April 23, 2024
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Q&A With Teaneck Board of Ed Candidates

This November we will be electing three new members to the Teaneck BOE. There are five candidates running, the last three of whom are incumbents: Linda Burns, Yassine Elkarayani, Martin Ramirez, Sebastian Rodriguez and Denise Sanders.

The Facebook group Teaneck Newsroom has sent out questionnaires to the last three elections and once again a questionnaire to all five of the BOE candidates regarding many issues and concerns that you have. These questions were asked by the members (and Teaneck residents) in the group and then sent to the candidates.

All of the candidates initially agreed to answer the questions – after all the questions were submitted to the candidates, I received an e-mail – which surprised me – from the “A” Team” candidates Linda Burns, Sebastian Rodriguez, and Denise Sanders refusal to answer the difficult questions that the Teaneck residents in the group put forward. This makes me wonder what other commitments they renege on and whether / if they care about the concerns the 1700 voters in the Teaneck Newsroom have.

A subset of the Q&A is reprinted here, and the full list can be found on the Facebook group’s website.

Q1. As a professional, what skills of yours do you think could transfer over to a BOE role? What will it add and why?

Martin Ramirez: As an attorney, I’m a big believer in the adversarial process and that it works best when we look at the facts, share our best arguments, try our best to persuade, and then vote it out. This is what we do on the BOE on a regular basis. However, the process only works if all voices are heard. I believe my voice is unique compared to most other board members because I am more concerned about fiscal responsibility than they claim to be. I believe there have been several times I have provided a perspective they might not otherwise appreciate.

Yassine Elkaryani: First, thank you to the Teaneck Newsroom for allowing me the opportunity to communicate with our residents in a modern forum that reaches over 1700 residents. I’m an MBA, information technology consultant, and life insurance agent, with a reputation of achievement, great work ethic, and respected ability to build relationships. I can transfer to our district an extensive tech expertise, matched with understanding of finance. And of course a positive energy and drive.

Q4. What is your position on the recent recalculation of the distance to the Bruriah school which resulted in the loss of bussing benefits for some residents?

Ramirez: I have read the letter Bruriah students’ parents sent to the district and I am very concerned that it presents a different set of facts than what we were told on the board. I am eagerly awaiting discussion of this matter between the board and administration, which may be during the next school board meeting on Wednesday October 16. As an individual board member, I am always in favor of preserving our current busing situation, whether that’s compulsory busing or “courtesy” busing. Few things affect a child’s ability to learn more than getting quickly and safely to and from school every day.

Elkaryani: Busing in Teaneck is not a policy issue. It is a wisdom issue. We have a few thousands of students whose parents pay taxes to our school board but require minimal service (e.g. busing). It is only equitable that we do our best to provide these services. When we do not, the communities that use the busing feel targeted and threatened And that goes against the harmony that I strive to finally see.

Immediately after I learned about the Bruriah issue, I looked into the law and realized that the school district has the flexibility to bus beyond 20 miles under specific conditions. I then issued a statement on Facebook in support of the Bruriah students. I wished someone would have called me so that I call a few friends who own busing companies to bid on the Bruriah route. I think we should have a committee on busing!

Q7. What is your opinion regarding the new preschool and the building of new BoE admin building. Do you have a more budget friendly alternative so some of this ‘surplus’ can be used for upgrading the existing infrastructure in school buildings?

Ramirez: I do not support the pre-K expansion or building of a new admin building because I do not agree it is the best use of BOE resources.

• Last year I voted for the full-day pre-K program when the administration was able to obtain temporary funding from Trenton. I was hopeful the program would help address the persistent achievement gap in our district. However, I also know that execution of even the best plans and results do not always measure up to what was hoped for. So many other well-meaning and well-designed initiatives like computers in the classroom have failed to address the achievement gap. I would have preferred determining whether our implementation of the current pre-K program was working prior to expanding it at such a great cost. I am told by other board members that my view is “political.” I think it’s common sense.

• We have a special education system in Teaneck that, based on our own audit, is not performing appropriately, not working for special education students and parents, and leading to increased costs that take funding away from regular education students. If we had to spend this money, fixing special education might be a better bang for the buck in terms of affecting the greatest number of students and, in the long term, also helping keep costs down.

• We have schools in which classrooms are not air conditioned where I doubt much learning happens during the hottest months. Do you know anyone who works in an office with no A/C? Does anyone else see a problem with having a new admin office building that is fully air conditioned sitting next to Thomas Jefferson middle school where only certain common parts of the building are air conditioned? I have been told by another board member who is not running this year that I am creating a “false dichotomy” between pre-k and A/C and that little learning happens in those hot months anyway. I don’t think it is a false dichotomy to listen to parents and students who have bitterly complained about these conditions for years and whose complaints have gone unanswered while we put millions of dollars into a program with uncertain future funding, that has not been evaluated for effectiveness, and that will constrain the district’s finances for many years.

Elkaryani: I went to pre-k. I am sold on the pre-k idea. And I am grateful to our superintendent for the great job he and his team have done to get us grants from the state to fund our pre-k program. I want more! However, these grants are not guaranteed year to year. This was explicitly stated by the Governor a few weeks ago when I explicitly asked him the question.

1. The current school board is on its way to approve over $5 million in construction/renovation, including $2.6 million for a new administrative building without any plan to cover the operational expenses of the buildings or plans to cover the program expenses if the grants stop. I do have a solution that will cost the district close to $0. And I need everyone to speak up before it is too late. I think the Board’s “expansion” decision on its current format would not be wise because in the event we do not receive the grant money, we will have to go back to the taxpayer to cover the expenses (teachers, janitors, pre-k administrators…)

IN SIMPLE TERMS: it’s like someone who has a temp job puts a down payment on a home with no guarantee they have a paycheck coming to pay the mortgage!

What I am really afraid of is a referendum where we present an outrageous tax hike to you, the taxpayer, and you do not accept it. Then we are stuck with the contracts and real estate.

2. My alternative is to take the temporary grant money and assign it to community-run centers; this is one of the recommendations of the grant itself. This allows us the time to build further support for universal pre-k when we decide to provide it in-house. In 5 days, I was able to locate 5 pre-k providers who either have room or are willing to go through construction at their own expense to provide classrooms. $0 to you! The superintendent has been in Teaneck for one year only. He is doing a great job. But why is his great work not complemented by greater community engagement by the Board to explore our untapped potential?

Q12. Do you feel that over 1000 children who pay into the school system taxes but do not get any benefits other than private school busing (at a cost of less than 1% of the budget while representing 25% of the townships children) should continue to get that benefit?

Ramirez: Absolutely, 100%. It is the law in this state and the policy of the BOE. It should remain so.

Elkaryani: Indisputably! It is a matter of wisdom and equity. In addition, I think it is time for a committee on busing especially as several public school parents have expressed concerns and needs regarding busing.

By Stephen Gruber

 

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