Teachers Union Posts Rare Win in Jersey City

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Three candidates for New Jersey’s troubled Jersey City school board race posted rare wins in a tough election cycle for unions.

The three candidates endorsed by the Jersey City teachers union, Gerald Lyons, Lorenzo Richardson and Joel Torres, making up the Children First slate, shared 31,232 votes.  The opposing slate – Parents for Progress – came in with 17,220 votes.

Lyons, Richardson and Torres are reportedly opponents of Schools Superintendent Marcia V. Lyles, expressing criticism of her oversight of the district, home to 27,000 students.  They cited such examples as the Board of Education’s decision to not allow public comment last January, which many took as an attempt to silence critics; a $4 million contract with an outside company that would find substitutes for the district; and numerous examples of lapses in security that allowed students to walk off school grounds, as well as a case last month where a man high on PCP was able to walk into a classroom trailer serving as a kindergarten classroom.

“There are things going on in this district that are not in the best interest of the children,” Richardson said last week at a candidate forum.

The trio also would like to “get started on everything” in reference to the negotiations for a new teachers union contract between the district and the Board of Education.  The union has been working without a contract since August, with no end to negotiations in sight.

“I am working towards electing people who are interested in backing the union,” added Children First voter Zinia Melendez, who works in the school system on a child study team. “I think they will work with the union to resolve the stalemate that we are in right now.”

Jersey City teachers have asked for a 19% pay raise over the next three years, which would add $45 million to the $245 million already spent on teacher salaries in the district.

The JCEA has worked particularly hard to get the trio elected, with the financial help of the statewide teachers union.

Mayor Steve Fulop decided to keep out of this year’s schoool election, which sources say may have been a deciding factor for voters.  Fulop had given support to the Parents for Progress slate for the past four years.  The group had previously held the majority on the board.

“The concern is,” said one Parents for Progress source, “if people who are openly hostile to the superintendent come in and are as unreasonable on the board as they’ve been off, that it will be an indication for the state to come back in.”

This year saw about 53,000 voters turn out, up from 44,000 last year.