Cerf, Fulop, & Jersey City: What Went Down?

The Hudson Reporter is publishing more details about a “confidential” meeting between Jersey City councilman and mayoral candidate Stephen Fulop, members of the JC Board of Education, and ACTING NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf.

Some background: Jersey City schools are under partial state control. Two days ago, the Reporter published the contents of an email Fulop sent titled “Cerf meeting.” Among those invited to the meeting were two members of the board of education; two members-elect; Shelley Skinner, later to become Deputy Director of B4K, the lobbying group; and other private citizens. Not all of the members of the JCBOE are on the distribution list.

This news comes at a particularly interesting time: Cerf is scheduled for his long-awaited confirmation hearing this Thursday. Over the past month, the NJDOE has denied involvement in the appointment of the new superintendent, Marcia Lyles, even though she, like Cerf, is a graduate of the controversial Broad Superintendents Academy.

This new reporting suggests, however, that Cerf has been involved in the staffing of the superintendent position for a long time – as early as when the BOE was making the initial decision to replace former superintendent Charles Epps.

From The Hudson Reporter:

Over the weekend, Fulop responded to questions about transparency in a Jersey City schools Yahoo group.

He wrote:

>Timing of Cerf Meeting – this is an email from May 2011 (over a year ago) right after the board majority flipped. I actually think it was the last time and this email speaks to my point that if detractors can grasp at straws pointing to May 2011 as the evidence of conspiracy either no other meetings are happening or I am just not inviting anyone. I am sure the conspiracies will say I am meeting with the DOE regularly but as I said before I urge you to OPRA them or me and you can see that is not the case. This is May 2011

> Why the meeting with the State – As I always have said education is the backbone of what I am doing for the next 4 years and nobody should be surprised that the state is part of the conversation as they have had control of the JC system for 23 years and they pay 2/3 of the budget.

> What was discussed – I and the newly elected board members were trying to convince Cerf that there is a sentiment of change in JC and there is a new board majority and record voter turnouts and that the potential for education progress in JC was huge. Not an easy lift

> What was needed from the state – They needed to sign a pay waiver for Epps and be comfortable that the board was going to truly do a national search and not revert back to politics of just hiring a friendly face.[emphasis mine]

This last paragraph sticks out; it implies that a local candidate for the position was not an option for Cerf. That doesn’t stand in direct opposition to the idea that Cerf was not involved in the final choice; it does, however, demonstrate Cerf was influencing the decision from the earliest stages.

One other comment of Fulop’s:

> Why was Shelley Skinner there and Ellen Simon and some of the parents there – I don’t have a relationship with Cerf nor did any of the board members. Shelley had the ability to help get on his radar screen and Ellen was there with some of the other parents to advocate for the fact that there was parent engagement

Not long after this, Skinner was appointed Deputy Director of B4K. Does Skinner and her group – which has set itself up as a counterweight to the NJEA – continue to enjoy this ability to “get on Cerf’s radar screen”?

I will leave it to others to comment on how this affects local politics in Hudson County. I am more concerned with Cerf’s role, for this reason:

There is a clear pattern at the NJDOE of grabbing power over schools away from local districts. This appears to be another example, and the ethics involved here are highly questionable. Were the other members of the JCBOE invited to this meeting? Were they told the state was looking to replace Epps and would not consider a local candidate? Was Epps aware that he was to be replaced at this point? Should the NJDOE and members of the JCBOE have been meeting over personnel matters without involvement from the entire community?

Cerf’s confirmation hearing must answer these questions. We’ll continue to watch this, and I will be very anxious to hear from Cerf about this later this week.

Comments (3)

  1. iwood

    Fulup seems willing to answer questions.  Why not get an intrepid BJ reporter to do an interview with him?

    Myself, I don’t see this as necessarily nefarious or bad.  Elected and appointed officials regularly have meetings with each other in groups without planning to or violating the law.  

    I understand that the people meeting together are ones who are on the opposite side of issues here, but I am sure that the folks on the same side as you have caucus meetings like this as well.

    Doesn’t mean they aren’t being bad or circumventing the law, just that the evidence here is of a meeting of like-minded community and political leaders.


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