The longest serving member of the city’s school board was blasted by his colleagues for backing a failed proposal to move the Board of Education elections back to April and making critical remarks on the cancellation of a scheduled budget planning meeting.
Jonathan Hodges became the target of what has been called by his allies a “scripted” series of attacks by his opponents on the school board at the hitherto unreported Feb. 15, 2017 meeting. He was accused of “misleading” parents for a social network posting that stated the board was attempting to keep the public out of school budget planning.
“It’s very upsetting that our parents are being misled,” said board member Oshin Castillo. Without mentioning Hodges by name, she said his posting told the public the board was “hiding” something by cancelling a budget meeting.
Board member Manny Martinez said these postings create “dissension” on the board. He said the posting suggested some commissioners were attempting to “do something backdoor” and “trying to keep information from the public.” He called the posting “misleading, misguided, and not true.”
Hodges said there was no reason provided for the cancellation of the meeting. “Nobody told me why we cancelled the meeting,” he said.
Martinez and Castillo said a phone call could have resolved the matter. Hodges said he made attempts to obtain information through email. “You’re right about communication, but it has to go both ways,” said Hodges.
Board members on the fiscal committee said the preliminary budget document is still being worked on and not ready to be made public.
“The document was not finished. It’s still a work in progress,” said board member Flavio Rivera, chairman of the fiscal committee. He noted the budget by law has to be presented to the public before it can be adopted by the board.
Hodges has said in the past his issue is with the public being excluded from the planning that leads up to the preliminary budget document. The district holds public budget priority meetings where board members discuss funding priorities for the upcoming school year.
Irving said the budget priority setting discussion has been scheduled for Feb. 28, 2017 workshop session.
Hodges was also criticized for backing the failed resolution at the City Council to urge the state to move Paterson’s school elections from November to April. Some of his colleagues took offense at some of the remarks that were made before the council by Hodges and two former school board members – Errol Kerr and Corey Teague.
The three men – Kerr, Teague, and Hodges – told the council the school elections have come under the sway of the Passaic County Democratic Party. The employment ties of school board members were highlighted to make the case the party “machine” controlled the half-billion dollars school budget. Irving, Castillo, and Rivera work for the Passaic County government.
“I was accused of being funded by the county. When the Democratic Party supports you they will support you with money. Show me the money. Show me how they are supporting me,” said Rivera.
Rivera was the only member of the board to mention Hodges by name. In his bid for the 3rd Ward council seat, many of his friends and supporters described him as a “straight shooter.”
“It looks silly,” said Irving of the attacks against him and his allies on the board. He said it looks like those members who lost school board elections after the move to November are pushing to move the election to April for their own advantage.
Irving told them to “stop crying” over the election change which cannot be reversed for the next two years. He said the change has resulted in far greater voter participation than at any time in recent memory and has led to big savings for taxpayers.
The district has saved $176,000 by moving the election to November, according to officials.
“I’m really happy about the results of the last election,” said Irving. He had to spend large sums of money in the last election to hold onto his seat.
The move to November appears to have not helped Irving. He was at risk of losing his seat at the start of the last campaign season, but raised almost $26,000 and spent $20,300 to hold on to his seat.
Irving’s criticism of the symbolic resolution was strengthened by a blunder the city made in preparing the measure. The resolution erroneously stated the election date change was backed by a majority of board members.
Hodges said he was “appalled” by the clause that said the board supported the measure. Irving protested the error in the resolution to the council president making it clear a majority of the board members did not support the resolution.
Board member Nakima Redmon said the “people have spoken” on the election change. The people have not spoken on the change and had little say when it was moved to November in 2013, said Hodges.
“The folks here on this board are going to be here for a while; we have to figure out a way to work with each other,” said Irving.
The board over the past years has been broken into two factions. One headed by Irving and the other by Hodges. The faction headed by Hodges has lost seats while the other faction gained. In the election Hodges lost a longtime ally, Kerr.
Hodges will have to re-group and rebuild his faction to restore balance on the board. The board currently has two swing votes Emanuel Capers and Lilisa Mimms who often do not vote in any factional alignment.
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