longtime auditor, Donahue, Gironda, Doria& Tompkins. The Bayonne-based accounting firm’s annual audit of the BBOED last year revealed a $2 million structural deficit.
New on the block
As state statute requires, trustees swore to faithfully, impartially, and justly perform duties of their offices and support the U.S. Constitution.
Maria Valado, who also chairs the Bayonne Planning Board, has been a teacher for 23 years and currently teaches elementary school in the Newark School District.
“It felt great to start,” said Valado, who was accompanied by her nephew and two nieces during the ceremony. “It was only one meeting, but so far, so good.”
Always an active voice in the community and at BBOED meetings, Valado, throughout her campaign, called for better public engagement at meetings and emphasizes raising teacher morale, which includes a fair union contract.
Michael Alonso said he is “deeply grateful” for the opportunity to serve on the BBOED. He’s lost the BBOED race before. This time, he also unsuccessfully ran for General Assembly on the Republican ticket, gaining name recognition along the way.
“I’d also like to thank everyone [at the BBOED] who has been so generous with their time, advice, and information in welcoming me to my new public position,” Alonso said.
Alonso gained notoriety for actively protesting a proposed mosque, and calling for spending cuts in the district.
During his election campaign, he suggested reforms that were either out of the purview of the BBOED or impossible to implement, which worried some school officials and trustees.
At the reorganization meeting, Alonso brought with him a resolution to bid out for an independent auditor to investigate the BBOED, taking trustees by surprise because trustees are not allowed to move on resolutions without first bringing the resolution to a workshop meeting. The call for an independent auditor recalls the turbulent weeks that followed the news of last year’s structural deficit. Trustees are not on board with the notion of hiring a special auditor.
“Bayonne really wants answers,” said Alonso. “People are still at the meetings asking questions.”
Second time around
Christopher Munoz was elected in 2014 during Bayonne’s first BBOED election in decades. He is now the longest-serving trustee after Mikel Lawandy, who was appointed by former Mayor Mark Smith and sat on five committees, lost his bid for re-election.
Munoz, who teaches AP courses in history and government in the Hoboken public school system, said he feels “great and overwhelmed.”
“I’m honored that Bayonne would put its faith in me for another term,” Munoz said. “I look forward to serving the community for three years and hopefully longer.”
The board will soon turn its energy toward creating financial health in the district and to negotiating the teachers’ contract, which expires in June. The district was underfunded by more than $7 million over the last eight years, according to the funding formula agreed to by former NJ Governor Christopher Christie. Munoz is hopeful that NJ Governor Phil Murphy will keep his promise to fully fund the state’s public schools.
“Let’s give the man some time to get in and get his feet wet,” Munoz said. “If he can follow through on that promise, then things will be better.”
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at email@example.com.