As part of the process for returning the Jersey City public school system to local control, the voters of Jersey City will have the opportunity to choose between an elected school board and one appointed by the mayor. Recently, Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy suggested a third option – a hybrid board – and New Jersey State Assemblywoman Joan Quigley (D-Jersey City) is planning to introduce state legislation providing these three options to voters.
The proposed hybrid board is the worst of the three possible options. It would have three board members appointed by the mayor, three elected by the voters of Jersey City and three deans of local colleges. This design would likely lead to a fractured board. Unlike their fellows, the elected members would have to raise money and expend time and energy on campaigns. Meanwhile, the college deans and the mayor’s appointees would have no direct accountability to the public.
Many people (including, initially, myself) may instinctively be drawn to an elected school board. Upon further consideration, however, a mayor-appointed school board in conjunction with an open appointment process is the best way to move our public schools forward.
Why should we support a mayor-appointed board? The mayor oversees economic growth and quality of life of the city. The mayor therefore, has a big stake in the performance of the school system, which is integral to success in these areas. The mayor is also responsible for adequate school system funding and the appropriate use of tax resources. These mayoral responsibilities provide a powerful incentive for careful selection of school board appointees. Finally, with a mayor-appointed board, the mayor’s success is tied directly to the success of the school system. Voters can turn the mayor out if they are dissatisfied with school performance. Historically, voter participation in mayor elections is vastly greater than in school board elections.
An appointed board should have classes of membership with varying technical and expertise requirements. In this way, the mayor can insure a range of skills and balance on the school board that an elected board would not necessarily possess.
An open appointment process is necessary for the success of an appointed board. Such a process would provide information to citizens about appointed municipal positions, procedures for them to apply for particular positions and notifications of vacancies and appointments. Citizen’s Campaign has drafted a Model Citizen Service Act that would provide for an open appointment process.
Cities regarded as educational innovators, including New York City, Boston and Chicago have placed full authority for school system performance under the city’s mayor or in mayor-appointed school boards.
Candidate for Jersey City Mayor 2009