The measure championed by a group of elected officials to urge the state to return the Board of Education elections back to April from the political month of November failed in a dead heat vote at the City Council on Tuesday night.
Council members cast a divided 4-4 vote defeating the measure. Opponents of the measure said the move to November has created greater participation in the school board elections and generated savings for the school district.
Proponents argued the move from April to November in 2013 has allowed the Passaic County Democratic Party to control elections in Paterson. They said those who won elections in November are tied to the party “machine.”
“You have people on the school board that don’t know what the school board function is,” said council president William McKoy.
“I think our children deserve an independent voice,” said Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, said the move to November has effectively turned the city’s non-partisan school board elections partisan. “It wasn’t a vote based on policies and it wasn’t a vote based on the promises,” he said speaking about the recent November election.
Morris said one candidate won without even campaigning.
The move to November has produced $176,500 in savings by placing the candidates on the November ballot rather than having a separate election, cited Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman.
Morris suggested political patronage is costing much more than the savings produced by the November elections. “Let’s look at the real cost to our children,” he said.
The voter turnout for school board elections have increased greatly, said Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large.
“You know what saddens me? To see someone get elected to the school board with a thousand votes,” said Davila. “I want to see more voters come out.”
“I’m one of those folks that ran for the school board and won with less than a thousand votes. I was able to run because it was an independent process,” said McKoy. “In the move to November, the board of education interest got lost. We’re not being served well.”
“We realized taking the election to November has seriously undermined education,” added Errol Kerr, a former school board member, who lost his seat in recent November elections.
School board president Christopher Irving, who receives the most criticism for moving the election from April to November, said the council considering the measure was “shortsighted and irresponsible.”
Irving pointed to the savings and the greater turnout.
Council members McKoy, Morris, Jackson, and Luis Velez voted to urge the state to move the elections back to April while Davila, Sayegh, Alex Mendez, and Shahin Khalique voted against. Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman, was absent.
Sayegh and Davila work for the Passaic County Community College. Khalique’s brother has hundreds of thousands of dollars in bus contracts with the school district. Mendez has announced a run for mayor and insiders say he is appealing for party support. “There was no political incentive in my vote,” said Mendez on Wednesday morning.
Sayegh’s vote against the measure surprised Kerr. He said he didn’t expect the former school board member to come out against the measure. The other surprise vote was cast by Mendez.
Mendez last week proudly told his colleagues he was one of the votes against moving the election to November when he was on the school board. He immediately received indirect criticism for shifting his position on Tuesday night.
“I voted no when I was on the school board because I didn’t think it was good, but now I’m on the council I vote yes to keep it even though my original vote was to not to move it. That makes no sense,” remarked McKoy targeting Mendez.
When asked what prompted the change in his position in seven days, Mendez said, “I realized more people are participating in the election. My position didn’t change in one week.”
The council president said the vote very much surprised him. “At least now we know where our interests lie,” he said.
Others warned keeping the school board election in November will open the door to party politics in the city. “I’ve said even when it was first considered I did not support it because it begins to open the door to partisan politics in the City of Paterson. First the board of education, then the city council, and then the mayor’s office,” said Morris.
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