May 19, 2024
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Familiar, Contentious Issues Touched on at Board of Ed Debate

Teaneck—TeachNJS played host to a well-attended final candidate forum Tuesday night for Board of Education candidates at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun. The election is set for November 3, and five candidates are vying for three open spots.

The mostly collegial Q&A was contentious at times, generally regarding issues of financial priorities, teacher pay and benefits and the board’s relationship with Teaneck’s teachers union (TTEA), and technology and its benefits or pitfalls.

The debate was well-moderated by Earl Sandor and Keith Breiman, members of the community who are educators. All questions were addressed from public questions through the moderators, and the candidates were given equal time for each question. Three candidates up for re-election were in attendance, as well as one challenger. Those seeking re-election were current BOE vice president Gervonn C. Romney-Rice, and trustees David Gruber and Sarah Rappoport. The challenger in attendance was Victoria Fisher. Not present was Kathleen Muse.

“It’s good for the community to be involved on a communal basis and interact with the larger community,” said Josh Pruzansky, of TeachNJS, which is a New Jersey-based advocacy organization tasked to increase public funds for private school students. “We need to be involved with not just our own internal concerns. The fact that we were able to host this event shows Teaneck that we are interested in the broader community and interested in our mutual success.”

David Gruber, who is a member of Congregation Netivot Shalom, discussed his priorities for taking a hard look at the numbers and seeing where cuts can be recommended, especially in relation to teacher pay and benefits. In relation to benefits like health, “I’m a benefits guy; paying more doesn’t mean necessarily better,” he said. Gruber also indicated that one of his priorities as part of his re-election campaign is looking into the feasibility of increased early intervention and early childhood programming like pre-k.

One of the Jewish community’s most well-known pet issues with the Board of Education is that of continuing to ensure the Board of Education covers busing for non-public school students, as many families send their children to day schools. This was addressed briefly and is not currently considered as a hot button issue. However, the mention of the busing issue that brought many residents out to make statements earlier this year highlighted the sharp contrast in priorities held by other members of the board, particularly how they address the board’s task with making tough choices to save money.

Especially when asked about cutting sports and other after-school programs to save money, candidate for her fourth term Romney-Rice impressively explained how, in the diverse Teaneck community, programs such as football are seen as essential. “It seems like football continuously comes up as one of the items to be de[funded],” she said. Rice added that in the quest for academic improvement, the board often talks about the achievement gap. “But this is where one of the gaps can actually be eliminated. We also have our football coach engaging our students with tutorials, with after school support. So to eliminate those thing, you are also eliminating the opportunity to work on closing that gap, because you no longer have the opportunity to engage students who may not be otherwise engaged in their academics,” she said. Using sports as a motivator appears to be a primary source of academic engagement for an entire population of Teaneck students, and threatening to defund it is as concerning to a large swathe of the community.

TeachNJS encourages all Teaneck residents to vote on Tuesday, November 3. Learn more at http://www.teachnjs.org or email [email protected].

By Elizabeth Kratz

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