Home Sections Education

Lawsuit takes aim at controversial Jersey City referendum

Claims resolution allowing voters to decide school board fate was adopted illegally

A controversial ballot question asking voters in Jersey City if they want an elected or appointed school board is being challenged in a newly filed lawsuit.

A controversial referendum scheduled to appear on the November ballot which would allow voters to decide if they want an elected or an appointed school board has come under fire in an eight-page lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed on Feb. 24 on behalf of Jersey City resident and retired schoolteacher Andrea Pastore, seeks to have an adopted city council resolution approving the referendum question revoked.

The resolution was adopted in a 7-1-1 vote last month. Councilman Richard Boggiano voted against its adoption, and Councilman Rolando Lavarro abstained.

The resolution came under fire by the majority of the roughly 65 public speakers at the council meeting. They charged that the resolution was undemocratic, gave one person too much power, and was unfair to the new school district leaders who have not yet been given the opportunity to try and fix the district’s issues, including a budget gap caused by loss in state aid.

Lawsuit filed

The lawsuit, filed against Mayor Steven Fulop, Council President Joyce Watterman, and the Jersey City Municipal Council, charges that the resolution’s adoption broke local and state laws, saying that the resolution was not sponsored by an individual council member and that, according to state law, the council cannot adopt a resolution placing a referendum about the school board on the ballot.

“Ordinances, resolutions, or other matters requiring action by the Council shall only be introduced by a member of the Council,” the suit says.

The claim further states that, according to statutory requirements, a “referendum to reclassify an existing Type II district [with an elected board] may only be presented by resolution of the existing school board, or by petition signed by 15 percent of the electorate.”

For those reasons, the lawsuit argues that the resolution should be declared void.

It seeks “further legal and equitable relief as is just and proper.”

Appointed vs. elected

Mayor Steven Fulop has advocated for an appointed board, citing several issues with the elected board. They include a low retention rate, as five board members resigned in the last few years; two charges against former Board of Education President Sudhan Thomas; and controversial comments made by a board member which some city officials, including Mayor Fulop, have called anti-Semitic.

Fulop said that an appointed board would allow the mayor and council to be held accountable for the school district because many members of the public already hold them accountable even though under the board’s current form the city government has no say.

On Feb. 18, Fulop announced a school funding action plan which over the next three years would allocate $250 million to the school district which currently faces a multi-million-dollar loss of state aid.

He said should the Board of Education “act responsibly” in solving the funding crisis, he will rescind the referendum.

“This is a frivolous lawsuit and a waste of time as the Board of Education controls their own fate right now,” said city spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione. “Our only hope is that the Board of Education members act responsibly, and make changes that create a long-term plan for students without killing taxpayers. If the Board acts responsibly there will be no need for a referendum, and if the Board doesn’t act responsibly, the residents will likely throw out the members. The Board members can decide their own fate here with their actions.”

If the referendum is to be rescinded, the city has until 72 days before the November election to do so.

Of the roughly 600 school districts across the state, only 14 are appointed.

For updates on this and other stories keep checking www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.

Exit mobile version