Tensions between the mayor’s office and the city’s Board of Education have been brewing for some time and the battle over a recently passed resolution is now heading to court as an upcoming public ballot question hangs in the balance.
Earlier this year, Jersey City’s council voted 7-1-1 to approve a resolution related to the elected members of the Board of Education (BOE). The move will put a referendum to city residents asking them if they support changing the school board from an elected body to one that’s appointed by the mayor.
That resolution is now being challenged in court by Andrea Pastore, who serves as 1st Vice President on the Jersey City Education Association. Pastore, who filed her case in Hudson County Court on February 24, worked in the district for 51 years and most recently taught at Bradford School P.S. 16 in Paulus Hook.
Pastore named Jersey City’s council, Mayor Steve Fulop, and City Council President Joyce Watterman as defendants in the case. She argues in her filing that Chapter A350-24 – Rule XXII of Jersey City’s Municipal Code states that ordinances or resolutions “shall only be introduced by a member of the Council.”
That didn’t happen according to Pastore’s complaint, which claims that the resolution regarding the BOE referendum was introduced during the council’s January 8 meeting without a named sponsor in contradiction of local law.
Additionally, the suit says that there is a statutory requirement, called N.J.S.A. 18A:9-4, that dictates any referendum to replace an existing elected school board with an appointed one “may only be presented by resolution of the exiting school board, or by petition signed by 15% of the electorate.”
The lawsuit outlines how Mayor Fulop announced the proposal, which allegedly came to light during the mayor’s January 3 Facebook Live post. The filing says that in the video, Fulop “opined that the current board has shown itself to be irresponsible with the District’s budget and accused BOE members of being unwilling to work with the City to solve critical issues.”
Fulop allegedly went on to state that “he and the council are ‘more visible’ to the community in contrast to members of the BOE,” according to the complaint.
Pastore says that during a four-hour comment period that occurred during the council’s January 8 meeting, the public “voiced concerns over transparency; improper sponsorship and introduction of the resolution; and the deleterious impact the resolution could have on the District and the rights and interest of the electorate.”
The resolution was nonetheless passed, but Pastore’s complaint makes it clear she doesn’t believe it’s in the city’s best interest. The lawsuit makes a point of noting that when Jersey City’s schools were under state control, they operated under an appointed board format.
“Since transitioning to an elected board in 2008, the District has seen substantial improvements across diverse metrics of student achievement, such as graduation rates, participation in Advanced Placement courses, and overall narrowing of the achievement gap,” the case says.
New Jersey’s school boards are governed under either a Type I district, which has appointed members, or by an elected board known as Type II. Pastore’s complaint against the city claims that of the state’s 600+ school districts, only 14 operate under Type I appointed boards.
The lawsuit, filed by Craig Long with the Newark-based law firm of Zazzali, Fagella, Nowak, Kleinbaum & Friedman PC, wants the council’s resolution declared null and void. In a statement to Jersey Digs, Jersey City spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione called the filing “a frivolous lawsuit” and “a waste of time.”
“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,” she said. “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.”