The Jersey City school board approved a measure this week that significantly curtails when residents can speak at board meetings, an action critics say is an effort to silence them.Aw, isn't that cute? Mr. Wahid, a taxpayer and citizen of Jersey City, thinks his elected representatives ought to be able to explain themselves and respond to critiques from the public! Adorable!
The changes force all speakers to notify school officials at least one day in advance if they want to make general comments or speak on a specific agenda item. Previously, notice was only required for general comments.
The measure also prohibits any member of the public from speaking more than once, as opposed to once for an agenda item and once for a general comment. Instead of two sessions of public comment, one at the beginning of the meeting and one at the end, there will be one instead.
Some of the changes are new, and some are old policies that were never enforced, according to Board of Education President Sangeeta Ranade.
Riaz Wahid, a frequent critic of the district who is often seen at the mic during school board and City Council meetings, told The Jersey Journal he’s been asking for more time to speak, not less.
“They give sometimes 500 pages of agenda items ... and ask us to comment on it in five minutes,” Wahid said, adding that speakers “tell the truth and ask questions.” [emphasis mine]
It seems that Jersey City's citizens are under some delusion that their officials are accountable to them. What they forget is that very wealthy people like Alan Fournier and David Tepper, the two hedge fundsters behind B4K, are now stepping into local school politics and dropping big wads of cash into BOE races.
It must very helpful to Fournier and Tepper that Shelley Skinner, who works for them at B4K, has been heavily involved in Jersey City politics and school "reform" for years. Candidates backed by B4K now control the JCBOE, and the new president, Ranade, is a staunch ally of Mayor Steve Fulop -- himself a creature of Wall Street and a beneficiary of B4K's largesse.
Given all this: why would the JCBOE even bother to listen to its critics? The majority of the board took money linked to B4K, as did the mayor. Why would they care to listen to the annoying caterwauling of parents and taxpayers who have a vested interest in their community's schools, when they can simply shut down dissent and get moving on implementing the agenda of a couple of billionaires who don't even live in town?
Ranade defended the changes, saying they are part of an effort to streamline board meetings, which can begin well after their scheduled start time and feature lengthy, often raucous public comment session with, according to Ranade, comments for the public that are sometimes "out of bounds."Heavens, yes! Don't these nattering ingrates understand this board -- with B4K's financial assistance, of course -- is trying to save Jersey City from itself! Really, people, you just have to sit down and shut up and let us do what we're told, for goodness sake!
Ranade has also decided to halt all video recording of public comments, saying it discourages parents who may want to share personal details about their child with the board, but don’t want them aired on television.Well, we couldn't possibly have a rule where those who don't care to comment on video can ask for the camera to be turned off: that would be too easy. Besides, it's now a non-issue: chances are good the parents won't even have time to mention their kids' "personal details," what with the commentary cut short.
Jersey City, please understand: if you ever want to regain control of your schools from the state -- you know, like the suburbs?
If you'd ever like to enjoy representative democracy and autonomy, you have to prove you're not going to get... uppity, shall we say? Just keep the comments short. Don't make waves. Don't cause problems...
There -- isn't that better?
One more thing: here's a great bit of irony from the Executive Director of B4K, Derrell Bradford:
"1.0 is an era that is like a hundred years long. Where only the sort of like - you know, Rick mentioned earlier - only the sort of experts, only the accredited, all those people, those are the only people who are sort of allowed to talk about schools, right?"
"Allowed to talk about schools." Tell that to the B4K-backed JCBOE.
And then there's this:
Neither Tepper nor Fournier live in Jersey City. So far as I know, neither they nor Bradford has a child in the Jersey City public schools.
This is like a shiny toy for them. A "chess game." They drop a bunch of money into the city -- well, a bunch to you and me, not to them -- and get a BOE elected that locks out dissent.
And then, I guess, just like when they decided to renege on their promises to the children of Perth Amboy, they can walk away whenever they want. How utterly freakin' lovely, don't you think?