Board of Education votes to fill vacant seat

Melissa Godesky-Rodriguez was appointed to finish Ava Finnerty's term

The Bayonne Board of Education has voted to fill its vacant seat with parent Melissa Godesky-Rodriguez.

The seat was left empty following Trustee Ava Finnerty’s death in July. Godesky-Rodriguez will serve out the rest of Finnerty’s term, which ends on Jan. 5, 2022.

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Godesky-Rodriguez was already running for the board in the upcoming November election and will continue to do so, now as an incumbent, under the “Together We Can” slate, alongside Trustees Jodi Casais and Pam Sclafane.

The board voted 4-1 to appoint Godesky-Rodriguez. Trustees David Watson, Jan Patrick Egan, Vice President Christopher Munoz and President Maria Valado voted to approve Godesky-Rodriguez’s appointment.

Sclafane and Casais recused themselves. Trustee Dennis Wilbeck opposed.

Better candidates?

Wilbeck pointed to the other applicants as better choices, including two who are candidates currently running in the board election.

“It is our responsibility to select the most qualified candidate for the vacant seat of Ava Finnerty,” Wilbeck said. “There were three other, qualified, certified, professional candidates that are applying for this position.”

Valado interjected, asking Wilbeck not to say the names of the other applicants considered for the position.

“I would ask that you not mention any names please,” Valado said.

Wilbeck ignored Valado.

“Dr. Kane has a doctorate degree in mathematics and psychology, a major in statistics, and an adjunct professor at Rutgers University,” Wilbeck said. “Gina Irizarry is a highly credited and certified teacher.”

Tense meeting

Deleted: Valado again asked Wilbeck to stop dropping names.

“I’m going to ask you one more time,” Valado said. “I said please do not mention any of the applicants names because they are not public.”

Wilbeck named Charles Ryan as the third applicant that he said the board should have chosen over Godesky-Rodriguez.

“You overlooked the professionals to recommend a candidate with no educational criteria,” Wilbeck said. “No academic ability is shown in her resume, and yet she seeks a seat on the Board of Education, which is an educational facility and district.”

Wilbeck then voted no. Munoz moved to make a statement, but Valado insisted he just vote. Munoz said he would give his statement later and voted yes.

In her defense

Valado then passionately defended Godesky-Rodriguez.

“Mrs. Godesky-Rodriguez is a parent in our community with a child in special education,” Valado said. “She is a member of the PTO at her school. She is at every board meeting and open workshop. She is constantly writing us emails and coming into speak with us, especially about policies that affect the special education community. She has shown her passion for the children of this district over and over. That is why we vote yes for her.”

Valado said that a background in the educational field is not what should define a trustee.

“It is not your educational qualifications that make you a great board member,” Valado said. “It is your passion for the children. It is your passion for education, your passion to make sure that your children are safe and that your children are learning and that your children have the best education and future that we can possibly give them. Mrs. Godesky-Rodriguez, thank you for always coming to board meetings. Thank you for always voicing your concerns, even when sometimes we all disagree. We disagree and we argue but you still keep voicing your concerns. Thank you. If we had more parents like this, that were out here actually helping, pushing forward, it would be wonderful.”

New trustee speaks out

Following the meeting, Godesky-Rodriguez issued a statement thanking the board for her appointment and defending herself.

“I have been dedicated to my city my entire life and have always tried to give back in one way or another whether that was volunteering, donating, or just being part of the solution,” Godesky-Rodriguez said. “Some of my proudest moments and years have been spent as the Vice President of the LCS PTO… Yes, I chose a different career path that has led me to a very successful point in my life. I worked hard and worked countless hours to become a retail professional… It has taught me to be tenacious, empathetic, strategic, open-minded, and I have learned and have become an expert in areas such as budgeting, allocation, planning, human resources, and people management.”

Godesky-Rodriguez pointed to her background in a field other than education as a strength.

“I bring a different perspective to the board,” Godesky-Rodriguez said. “ I have gone and asked questions some did not want to ask or couldn’t. I have written emails, made calls, and at times, disagreed with some of the decisions but at the end of the day, I wanted to be part of the solution and support the board because it’s about the kids, the teachers, the staff, and the community as a whole.”

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

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