ELIZABETH, NJ – The proposed naming of the newest Elizabeth high school, the Academy of Finance, after Mayor Christian Bollwage has met with objections from a former board member and students at the new school.
Kason Little, a student at the new high school, has started a petition advocating more student and community input in the naming of schools. “The part I object about Mayor Bollwage is that, we as students in this city, and most importantly, as future change agents in the making should have a say in who holds the name of our schools in this city,” said Little. “It is extremely important that students/ young adults, raise their voices for the right reasons. If we don’t speak up for what’s right, then we are a part of what’s wrong!”
Little objects to the school being named for the mayor, saying, “I strongly believe that Mayor Bollwage does not deserve a school with his name on it. Bollwage has taken over the school systems here in Elizabeth and has turned them into political facilities.”
Instead, Little would like to see his school named for long-time Elizabeth educator, Dr. Thelma C. Hurd, who passed away in 2013. “She was a lifelong professional educator here in Elizabeth and was the first African American teacher. After her years as a teacher, she was a high school guidance counselor and a vice principal. Later on Hurd began as a principal at John Marshall school No. 20 for over 50 years. Hurd was instrumental in creating a dynamic and stable learning environment for thousands of children from the surrounding neighborhood. She carried such strong and positive leadership through community here in Elizabeth and is missed tremendously.”
Little would like to see a process where the entire community can have an input. The first step would be to present a selection of names to the public and allow them to vote before a board of education meeting. “School names should never be privately picked. Where is the transparency? Keeping the public informed on changes is the key to unlock the golden door of a change!”
In addition, former board member Tony Monteiro has sent a letter to Acting Department of Education Commissioner Kimberly Harrington requesting state intervention. Citing the recent administrative judge finding that four board members violated ethics rules when they voted to hire Interim Acting Superintendent Frank Cuesta, he wrote, “We believe the conflicts that have already been established as well as the additional conflicts and complaints to be filed clearly highlight the continued misappropriation of city taxpayer dollars without proper legal authority. Therefore the naming of this school after Mayor Bollwage at the minimum would be inappropriate, if not illegal.”
In response, BOE spokesman Pat Politano explained that the names of schools are chosen after receiving input from the community. “The Board members have heard from hundreds of community members who believe the school should be named for Mayor Bollwage.
“Many board members believe he’s a role model for the community having served as mayor for 25 years and another decade as a councilman. There is a no more accomplished mayor in New Jersey than Mayor Bollwage. He’s led the economic rebirth of Elizabeth, expanded housing, created jobs, improved safety and been a national leader for urban America,” said Politano.
In addition, according to Politano, the mayor has proved his dedication to young people by opening a new branch of the Elizabeth Public Library and a new children’s library as well as an expansion of recreational programs including new parks, soccer fields, football fields and basketball courts throughout Elizabeth. He is also an educator, serving as a professor of public administration at the university level.
Input from the public was sought at the public agenda meeting held last Thursday, April 6, in preparation for this week’s board meeting, April 13, where the public will have another opportunity to address the issue, said Politano. The public will have two additional opportunities to voice their opinions at the May agenda setting and board meetings.
“This process is completely open, transparent and inclusive of the community,” said Politano.
Board of Education to Exercise Doctrine of Necessity
At the agenda setting meeting, the board discussed notifying the Department of Education that it plans to exercise the “doctrine of necessity.” to vote to renew the contract of Assistant Superintendent Cuesta and to name the school.
Politano explained that, while the district disagrees with the Administrative Law Court’s recommendation regarding four BOE members and believes the School Ethics Commission will agree with the school district, out of respect for the process it is notifying the state that a majority of its members could be seen to have a conflict on the Cuesta contract and school naming. The four named in the action are, Stan Neron, Maria Carvalho, Dan Nina and Jose Rodriguez, plus board member Paul Perreira, whose wife is a school district employee. Perreira was not included in the initial complaints brought by former board member Rafael Fajardo and former assistant board secretary Don Goncalves.
“If those five were unable to vote, there would be no quorum,” Politano explained. “Again, it is the district’s position that all Board members should be allowed to vote, and do not have a conflict, but out of respect for the process will notify the state of its planned action.”