Pastor Luis Felipe Fernandez, Jr. resigned from the Jersey City Board of Education (JCBOE) last week with characteristic dignity and surety. We have grown to be close friends, and I will miss his calming presence and indispensable wisdom at board meetings. Fortunately I know he will continue confronting the challenges of our students, families, and community with the same focus he always has.
For the elected JCBOE, there is less confidence. Two smart, dedicated board members have resigned in the last six weeks, Amy DeGise and Pastor Fernandez. There is no question that the chaotic conditions at the JCBOE played a role in both resignations.
As a reminder, board members (or trustees, as we are officially called) are volunteers. Like everyday people, we have full-time occupations or other obligations that demand the majority of our time. We volunteer a portion of our free time to the Board of Education because we would like to make a positive difference for the students, families, and residents of the community. Over the past year, however, the time and energy of well-meaning board members has been abused.
Board members are being asked for more and more of our time with less and less notice. There were more meetings in 2018 than during any previous year recorded at JCBOE. In March of 2019, we are already on track to exceed that number. Most of these extra meetings have been called to serve the political agenda of board leadership. None of them have been in service to the type of vision-planning and policy-making beneficial to our students.
Far more troubling is the constant lurch from self-inflicted crisis to self-inflicted crisis which began in January of last year and continues to this day. The effects of this are now being felt by our students whose parents are reporting shortages of the basic supplies and staffing needed in our schools. Finally we are being pushed by board leadership into ever grayer areas of ethical conduct causing lawsuits which will certainly take money out of future classrooms.
I did not sign up for this. And neither, I assume, did Pastor Fernandez or Ms. DeGise. Pastor Fernandez is a man of deep faith and devotion who maintains the respect of every board member. Pastor Fernandez and I agreed on many votes and disagreed on many others, and that is exactly as it should be. Same goes for Ms. DeGise.
If the JCBOE can not conduct itself well enough to retain the volunteer service of true public servants like them, I fear we will lose more than a few resigning board members. We will lose sight of our mission and the children of our city will suffer for it.
(Matt Schapiro is a trustee of the Jersey City Board of Education. He is writing on his own behalf and not on behalf of the Board, nor have these comments been authorized by the Board. This is a required disclaimer for elected school board members penning editorial comment.)