Laura DePinto, who had hoped to put a referendum on the November ballot to allow voters to choose whether Bayonne should go back to electing its Board of Education, admitted she could not get enough required signatures.
She said a lack of resources to mobilize the campaign was one reason. But also, she blamed fear of retribution for those who might put their names on the petitions.
“People feared retribution for themselves or their family members if they signed,” she said.
DePinto became very active in local school activities two years ago when she opposed the school district’s policy of requiring public school children to wear school uniforms. Although frustrated by a legal loophole that kept the uniform case from being heard in court, DePinto managed a legal victory against the school district in federal court when a judge declared it unconstitutional that school officials stopped her son from wearing a protest badge that used a photo of the “Hitler Youth.”
The school district, however, managed to block her attempts to have the courts determine whether the district violated the state constitution by implementing the uniform policy. The school district claimed that DePinto and others failed to file their suit within 90 days, as required under state law.
Needed 1,000 signatures
In order to make the Board of Education more responsive to public pressure, DePinto sought to return Bayonne to an elected board. But in order to qualify for the November ballot, DePinto needed to get more than 1,000 signatures from registered voters by early July.
She said she managed to collect about 400.
While time has run out on this effort, DePinto said she will continue to pursue reform.
“I believe that our citizens should be getting value and services for our property tax dollars, of which the BOE takes the biggest portion,” she said. “The disparity between the property tax expense for Bayonne’s BOE and academic standings of our district needs to be addressed.”
Sounding like a future candidate for the Board of Education if and when it ever becomes an elective body, DePinto detailed an agenda of reforms she intends to pursue, including improving Bayonne’s academic standings.
“The better the education, the more upwardly mobile families will be drawn here to buy homes. This increases the number of citizens who can and will be paying property taxes, and thus helps elevate the city’s average income and tax base,” she said. “[I want a] push to make the district’s academic improvement over time an objective/goal upon which BOE administrators’ contracted financial increases are paid. There’s so much room for improvement. This improvement will only take place if the higher ups’ pocketbooks are impacted.”
She said she will continue to investigate possible patronage and other business practices by the Board of Education.
“There should be definitions and regulations regarding significant conflicts, [such as] spending, hiring and layoffs,” she said.
But school officials said they are regulated by the district’s ethics policies. DePinto said she intends to look more closely into the district’s hiring practices.
“I’m not talking about just having a family member who is a teacher,” she said. ” I’m alluding to multiple high paying jobs or personal gains through businesses hired by the BOE.”