Vote for school board, budget

Three candidates running for three open positions

Public elections will be held on Tuesday, April 19 for three open seats on the North Bergen Board of Education. Three candidates are running unopposed for the seats: incumbents Patricia Bartoli and Luis Rabelo, and political newcomer Sai Rao, the library director for North Bergen. Rao will take over the seat previously held by Edward Latour, who is retiring from the board.
The smooth transition will be in strong contrast to last year, when a dozen candidates competed for three open seats.
The board has nine members, with three seats coming up for election in rotation each year. Following the election, the board members hold a reorganization meeting in May to select a president and vice president. Currently Bartoli is president and Rabelo is vice president.
Also on the ballot in April is the tax levy for the 2016 school budget. The school budget represents one of three portions of a resident’s tax bill, along with municipal and county taxes. The school tax levy is the only portion that residents can vote on.
This year the proposed school tax levy is $49,033,614, an increase of roughly 7.65 percent from last year. Residents will have the opportunity to cast their votes on the tax levy increase from 2 to 9 p.m. on April 19. Based on past experience, it is unlikely the levy will pass.

This year the proposed school tax levy is $49,033,614, an increase of roughly 7.65 percent from last year.
“It’s a North Bergen tradition to vote it down,” said Steve Somick, business administrator for the school district. North Bergen residents have voted against budget increases in every election of recent memory. Last April North Bergen was the only municipality out of 10 in North Jersey to vote down their tax levy.
If it’s voted down, the Board of Commissioners can propose cuts to save the taxpayers more money.
Somick said it would be easier to run the district if the state provided the aid that it should.
“Our school district is $37 million below adequacy,” said Somick. “The state has formulas based on the demographics and economics of a district, and we should be receiving $37 million more than the district is getting.”
This is in comparison to neighboring municipalities like Union City, West New York, Jersey City, and Hoboken that are designated as Abbott or SDA districts (Schools Development Authority), qualifying them for significant additional funding from the state.
“Even though we share a boulevard and the same demographics, we weren’t part of the Abbott selection when the state did that,” said Somick.
The tax levy represents the portion paid by the residents out of the school system’s total operating budget. For the 2016-17 school year the anticipated budget is over $132 million. For the current year it was more than $127 million.
Last year the proposed tax levy represented an increase of about 7.5 percent. After it was voted down by the public, it went to the township commissioners to review. “The mayor and commissioners saved about $2 million” from the budget, said Somick.
The revised budget was then voted on by the school board and approved by the county. The final increase was about 4.5 percent.
A summary of this year’s school budget in comparison to the two prior years will be published in local newspapers beginning this week. Anyone with specific questions can visit the Board of Education offices at 7317 Kennedy Blvd. between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday to Friday for more detailed information.
The three candidates for school board positions each spoke this week with the North Bergen Reporter.

Patricia Bartoli

Current board president Patricia Bartoli first joined the board as a replacement for a member who left midterm. “That was for about a year,” she said. “And then three years ago I was voted in for my first full three-year term. This will be my second.”
A native of West New York who has lived in North Bergen since she was 13 (“I’m a Hudson County girl”), Bartoli is the chief financial officer for the North Bergen Municipal Utilities Authority.
“There is a correlation” between her day job and her role on the board, she said. “The daily interactions with customers, taxpayers, employees. Trying to make it work financially. Always trying to comply with regulations – EPA, environmental – while trying to keep costs stable.”
Her goals for the board are to continue contributing to the success of the students while balancing the financial challenges. “We have created a bunch of new classrooms outside of the schools without having to build new buildings,” she said. “North Bergen is headed in the right direction. The Board of Education has some really good people administering the programs.”
Married for 38 years and living in the same home she purchased 37 years ago, Bartoli put her two kids through the public school system in North Bergen.
“North Bergen is my home and I care about it,” she said. “I’ve been here a long time. My kids have been raised here. I enjoy the Board of Education, seeing the new programs. There’s nothing better than seeing the successes of the children.”

Luis Rabelo

Like Bartoli, Luis Rabelo first joined the board midterm to replace a retiring member. He has served one full three-year term and the upcoming one will be his second.
A resident of North Bergen for about 20 years, since he was 12, he currently runs Espinoza Beef and Provisions in Union City, as well as managing rental properties in the area.
A former treasurer with an accounting fraternity at Seton Hall, he began coaching with North Bergen recreation right out of college. “I like getting involved with the kids,” he said. “I like giving back.”
“I think we’re doing good things within the district,” he said of the school board. “We’re extremely underfunded but the superintendent is implementing a lot of nice programs.” He cited the recently inaugurated STEM programs as an example, and the initiative to provide Chromebooks to all students.
“I’d like to keep improving technology in the district,” he said. “That’s the future.”
The key to addressing the underfunding, he said, is “making sure there are no wasteful programs. Making sure they’re being run efficiently, that the programs that are in place are quality programs.”
Rabelo has good incentive to work hard as a board member. His two-and-a-half-year-old son, Luis Jr. will soon be joining the students in the public school system.

Sai Rao

This will be Sai Rao’s first term on the North Bergen Board of Education, but she is no stranger to committees or education. She has served as president of the Hudson County Library Association for more than 10 years and co-chair of the BCCLS Public Relations Committee for about three years. In addition she served as treasurer and president of the PTA at her daughters’ school.
The recipient of the New York Times Librarian of the Year Award in 2002, Rao is passionate about expanding the social, cultural, and educational boundaries of the library, implementing a wide variety of programs for both children and adults. Residents can enjoy language classes, arts and crafts, book clubs, seniors events, and much more at both the library’s main branch and at the Kennedy branch that Rao opened in 2013.
A resident of North Bergen for 21 years, she is married with two children, Prashant and Shivani.
“My children have grown up within the walls of the library,” she said. “I am looking forward to my time serving on the Board of Education with great anticipation. A partnership between public libraries and schools is an ideal situation. It increases the relevancy of public libraries and provides students with much needed resources, more than a school can often provide. With increased collaboration we have the opportunity to build stronger institutions, which will make for a stronger community.”
A native of Chennai, India, Rao received a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in India before immigrating to the U.S., where she received her second master’s degree in library science. Last week she celebrated her 25th anniversary with the North Bergen Public Library, where she has been library director since 1996.

Art Schwartz may be reached at

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