Jersey City regains control of schools after nearly 30 years under state control

By Briana Vannozzi
Correspondent

Jersey City schools have come a long way in the nearly 30 years since the state took over. When it was deemed a “total educational failure.” The State Board of Education’s vote to return the district to full local control is a welcome step forward, despite taking decades to get here.

“It’s an independent validation of the progress we’ve made here in Jersey City. I think anybody who knows my relationship with Gov. Christie would say that he’s not looking to do me any favors and I think the fact that we’re getting local control back speaks to the progress of the district that’s undeniable. So whether you’re a parent or a new resident you should feel good about that. It’s far from perfect, but we’re definitely moving in the right direction,” said Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.

The school district has been slowly ticking off required benchmarks, earning control over personnel in 2015, instruction and programming cleared just yesterday. Fulop anticipates putting together a group to work with the state on the transition.

“We’re going to function now like every other district in the state of New Jersey. For the most part we’re not going to have somebody looking over our shoulder or somebody implementing policies that we may not like,” the mayor said.

What is this going to mean for parents, students and educators come fall?

“It’s not going to mean a whole lot quite frankly because one of the things I’ve tried to emphasize is the work we’re doing has not been designed to get us out of local control, its been designed to improve outcomes for every student,” Jersey City Public Schools Supterintendent Marcia Lyles said.

Lyles is still cautiously optimistic. She’s one of several superintendents to be appointed with the state holding the reins.

“We have miles to go before we sleep, we have so much more work to do because we have students who are not achieving their full potential, we have schools that aren’t yet where they need to be.” said Lyles.

Leaders with the Jersey City Education Association felt the final vote was anticlimactic. They’ve been here before.

“I’ll believe it when I see it. Its been 28 years in the making. It was a five-year plan and they’ve gone 23 years over their limit,” said Ronald Greco, president of the Jersey City Education Association.

“This is about the fifth end game that they’ve had. They’ve had five transition teams in the span of time that they’ve been here. So you should have had your transition team in place, so now transition out already. But that’s not whats happening. You’re going to have another layer of bureaucracy,” said former Vice President of the Jersey City Education Association, Bob Cecchini.

Lyles understands the skepticism. She’s being handed the change along with a massive budget cut — $8.5 million from the district as part of the newly negotiated school funding formula.

There’s still a lot of unanswered questions. What will the transition look like? How long will it take? Will this clear a path for the other three districts, most notably Newark, to emerge from state control?