ELIZABETH, NJ - Elizabeth Board of Education members struggled with seven-figure legal fees and a proposed revision of the district’s nepotism policy – both before and after formally recognizing student excellence and high achievement.
Vice President José M. Rodriguez postponed discussion of the proposal, which defines nepotism as showing “favoritism to an employee or candidate for employment” based on the existence of a conflicted relationship with a board member or “Chief School Administrator.”
“Conflicted relationship” includes immediate family members, other relatives, and any other relationships that “create a justifiable impression that the public trust may be violated.”
Under the proposed policy document, the board would “not initially appoint a relative of a board member or of the chief school administrator to any employment position in this district.”
Rodriguez explained that he tabled the measure, which he had no part in drafting, in order to first examine its legality. “There are some things in there that go counter to the law.
In a surprising piece of business, the board took up an unexpected proposal to change the November board election date to April. (Unlike the nepotism policy, it was not listed on the agenda posted online late Tuesday on the district’s website for public information.)
Much of the audience applauded Rodriguez’ assertion that the change would mean “not only costing the district money but also suppressing the vote.”
“People come out to vote in November,” said Marie Z. Carvalho. “... To change it just because it’s another Hail Mary to try to move the election to April is outrageous.” It costs about $30,000 just to print the ballots, she added.
Member Carlos Trujillo countered that moving the election from November to April does not raise taxes. "It gives the taxpayers an opportunity to vote on the budget."
With spectators protesting that the many youths and families were waiting, member Monteiro offered to withdraw the motion. After recognition was gracefully given out, Rodriguez offered a measure stating the board chooses to keep the first Tuesday after the first November Monday as its Election Day. With the board divided as usual, the vote was a tie.
Then, generous recognition and a warm reception for scholars and faculty brought a festive experience to students and beaming parents as everyone celebrated Elizabeth students’ excellence and other high achievements.
“We're here for you ... to make sure that you get celebrated this evening for your achievements that you've made all year,” said board commissioner Stanley Neron.
Team Elizabeth received recognition for taking a silver medal in the Annual Shriver Cup Unified Soccer Tournament. The winning athletes were Anthony Matute, Brayan Hilton Castro, Dany Castillo, David Soulouque, Diego Figueroa, Eric Ponce, Jeffrey Ventura, Jeimily Pena, Jessmar Bahian, Joao De Souza, Jose Melgar, Joseph Tascon, Kevin Hernandez, Kevin Molina, Marlon Taytum, Pedro Hernandez, Roque Bahian, Rodrigo Moreira and Wilson Amaya. They represented their Nicholas S. LaCorte Peterstown School No. 3 and Juan Pablo Duarte - José Julián Martí School No. 28, along with Coaches Steven Lake, Oliver Jimenez, Duarte-Martí School Principal Sulisnet Jimenez and Peterstown School Principal Jennifer Campel.
The board called Elizabeth High School's champion boys’ soccer teams to take the spotlight and certificates of excellence.
The Varsity Soccer teammates are the North II-Group 4 state champions: Maximiliano Acosta, Van Aggy Adolphe, Matthew Almeida, Mykol Bello, Croyant Demosthene, Kevin Flores, Miguel Fuentes, Antoine Gbamou, Miguel Goncalves, Danny Guillen, Yosuke Hirashiki, Rodrigo Letes, Paulo Lopes, Sergio Martinez, Billi Mendoza, Juan Miranda, Bryan Moreno, Marlon Javier Munguia, Denilson Olivera, Kevin Patino, Diego Pellejero, Nahuel Pereyra and Kevin Soares.
The Junior Varsity Soccer Team, having won seven straight Union County championships, were applauded: Josser Amaya, Aime Amouzou, Dylon Carvhallo, Jonathan Ferreira, Manny Grova, Jr., Matheus Jaimes, Amilcar Jean, Daniel Lecona, Bryan Martinez, Christopher Matherin, Max Mejia, Ricardo Muñoz, Tyler Piedranita, Ismael Piriz, Ricardo Polanco, Michael Reyes, Miguel Reyes, Edgard Rivera, Christian Sanchez, Franco Tijona, Brian Vanegas, Sebastian Velez, Jason Villalta and Camilo Zuluega. Coaches Louis Argondizza and Gustavo Della Corte led and represented both teams along with varsity coaches Joseph Cortico, Jaques Gonzales and Thomas Petit.
The Elizabeth High School Marching Band was honored for competitive performance at the Delaware Regional for the Bands of America Championships: Drum majors Amy Centeno - Drum Major, Daniel Faldraga and Jean Carlos Rosario, Low Brass Captain Stevens Cruz, Front Ensemble Captain Bruna Esteves, Clarinet Captain Kevin Ferreira, Drumline Captain Monica Figueroa, Flute Captain Alexandra Grande, Saxophone Captain Brandon Mercado, Color Guard Captain Catherine Rojel, Trumpet Captain Luis Torres and Sax Lt. Michelle Sanchez.
Also, Director/Music Arranger Ben Schwartz, Assistant Director Steve Almeida, Front Ensemble Tech David Finkelstein and Program Coordinator Wayne Dillon helped the band win 8th place among dozens from several states.
“Stars of Excellence” awards went to Elizabeth High School “Blue Ribbon School” Principal Michael Cummings and Vice Principal Thomas O’Donnell; an Excellence Award to Dr. Joao Camacho for his commitment to excellence for the Elizabeth Public Schools; and for efforts in the dedication of the Halsey iLeap Center: Technology Coach Giuliano Farina, Admiral William F. Halsey Jr. Health & Public Health Academy Vice Principal Kevin McCarthy, and Pearson Education’s Christina Everard and Laurie Lombard.
The board narrowly approved some $1.2 million of legal fees incurred or billed in the last two months alone, according to members. For various services billed, law firms would receive up to $800,000 for two months work. “This is absolutely insane,” Rodriguez said.
While Bathelus abstained, the majority of the board approved the payments while minority members generally voted no.
During public comments, a leader of Elizabeth Parents and Students Care, an activist Facebook group, called for an end to “corrupt lawyers and astronomical legal fees.”
Another resident supported moving the election to April. “I want to see what’s going on the budget. A lot of the legal fees are on it.”