Fulop Announces Education and Recreation Reform Plan, Local Teachers’ Union Endorsement

Fulop

The fight over education reform in the city continues — as does the finger-pointing over which candidate looks more favorably on the privatization of the school system — with Ward E Councilman Steve Fulop’s announcement of his education and recreation platform.

Fulop, who was instrumental in getting eight out of nine of the Board of Education members elected, says his plans for education reform will lead “to a stable tax base, job skills for graduates, and reduction in crime.”

“Historically, the Board of Education and City Hall have operated separately, on after school and recreation issues,” Fulop said in a statement. Because payments on tax abated properties do not go to the school system, Fulop says the Healy administration is undercutting the school district’s ability to raise money.

Instead, Fulop says he will redirect some of the money from abatements to go towards the school budget, meaning money from subsidized “real estate development will help fund Jersey City public schools.”

Fulop’s platform would also focus on recreation opportunities for students — indeed, public health advocates often point to the importance of recreation as a necessity for students in cities.

“We need to reverse the current trend of budget reductions in this area, and instead focus on creating better access to after school activities, creating summer jobs for youth and ending patronage job placement,” he said in the statement. That means looking for unused or underutilized city properties that can be re-purposed for recreation purposes.

“Previous administrations have taken the short sighted approach of selling municipal buildings,” continued Fulop in the statement. Should he become mayor, Fulop maintains he “will always give the right of first refusal on unused municipal property to the Board of Education.” Previously, Fulop and Healy have clashed over relying on one-time revenue streams such as land-sales (about $17 million in the 2013 budget will come from the sale of municipal properties). Still, Fulop has supported land-sales in the past as a possible way of paying for early retirees rather than bonding.

But city officials say some of these plans are already implemented, notably coordinating recreation opportunities with the BOE.

“The Jersey City Recreation Department runs a robust program, that in recent years has continued to grow and diversify,” said city spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill. “Much of what Councilman Fulop proposes, Recreation already does, such as coordinating after school activities in the public schools through an inter-local agreement and the coordination of programming with groups such as the Police Activity League and the Boys & Girls Club. There is a departmental budget for Recreation which is included in the overall city budget, and the Council has the ability to modify prior to adoption each year.”

Morrill further pointed out that the recreation department does afford jobs for area youth.

“The Recreation Department encourages all city youth to apply for summer jobs, although certain positions do require specialized training, licenses or certificates, such as the lifeguard positions in the pools, the bus driver positions, and counselor positions for the Special Needs Project GLAD camp. Reducing the number of hours of summer seasonal staff, particularly those of camp counselors, would be detrimental to the functionality of the program.”

In announcing his platform, Fulop also took a moment to deny what he calls “misinformation” about his policies. In a letter to Jersey City teachers, Fulop denies claims by Healy’s camp that he supports privatizing the school system. Rather, he points to a letter (same link as above) that shows the mayor calling for Trenton to support a voucher program that would help students in the city.

According to Healy, the letter was not an endorsement of privatizing schools but a pragmatic approach to helping students in Jersey City.

“I have never supported vouchers, however, the Opportunity Scholarship Act would have provided financial assistance to students from several cities to apply to private schools and I did not want our Jersey City youngsters to be precluded from a wide spectrum of educational opportunities,” said Healy.

Both Fulop and Healy have come out in support of charter schools, which receive public money but can be started by anyone who meets the requirements.

In addition to having City Hall work more closely with the BOE, Fulop’s platform will look to address school construction laws that he describes as overly restrictive for dense cities, as well as utilizing shared purchasing of certain services, which he says will save the city money. The entire platform can be read here.

The same week Fulop announced his platform he also received an endorsement for mayor from the American Federation of Teachers Local 1839 in Jersey City, a branch of the union that represents 900 members

“We look forward to establishing a strong partnership with Steven Fulop and the entire City Council to work towards the enhancement of academic excellence, community outreach, and a stronger more vibrant urban community,” William Calathes, president of the local, said in a statement.

Fulop has received a number of union endorsements, including the SEIU, whose workers benefited from the so-called Living Wage ordinance sponsored by the councilman.

“I am proud to be endorsed by a group people who have devoted their lives to ensure our residents are well educated and have the skills necessary to thrive in our economy,” Fulop said in the statement. If elected, Fulop says he looks “forward to working in partnership with this group of dedicated individuals and learning from their insights and expertise.”

Photo: Steve Gold

Matt Hunger

is a former staff writer for the Jersey City Independent.