WAYNE, NJ – An election advertisement appearing in a Wayne publication has touched off a controversy within the Wayne Board of Education (BOE) with accusations of hypocrisy, impropriety and questions of conflicted interests in current negotiations between the BOE and the Wayne Education Association (WEA).
Current BOE President Michael Bubba and current BOE member Suzanne Pudup along with candidate Eileen Domico appear in the ad which states: “
“Do you want BOE candidates who will put Education before Politics?
So do we…
But that doesn’t come from a Board that is owned by the
Wayne Education Association Leadership.
Take the WEA Union leadership out of the Board of Education.
Vote the Right Choice for Wayne.
Paid for by The Right Choice for Wayne, 16 Marlo Road”
BOE member Cathy Kazan was not happy with the ad. “It’s a slap in the face to our colleagues: the Union. And, our employees: the teachers,” said Kazan. “Using donations from the Union to pay for an ad to slam the Union who we have been trying to make peace with; this is unprofessional and the absolute opposite of leadership.”
Bubba said: “Mrs. Kazan has no facts to back up that claim. There was a check provided by a private donor that paid for that ad.”
However, Bubba would not name the private donor who, he said gave a $705 check that was specifically ear-marked for the ad, and only said that the name will be on his ELEC form which isn’t due until after the election.
When Domico was asked who the private donor was, she said: ““I don’t know. I was told that it was a private donation that was received.”
According to RCFW Treasurer Robert Ceberio, it was Domico who paid for the ad. “He [Bubba] tells me in a text message that Eileen is going to put an ad in the paper, and they need $705. I listed it in my last ELEC report, indicating the check number and the check made out to Eileen Domico. And when Mr. Bubba asked me that we need a check for an ad and make it out to Eileen, and I was told by Eileen that she was running by herself, I thought she was doing an ad and we were paying for the ad.”
Ceberio also explained that leftover campaign money from previous years are carried over to the next year. So, in 2018, $1530.50 of $2,000 donated by the WEA and the NJEA to RCFW candidate Eileen Albanese was then transferred to the next year’s campaign, which is now Bubba’s campaign.
This is the basis for Kazan’s claim that WEA money has paid for the ad that she feels is bashing the WEA. “This [transferring of union money between campaigns] has been happening unbeknownst to the teachers and the public for the last two years.”
Albanese, who ran and won in 2018 using the RCFW account said that many people use the RCFW account. Bubba concurred, saying seven people have used it. Albanese explained that she accepted the donations from the WEA but did not use it all and left it in the account for future campaigns. “The money was donated to me, and what I didn’t use, I donated to the next campaign, so that money is no longer a WEA donation, but a donation from me.”
Pudup is not named in any of the Right Choice for Wayne filed documents. However, according to filed ELEC reports Pudup received donations from the WEA for her own BOE campaigns in 2016. Pudup told TAPinto Wayne that she did not receive donation from the WEA for 2019, though she sat through the interview with the WEA’s Political Action Committee (PAC) named the Commuinty for Academic Excellence (CAE), but was not endorsed.
Kazan and Duffy also argue that Bubba and Domico could be considered “conflicted members” because of their use of what they consider union donated money to pay for the campaign ad.
Pudup, as a former teacher and former member of the WEA and with family who are members of the NJEA, will always be considered conflicted.
Currently, the Wayne BOE is negotiations with the WEA over Ferrante’s Full-Time Release status. See Story
Six of the nine BOE members are considered by the Wayne Schools District attorney, John Geppert to be “conflicted members” because of ties to and/or donations given by the WEA and/or NJEA, and have been barred from the ongoing negotiations between the Board and the WEA. Only Bubba, Kazan and Board member Sean Duffy are considered non-conflicted.
However, Bubba as President has chosen not to include Duffy in the negotiations because, according to Duffy: “He [Bubba] believes that I am too pro-union. Which is not the case. I have always listened to both sides and then made decisions. I have voted with the Administration on certain issues; I have voted with the Union on certain issues. It depends on the issue and what is right for the children.”
Bubba confirms that he purposely kept Duffy from the negotiations but refutes Duffy’s remark about him being pro-union. “I never said that,” said Bubba. “Because he misses so many meetings, I couldn’t include him. He missed the first meeting when we discussed this, then he came to the next one and then missed another. The bottom line is, when you are not here and you are not dedicated, this is too important an issue for to bounce around with maybe you’ll be here, maybe you’ll won’t.”
So, only Bubba and Kazan have been a part of the ongoing negotiations.
In a phone conversation with Geppert, the attorney for the BOE, he gave a generic response to the question of conflict: “There are ethics opinions drawing a one-year time limit on when people are conflicted and when the conflict dissipates but that’s an application to specific facts, and it’s premature to comment on anything about this specific case until we have all the facts.”
According to the ELEC documents, RCFW last received donations from the WEA on November 7, 2018, and before that on September 27, 2018. $1530.50 was transferred from this campaign to Bubba’s campaign in 2019. The negotiations over the Full-Time Release issue began on September 6, 2019 and remain on-going.
Moreso, Kazan believes that the wording in the advertising itself puts Bubba in conflict. “He’s now attacking them [the WEA] with this vicious ad. I don’t know what the rule is, but I think this is an adversarial approach. I think he should be precluded from participating in those negotiations because he’s shown a clear bias in this ad. To me this is unethical.”
“I don’t have a bias against the WEA,” said Bubba. “I look at every individual situation and assess. And, I’ll always do what I believe is right. That’s not anti-anybody because I literally do what I think is right, and I’ve done that from the day I got on this board and I’ll do it until I leave this board.”
Ferrante provided a prepared statement from the WEA: “Michael Bubba has made his disdain for the union known, and this ad only publicizes what we've believed all along: Under his leadership, there has been a complete erosion of the relationship between our union and the Board. That's why we have been declaring our desire for a change, a call for the end to the incessant infighting and a need for a constructive, collaborative labor-management relationship.”
Bubba said the ad was in response to a speech that Ferrante gave on the night that the BOE voted to honor the CBA which gave Ferrante Full-Time Release until the matter was negotiated. In that speech she said: “Either this board needs to change the disastrous course its heading down, or we need to change you. The bottom line is this: If you aren’t the ones who are willing to make strong labor/management relationships that the Wayne Public Schools deserve, then we will work to find others who are.”
Bubba felt that this statement meant that the WEA wanted control of the Board, which he felt was wrong and wanted to stand up against it.
Speaking about his seven years of tenure as a board member, Vice President and now President, Bubba said: The board and the union leadership have strived to work collaboratively with the goal of student success always first and foremost in our minds. We have had many successes and achievements during my tenure in working with the union leadership.
There are times when the needs of students are not always put first when politics comes in to play and I have always been the first to speak against that type of interference in the governance of our district.”
Duffy feel differently about Bubba. “If you elect clowns, expect a circus,” he said. “The Board has basically been a circus since the Ferrante issue came up, and If you elect Bubba and Eileen [Domico] you’re electing more clowns to the circus.”
Bubba feels he is being unfairly attacked by Kazan and Duffy: “This is a political hatchet job,” he said.
Election day is this Tuesday and there are three seats on the Board of Education available and at least five candidates running, all five of which either are currently receiving or have received donations from the WEA.
Of the other six current members that are not up for re-election, five of them are considered conflicted for their connections with the WEA and/or NJEA.