Dupree named to fill school board vacancy

Board also approves 'document of necessity' in order to negotiate teachers’ contract

Gevonder Dupree was appointed to the Jersey City Board of Education.
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Gevonder Dupree was appointed to the Jersey City Board of Education.

Arguing that her 25 years of experience in dealing with personnel issues in the Jersey City school district would be an asset, Gevonder Dupree successfully convinced the Board of Education to appoint her to fill a vacant seat on March 7.

But the appointment came with controversy. Trustee Matt Schapiro argued that he and other board members did not have enough time to review resumes of potential candidates. He also said that additional candidates might have applied had the board delayed the appointment.

Schapiro’s motion to delay the vote for another week failed when he could not get another trustee to second his motion.

“This happened just too quickly,” said Schapiro.

Dupree was named to fill the vacated seat of Luis F. Fernandez Jr. who announced his resignation on Feb. 28. Nine applications for the post were received. Fernandez’s unexpired term runs through December. Under state law, the board had up to two months to name a replacement.

“I think more people would have applied if we had waited,” Schapiro said later.

The board voted 7-1 in favor of Dupree. Schapiro voted against the appointment.

“It’s not that I think she’s not qualified,” Schapiro said after the meeting. “I just think we needed time to evaluate those others who did apply and to see if there were any others we might consider.”

Schapiro said the resumes were delivered to board members only a few hours prior to the meeting and there was no time for him or others to adequately review them.

Schapiro attempted to nominate another candidate for the post. But because Dupree’s name had been submitted first, the board was required to vote on her nomination first.

Dupree worked for the school district for about 25 years, spending 20 years in Human Resources Department, before retiring two years ago.

“I believe I have the experience that will help guide the board in matters of personnel,” she told The Hudson Reporter after her swearing in.

The school district is currently conducting an efficiency audit.

Board President Sudhan Thomas said over the last two years the board has come across serious civil service violations.

“A comprehensive HR audit was carried out in 2012, but was kept secret and not shared with the board members or the public,” he said. “This causes several financial liabilities to the district.”

Last June, the board did not continue to employ about nine staff members who worked for the district for over four years without board approval, Thomas said.

“These employees also worked without titles approved by Civil Service,” he said.

Since then, the board has been guarded in approving positions recommended by former Superintendent of Schools Marcia Lyles which Thomas claims appear to have violated civil service rules.

Thomas said Dupree brings a special skill set that is needed by the board.

Is the board too conflicted?

In a continuing conflict between Schapiro and Thomas, Schapiro also tried to raise concerns about the board’s approval of “a document of necessity.”

Under changes made as a result of a massive ethics overhaul by the Department of Education during the Christie administration, restrictions have been placed on trustees who have close family members employed in a school district or who are represented by a teachers’ union elsewhere. These restrictions also apply to trustees who were elected with union support.

Under normal conditions, these trustees are not allowed to take part in teachers’ contract negotiations or vote on contracts. The board is currently in negotiation on contracts that expire on June 30.

But because six of the nine members of the board are considered conflicted, the state allows them to pass “a document of necessity” which allows these members to negotiate and vote.

“With only three members not conflicted, we cannot make a quorum for a vote,” said Schapiro, who attempted to explain the matter to the public. But Thomas stopped him.

In a sharp exchange between the two, Thomas told Schapiro he should have raised the matter during the vote, and would not allow him to speak on the issue during a later portion of the meeting.

“I thought it was important to tell people what this meant, and not just pass it without talking about it,” Schapiro said.

For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Al Sullivan can be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com