The city’s teachers union has elected School 20 teacher John McEntee (pictured) as its new president in a close election that has prompted his rival Napier Academy teacher Javier Fresse to call for a recount. McEntee won by in a single vote.
McEntee captured 911 votes while Fresse received 910, according to election results announced by the Paterson Education Association (PEA) on Wednesday.
“I’m just thrilled the membership put their faith and confidence in me. And I’m not going to let them down,” said McEntee. “I’m going to fight every single day for them.”
Before he can fight for the membership, McEntee has to survive a recount as Fresse disputes the outcome of the election.
“I’m contesting the process,” said Fresse on Thursday afternoon. “I am requesting a total recount.” He questioned the way the election was conducted. He said some delegates at polling sites were not properly trained to assist union members in filling out the scantron voting ballots.
Fresse said members were also not trained on how to complete and cast their scantron ballots. He said last Monday he requested the election committee provide training to delegates on the scanable ballots. He was informed that a packet was given out to each of the delegates.
“There was no training,” Fresse said. “Many members emailed me indicating that they didn’t know how to fill out that ballot and that alone brings questions to that process.”
12 schools were disqualified and did not have their votes counted, said Fresse. “My school was disqualified,” he said. One of his running mate Gennaro Tortoriello’s school was also disqualified, he said. Fresse also raised concerns about voters writing in their initials instead of their full signature.
McEntee said he is unconcerned about Fresse’s call for a recount.
Peter Tirri, president of the PEA, said he intentionally avoided getting involved in this campaign because he did not want his administration to be viewed as having influenced the outcome. Tirri said he is not sure about the number of schools that were disqualified, but explained that a school is usually disqualified when there are irregularities like more ballots than there are signatures of people who voted.
When there are more ballots than signatures, “It could be a simple mistake or somebody’s trying to stuff the ballot box,” said Tirri.
A school could also be disqualified if one non-member managed to vote, said Fresse. “To disqualify an entire school just based on one vote does not really indicates the voices of the membership was really heard,” he said.
Although Fresse lost by one vote, his slate captured majority of the positions save for president and first vice-president. He said his entire slate had the same message and strategy making defeat at the top two positions difficult to grasp.
Other winners are as follows:
- 1st vice-president Charles Ferrer
- 2nd vice-president Lakresha Hodge
- 3rd vice-president Gennaro Tortoriello
- Corresponding secretary Ryan Cohen
- Recording secretary Joy Spinelli
- Treasurer Donna Thompson
1,821 ballots were counted in last week’s election.
When asked how the contesting procedure works, Tirri said, “We’ve never had a contested election so I don’t know.” He said he will have to speak with the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) to figure that out.
Fresse wants a manual accounting of all the ballots that were cast. He said the election committee will get the ballots back from Intelliscan, outside company the union used to count the ballots, on Monday, and a manual count will follow. He and McEntee will be present during the manual count, said Fresse.
The union’s election committee chairwoman Judith Richter did not respond to an email and a message seeking her comments for this story.
Tirri did not see a manual counting of all the ballots as a good idea. “That would not be something I’d want to do,” said Tirri, “because there’s almost 2,000 ballots with seven votes on each ballot. It will take forever.”
The company that conducted the count also handles ballot counts for the NJEA, Tirri said. He said the company handles more than 20,000 ballots for the state’s teachers union.
“If there are errors, the errors are not going to be in the automated computer organization, it’s going to be in what was allowed or not allowed,” he said.
This election marks the first time in 41 years the PEA will witness a change at the very top. During those four decades, Tirri, who is retiring, served at the helm of the PEA.
The newly elected president will take office on July 1st, said McEntee. “I’m really excited to work with everyone who was elected to an officer position,” he said. “I’m looking forward to making our union more open and transparent. And an organization that is a better representation of our members.”