Simmering tension at Paterson school board after budget vote, de-funding of newcomers’ high school | Paterson Times Paterson Times

Simmering tension at Paterson school board after budget vote, de-funding of newcomers’ high school

By Jayed Rahman
Published: March 25, 2019


The school board had to delay its monthly meeting by an hour on Wednesday night after some members boycotted the meeting.

Some school board members, who felt betrayed by the preliminary budget vote the night before, skipped the meeting. School board members had informally agreed amongst themselves to uniformly vote to approve the budget on Tuesday night after a closed-door meeting, according to sources.

Preliminary budget vote

School board president Oshin Castillo and two members, Joel Ramirez and Manny Martinez, voted against the preliminary budget.

“When I commit myself to a process, I commit myself,” said longtime school board member Jonathan Hodges, who is known for opposing budgets. “I think this does not serve well. It doesn’t enhance trust. And it causes problems long term. I’d be very careful following this kind of an approach.”

Some school board members began walking out of the meeting before it was adjourned on Tuesday night.

Before the vote, school board members said they were in a bind. If the budget is voted down it would invite fresh state intervention. During the budget vote, Hodges said he is supporting the budget with “great reluctance” because it did not have enough funds to provide students a “thorough and efficient” education.

“It’s my responsibility as a board member to make sure we pass this budget. Personally, I would have voted no,” said board vice president Nakima Redmon during the vote on Tuesday.

“I don’t want to do this, but I feel obligated,” said board member Robinson Rondon.

The preliminary budget passed in a 6-3 vote.

Ramirez cited cuts, including defunding of the newcomers’ program for Spanish-speaking students at Eastside High School, to oppose the budget.

On Wednesday, board members Hodges, Emanuel Capers, Redmon, Kenneth Simmons, and Joel Ramirez were not present to start the regular meeting.

Ramirez couldn’t attend because his brother was in the hospital, he said.

Others skipped the meeting over the budget vote the night before, according to sources.

Hodges said he could not physically attend the meeting on time. He had been in a wheel chair two months earlier.

The board meeting was delayed for an hour until Ramirez arrived. Hodges arrived towards the end of the meeting.

“It’s no secret some of the board members were not there. It’s turning into a fight,” said board member Eddy Olivares. “At times, I’m embarrassed to be on that board. We act childish.”

“We have a duty to show up. That’s our responsibility,” said Castillo. She said that applies even when there’s disagreements among board members.

Newcomers’ program

Part of the fight is around the high school newcomers’ program for Spanish-speaking students at Eastside High School.

The school board was divided, almost along racial lines, when it voted to delay the newcomers’ program, saving $2.3 million, to close a $22 million budget gap. School officials later reduced the cost for the new high school to approximately $887,000 — $387,000 from federal grant funds.

Olivares, who spoke in favor of delaying the program, citing a need to cut spending, faced intense criticism on social media and on Spanish radio programs.

“You are going through a crisis and are about to lose your house. Are you going to buy a new car?” remarked Olivares. “I don’t know what is it about this program that has become so contentious.”

Olivares said some have been mischaracterizing his vote as one against Hispanic students.

“Somebody’s asking people on the board to pass that program at any cost,” he said. He pointed to remarks made by mayor Andre Sayegh, who, on Tuesday night, urged the board to reconsider delaying the newcomers’ high school.

Sayegh has weighed in on several education issues. He campaigned on being an “education mayor.”

On Wednesday night, Olivares wanted to pass a measure that said Latino students in the district were being underserved. He claimed the proposed Spanish newcomers program had an ostensibly smaller budget than the Arabic and Bengali programs.

Olivares’ measure received criticism from his colleague.

“You voted to gut the newcomers’ program and then you want to introduce a resolution saying Hispanic kids are not getting equity? I mean come on, why are you talking out of both sides of your mouth,” said Ramirez.

“I don’t see a contradiction,” said Olivares.

Ramirez said Olivares did not speak to other Hispanic members of the board prior to presenting the measure.

“The reality is all of our students are being underserved,” said Simmons. “It reveals what your agenda is. I’m not here to support just one population, but all.”

Simmons said if funds were available the district would roll out the new program. He said it makes little sense to implement new programs at a time more than 100 teachers are being terminated.

“This is not about black and brown, but green,” Simmons.


Updated 5:31 p.m.

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