The Jersey City Council unanimously adopted a resolution during its May 6 meeting that removes a referendum question from the November ballot which would have asked voters to decide if the Board of Education should become an appointed board instead of the elected board it is today.
The nine-member school board represents nearly 30,000 students throughout 42 Jersey City public schools.
Of the more than 600 school boards across the state, only 14 have appointed members.
The council originally approved the referendum during a six-hour January meeting in which police removed several members of the public from the council chambers as tempers flared during public comments on the controversial resolution.
Mayor is onboard
At the time, Mayor Steven Fulop cited several reasons he supported an appointed board, including a low retention rate, citing five board members who resigned in the last few years, and criminal charges against a former board member, among other concerns.
Now the council, as well as Fulop who supported an appointed board, have changed their minds, primarily due to the ever-changing nature of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and its effect on the school district’s children.
“The world is a very different place today than it was in January when we approved the referendum,” Fulop said. “We still have major concerns with the Board of Education’s decision to raise taxes on residents during the pandemic, but the reality is we don’t want to be more disruptive to the schools when they return in September after being closed for months.”
“Our focus has always been what is best for the schools,” he said, “and we just don’t see putting the city through a referendum in this environment as responsible. We’ve been working closely with the superintendent to help get the schools back on track as swiftly as possible due to the unforeseen obstacles we’re facing amid the pandemic.”
“There’s no arguing the schools needed help when we first introduced this,” said Council President Joyce Watterman. “Today, we’re in a much different climate, and we need to think about what is the best course of action in this new environment for our students, parents, teachers, and residents.”
“At this time, the entire city is experiencing changes that none of us were prepared for,” said Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley. “Residents are focused on making sure their families and households are stable. The city has to reassess our spending and operations for the remainder of the year. It is best to hold off on making major changes to our BOE structure at this time. The BOE will need all hands on deck focused on post-COVID-19 changes in the coming months.”
Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera said that the city needs to focus on minimizing the strain on residents at this time, and Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey said that government needs to work together.
“Removing the referendum question is the right thing to do right now,” said Prinz-Arey. “With the uncertainty surrounding this virus and the potential for a second spike come fall, we need to make sure we’re protecting residents and don’t distract for our number one priority amid this pandemic, which is their health and safety.”