Troubles on the Jersey City Board of Education

The Jersey City Board of Education apparently still has not resolved the vote to reappoint Vidya Gangadin as president and John Reichart as vice president during its reorganization meeting last month, one of several legal and procedural controversies yet to be settled.
First, in what appears to have been a ploy to maintain control of the board in order to assure the reappointment of Dr. Marcia Lyles as superintendent, the board leadership may have violated Robert’s Rules of Order by counting abstentions as votes against Joel Torres, who was nominated first and would have been elected president by a 4 to 3 majority.
Communications between the board and state educational officials and other state education groups have yet to resolve whether the school board made a mistake in counting the abstentions as negative votes. A legal ruling could force the board to redo its reorganization vote. Even then, the pro-Lyle votes hold a 5 to 4 majority, so the result may not change the outcome, leaving Gangadin and Reichart as the presiding officers.
Next, there is a legal question about whether the board renewed Lyles’ contract properly. The board’s attorney ruled in December that Lyles’ contract would be automatically renewed if the board didn’t vote to decline to renew it. In December, the board was poised to approve the contract.
However, at least three members of the board are excluded from voting on Lyle’s contract under state law because they have relatives working for Lyles in some capacity. That leaves only six of the nine members eligible to vote. The district has the power to void this restriction under a provision of necessity, but the board members controlling the board have apparently opted not to apply to the state for the exemption that would allow all nine elected members to vote on Lyles’ contract.
Because only four of the six eligible members were available at the December meeting, the vote never took place. The board’s legal staff ruled that a vote was not necessary, and Lyles’s contract was renewed.
Even if all were allowed to vote, opponents of Lyles would come up at least one vote short. But the opponents say that board should at least take a vote on the contract, putting people on record as to what their position is.
Finally, another legal quandary arising from political maneuvering on the board is a rule that appears to be aimed at anti-Lyles board members.
The teachers’ union in Jersey City does not like Lyles, and in 2014 they endorsed three candidates who all won, under the presumption that they would work to get Lyles out, and to renew a teachers’ contract that had been in limbo for several years.
But a ruling by a board still controlled by Lyles’ supporters said that members endorsed by the teachers’ union could not take part in any board discussions involving unions. This is despite the fact that in 2015, the three candidates elected were also endorsed by the teachers’ union. This includes the current president and vice president of the board. If the board maintains this rule, it would eliminate six of the nine members from talking about or voting on teacher contract issues.
Some board members, of course, are disputing the legality of the restriction, since an endorsement is not the same as a political contribution to a campaign. They point out that a political endorsement does not automatically prohibit an elected official in any other elected office from discussing or voting on an issue related to the endorser.

McKnight proposes school be named after President Obama

You have to wonder about the timing of a proposal raised by newly-elected Assemblywoman Angela McKnight. In January, she proposed renaming Public School No. 20 in Jersey City after outgoing President Barack Obama.
Usually, renaming schools after a public figure takes place after that person leaves office.
But perhaps there is a more significant motive. McKnight is the daughter in law of Eugene McKnight, a key political operative for Mayor Steve Fulop.
Obama has refrained from taking sides in Democratic primaries, and he will be out off office by the time Fulop runs in the 2017 primary for governor. Obama will leave office in January 2017, and will still be a powerful enough political force in the Democratic Party to have his endorsement matter in a primary. Naming a school after Obama this year will make it less obvious that the Fulop campaign may be seeking Obama’s support next year.

Jersey City reval reared its ugly head again in January

The state is debating whether to force Jersey City to perform a property revaluation. The city has not performed a reval since 1988. While the revaluation would brings everyone’s property up to current market value, the political implications would be devastating, and could cause a backlash against Fulop if his administration was to push to get it done.
Fulop halted a revaluation that was underway when he took office in July 2013, and has resisted re-implementing it ever since. Reports suggest that the state will move to start a reval in Jersey City if Fulop fails to start the process again.
While this may not be good news, it would give Fulop political cover going into next year’s primary for governor and possible reelection as mayor. He can blame the changes on the state, and defend himself by saying he did everything possible to stop it.
Meanwhile, reports show that a political action committee strongly associated with Fulop has raised more than $3.2 million since July, with many of the donors giving large donations. The Coalition for Progress records indicated that almost half of the total raised came from businesses and professionals doing business with Jersey City.
This will be more than a little disturbing to some. As a councilman, Fulop was one of the lead proponents of pay to play laws for the city, and the PAC appears to be a way to get around legislation he himself endorsed.
Al Sullivan may be reached at

© 2000, Newspaper Media Group