Seven candidates seek three seats on the Board of Education

Only one slate is running; the rest are independents

Voters have a broad range of choices.
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Voters have a broad range of choices.

Seven candidates are vying for three seats on the Bayonne Board of Education in the November election. Two seats are currently held by Trustee Jodi Casias and Pam Sclafene. The third is vacant and was held by former Trustee Ava Finnerty, who died earlier this month.

The seven candidates are Casias and Sclafene, who are seeking reelection, and Melissa Godesky-Rodriguez, Charles Ryan, Petra Ghaly, Gina Irizarry, and Nicole Gabriele.

Gabriele is a first-time candidate running as an independent. She is seeking a seat on the board under the slogan, “Voice for All.”

Ryan, a former trustee, was an appointed board member, before school board became an elected position. He won his seat in 2016, before losing in 2018, 2019, and 2020.

Ryan, a former high school history teacher and Deputy Chief at the Bayonne Police Department, is again seeking a seat on the board, this time as an independent under the slogan, “The Smart Choice.”

Fourth times a charm

Irizarry is the Chair of the Writing Department at the Empowerment Academy Charter School in Jersey City and a photographer, who is again seeking election to the board. She ran unsuccessfully in 2015, 2016, and 2018. Irizarry is running as an independent, with no slogan designated.

“This year was a challenge for anyone involved in education as well as for families and students,” Irizarry said in a statement. “These challenges made me look at what I as a person, professional and community member can do to effectuate positive change.”

Irizarry highlighted her experience as a teacher, parent and artist as her strengths: “As as educator and school administrator, I have so many ideas for helping all of us to come together and begin the process of building a stronger, equitable and harmonious community. As a parent, teacher, and student advocate, I bring a wealth of experience in everything from special education to gifted and talented programming. As a professional artist, I can think outside the box and find the balance needed for students to be happy and successful. As a teacher liaison, I empathize and am supportive of challenges that come with the profession.”

From student to trustee?

Ghaly is a 2021 Bayonne High School Class graduate and former student representative to the board. She founded the local branch of the conservative Republican group Turning Point USA at BHS, and as student representative has been a vocal critic of the online learning platform when COVID-19 necessitated virtual learning.

Ghaly is running as an independent under the slogan, “Bayonne Families First.” In her announcement video, Ghaly said that during her time as board representative, she learned about the board and “what it could be and the potential to change so many lives.”

“I want to be a part of that,” Ghaly said. “I want to be the independent voice that stands up for what is right, every single time, regardless of the circumstances.”

Pointing to her time at BHS and Washington Community School, she said, “I know what needs to be done to make our schools better.”

‘Together We Can’ slate

The “Together We Can” slate consists of Casias, Sclafene, and Godesky-Rodriguez. This ticket, the only slate running, is typically endorsed by Mayor James Davis.

Casais is an incumbent, first elected on a “Together We Can” slate in 2018. Recently, Casias has been protesting  high water bills.

“I am proud of the work and advocacy that the ‘Together We Can’ team has brought to the Bayonne Board of Education,” Casais said. “Our students and parents deserve an affordable Bayonne that will advocate for students and taxpayers.”

Sclafane, an incumbent, was appointed to the board to fill the spot of former Trustee Joseph Broderick after his sudden resignation in 2020. She was born and raised in the Bayonne where she serves as Vice President at BCB Bank and on the Advisory Board of the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce.

“After having the opportunity to serve as a trustee for the past few months, I feel proud of the work that we have done, and the response to the challenges of COVID-19,” Sclafane said. “I believe ‘Together We Can’ is a team that will innovate for the future. I am excited about the possibility of bringing vocational opportunities and more technology to the curriculum to continue moving our public school system forward.”

Newcomer to the ticket is Godesky-Rodriguez, a Bayonne native and outspoken parent who frequently attends board meetings. Godesky-Rodriguez unsuccessfully ran as an independent in 2019.

“I am ready to bring a different perspective to the table,” Godesky-Rodriguez said. “I believe work still needs to be done to ensure our students have the emotional and hands-on support needed so that they can truly thrive within our community, and to support our teachers and their needs as well.”

Priorities for the ticket include “expanding social services, maintaining property taxes to keep Bayonne affordable, implementing more technology in the classroom, and providing more tools needed in the classroom for Bayonne teachers to succeed.”

Endorsed across the board

The current Board of Education, except for Trustee Denis Wilbeck, endorsed the “Together We Can” ticket. All these trustees have run on the “Together We Can” ticket in the past. 

“Jodi, Pam and Melissa are highly qualified candidates who all share a similar goal: improving the lives of the students who attend our schools,” said Board President Maria Valado. “We are confident that our schools and board will be improved with them on our team.”

“Jodi, Pam and Melissa bring balance, passion and other viewpoints to the table,” said Vice President Christopher Munoz. “Not only are they qualified, but they are incredibly dedicated to the students in our district.”

“If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that the board needs to do everything in its power to stand up for our students,” said Trustee David “Doc” Watson. “I am happy to support the ‘Together We Can’ ticket of Jodi, Pam and Melissa. They have a proven track record of advocating for our Bayonne Bees.”

“Having leadership in the BBOED that understands the renaissance that Bayonne is going through is key to a strong and competitive school district,” said Trustee Jan Patrick Egan. “I’ve always run on the platform of bringing new and fresh ideas to the Board of Education and I feel that this ticket does just that.”

“These candidates aren’t just qualified for the role, they genuinely understand the needs of the community and the students,” said Trustee Lisa Burke.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.