Little public input on school board replacement Santana-Alicea likely to fill vacant seat

Little public input on school board replacement

WANTS TO OPEN THE PROCESS – Hoboken Board of Education Trustee Theresa Minutillo thinks the board should collect resumes to find the best candidate to fill a vacant seat.

Hoboken Reporter
WANTS TO OPEN THE PROCESS – Hoboken Board of Education Trustee Theresa Minutillo thinks the board should collect resumes to find the best candidate to fill a vacant seat. 
Even though Board of Education member John Raslowsky II's resignation isn't effective until Aug. 29, the board quickly and without public comment has already picked his replacement.

Some members of the public are not too happy about the matter.

At its Aug. 8 meeting, the board, by a vote of 7-1 with one abstention, approved a non-binding resolution that expresses the board's intent to replace Raslowsky with former board trustee Wanda Santana-Alicea. Santana-Alicea came in fourth in this past April's school board election, running on Mayor David Roberts' ticket. The other two members of the ticket gained seats.

The board can't formally vote to install Santana-Alicea until Raslowsky's resignation is official, because between now and Aug. 28 he is allowed to withdraw his resignation.

Board Trustee Theresa Minutillo, who ran and won in April as a reformer, argued that it is several weeks until Raslowsky resigns, so the board should invite parents, former students, and any interested community members to submit resumes.

She added that the rush to appoint Santana-Alicea is further proof that the board's decisions are often made behind closed doors as part of political deals.

"This is just business as usual," Minutillo said.

She added that if the board doesn't include the public in this discussion, then it might not include the public in even more important debates, such as picking the new superintendent of schools next year.

Why Raslowsky is resigning

Current Superintendent of Schools Patrick Gagliardi will be retiring in a little over a year. Since that announcement was made last year, Raslowsky's name has been rumored to be on the short list to replace Gagliardi.

Considering that the Board of Education is responsible for selecting Gagliardi's successor, there would be a clear conflict of interest if Raslowsky remained on the board.

Santana-Alicea's qualifications

To replace Raslowski, no public hearing is required. A simple majority vote is all that is needed to fill the vacancy.

At the beginning of the Aug. 8 meeting, Board President James Farina introduced a non-binding resolution that voices the board's intent to install Santana-Alicea as a board member when Raslowsky resigns.

"You couldn't a get a better, more qualified person than Mrs. Alicea," Farina said. "She is a person who knows the issues we are facing and has her children in the system."

He added that there are important issues facing the board and she will be able to "hit the ground running."

Santana-Alicea is the executive director of the Friendship Day Care Center in Paterson. She is married with two boys, both in public schools. She is a graduate of Rutgers University, where she obtained a BSW in social work and a master's in early childhood education.

Her husband Angel Alicea, a Union City police officer, is the chairman of the volunteer board of the Hoboken Housing Authority. School board member Carmelo Garcia said, "She is the ideal candidate to serve on this board and to fill this vacancy. She really meets all of our criteria."

Some board members want to open the process

But Minutillo said that there is plenty of time between now and Aug. 28 to open up the process. She attempted to introduce an ordinance that would have given members of the public the opportunity to become candidates for the position.

She said that she consulted the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) in crafting the resolution. Minutillo's position appeared to have some support from several board members. Raslowsky said that he set the date of his resignation as Aug. 28 so that the board would have "fair and reasonable amount of time for a discussion."

Board member Frank Raia said, "I don't have a problem with Wanda. She is a great person, but in all fairness, there is no reason to rush."

Board member Theresa Burns added that opening the process could "enhance the public's confidence" in the board.

But Farina, who was clearly agitated with Minutillo, said the board would vote on his resolution first, and would not take action on Minutillo's.

The board voted 7 to 1, with Minutillo voting no and Raslowsky abstaining.

The board will take a formal vote to install Santana-Alicea at a special meeting scheduled for Tuesday Aug. 28. If that happens, Santana-Alicea will serve the remainder of Raslowsky's term, which will expire next April.

Other candidates left hoping

Some members of the public said they'd like to be considered for the job.

One of them is Carrie Gilliard, who, like Santana-Alicea, is also a former trustee. Gilliard finished fifth in this year's Board of Education election, running on Minutillo's ticket.

"Every time I come here, I'm disheartened by what I see," Gilliard said at the Aug. 8 meeting. "I'm very upset that there isn't an open and inclusive process [to fill the vacant seat]."

Gilliard and Raia mentioned names of two other potential candidates who had wanted to run for the school board in April, but did not do so due to political deals.

One candidate would have been Felicia Drasheff, a parent who is involved in the Wallace School PTA and has earned a reputation for volunteering her time for school events. Drasheff was almost tapped to run on a ticket that would have been supported by board members Raia and Burns earlier this year.

But she ended up withdrawing from the election after Roberts and Raia reached a political deal to run a fusion ticket.

Another possible candidate would have been Ron Rosenberg, who ran for City Council on Raia's ticket in 2005. He was also left off a ticket this year when Raia and Roberts formed their fusion ticket.

Hypocritical complaints

Minutillo also took umbrage with the notion made by some on the board that Santana-Alicea should be selected because she finished fourth in this year's election.

Last year, when David Anthony resigned from the board to become the board secretary, a paid position, the trustees selected Rosenberg to join the board, even though it was Minutillo, a reformer, who came in fourth place that year.

Rosenberg was a close political ally of board member Raia. Minutillo argued then that Rosenberg was selected largely as political payback to Raia.

But now, a candidate that is favored by the administration came in fourth place.

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