The Bayonne Board of Education (BBOED) swore in a new trustee, appointed another to fill a vacant position, re-elected Joseph Broderick as president, and Dennis Wilbeck as vice-president at its annual reorganization meeting on January 3. It was the first meeting for the newest trustee, Jodi Casais, who won her bid for a two-year term in November. The trustees will be responsible for choosing a new superintendent to replace Interim Superintendent Michael A. Wanko, whose contract expires on July 1.
Trustee Charles Ryan, a former police officer elected in 2016 who lost his re-election bid in 2018, was appointed to fill a one-year term by a vote of 6-3, a decision protested by Carol Smeltzer, legal counsel for the NJ Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA). Michael Mulcahy won Ryan’s seat in November by a wide margin only to resign before his term began, citing time conflicts with his job.
“It is our view that the conduct of former Trustee Ryan while serving on the board likely violated the code of ethics for school board members and should not be given another opportunity to violate the School Ethics Act,” said Smeltzer prior to the vote. She was referencing a Nov. 28 meeting in which Ryan and Tim Craig, director of Fine and Performing Arts and Business Education, and Samantha Mitchell, band director, entered into a heated discussion on the future of the district’s concert band. The NJPSA called for Ryan’s resignation earlier, in April 2017, after Ryan expressed a “lack of confidence” in Craig. According to state law, trustees cannot question an educator’s job performance without first issuing a “Rice” letter. (A Rice letter informs a trustee that the the board will be discussing her position.)
“Right now, we need someone with experience to deal with the enormity of decisions we have to make in the following months.” — Ava Finnerty
Ryan triumphs despite critics
“I am very humbled by the fact that six of the trustees voted to appoint me,” Ryan said. “It speaks to what they saw in my work ethic. Especially the members who were there during the financial crisis, what we went through, it’s humbling. As far as what [Smeltzer] said, I want to focus on what’s in front us. That’s in the past. This year is about getting back to normal and picking the new superintendent of schools. That’s really important. Everything else is secondary.”
Chris Munoz, Maria Valado, and Jodi Casais all voted against the election of Broderick and Wilbeck, and against the appointment of Charles Ryan. The three trustees said they preferred someone who ran for the seat vacated by Mulcahy. The second-place vote-getter, Hector Gonzalez, Jr., was considered.
Work cut out for them
“We must respect and listen to the voices of our Bayonne residents who gave [Gonzalez] 1,850 votes for a one-year term, placing him second,” said Valado before voting against Ryan’s appointment.
Munoz voted no on Ryan “because he did not come in first place or the next runner up for the one-year term.”
“I think about what this board is going to face in the next four to five months,” said Trustee Ava Finnerty after voting in favor of Ryan’s appointment. “We need someone with experience. We have some good candidates with good intentions. I’m sure they’ll make great candidates in the future. Right now, we need someone with experience to deal with the enormity of decisions we have to make in the following months. I think he brings the experience the board needs right now.”
Incumbents glad to be back
Broderick and Wilbeck look forward to continuing their work on the board.
“I think the changes we’ve made, financially, educationally, have been outstanding so far,” said Broderick. “I’m happy to be in this position because we have so many things coming up. So, there’s some big decisions coming up, and I’m happy to be here to help with this. Thank you once again.”
“It’s both an honor and a thrill,” said Wilbeck, adding that he was excited to be serving on the board.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org