Everything you need to know about Newark's school board election

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on April 05, 2016


NEWARK - Voters will head to the polls in less than two weeks to choose three new members of the city's School Advisory Board.

The election occurs annually, though 2016's version boasts issues and dynamics unique among Newark's highly charged and ever-changing educational and political landscape.

Here is the all information needed to make a decision and cast a ballot.

The date: Tuesday, April 19. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Polling locations can be found here.

The background: Out of New Jersey's more than 500 school districts, Newark is one of just 20 to continue to hold elections in the spring. Turnout for the annual vote has traditionally been light over recent years, often around 10,000 voters, or about 7 percent of the 152,000 registered in Newark.

Incumbents Ariagna Perello, Rashon Hasan and Khalil Sabu Rashidi are not seeking re-election, meaning voters will elect three new members to three-year terms.

The stakes: The board has held its "advisory" status since 1995, and holds little actual power in how the city's state-controlled district is run. For the first time in more than two decades, however, it appears the state is ready to relinquish its grip on the schools.

Officials have predicted local control could be returned as soon as 2017 – giving this year's candidates hope they may hold both the district's purse and policy strings at some point during their terms.

The issues:  In addition to the long-awaited return of local control, city officials and education advocates are also grappling with a number of other pressing concerns.

Among the most visible is the recently revelation that nearly half of the city's schools have water supplies contaminated with dangerous levels of lead - the result of aging pipes and other equipment. Testing has determined the problems date back to at least 2012. Children and teachers in the schools are drinking bottled water while leaders search for a path toward fixing the problem.

The perpetually cash-strapped district is also facing yet another budget deficit of approximately $50 million, a figure that may loom large once city residents regain oversight over school spending. The long-simmering debate over the expansion of charter schools and their effect on their traditional counterparts is also alive and well, though Mayor Ras Baraka and other officials have attempted to calm rhetoric on either side of the debate by forming a so-called "Unity" slate of candidates.

The field: This year's election boasts a slate of 12 candidates, including longtime teachers, political players, a well-known anti-violence activists and the longtime head of the city's teachers union. Below is a short summary of each hopeful's background.

Jody Pittman – A 17-year employee of the Newark Public Schools and a mother of two, Pittman helped rally the community to preserve the tenure of former Superintendent Marion A. Bolden in 2003. She has billed her campaign as a defense of "equal and quality education" for all students across the city.

Octavio "Tave" Padilla – A lifelong Newark resident, Padilla works as assistant recreation director for a large youth leadership and recreation program. He is a former city business owner who worked as chief of staff to former Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo, and as a legislative aide to Assemblywoman Nellie Pou of Paterson. He is a member of the "Newark Unity" slate.

Thomas Ellis – The founder and president of the "Enough is Enough Coalition", Ellis is a minister and longtime anti-violence activist. He is also an Air Force veteran and hosts local radio and television programs. He is hoping to raise graduation rates improve access to quality education across the city.

D. Kim Gaddy – A former chief of staff to Councilwoman Mildred Crump and aide to former Councilman Donald Bradley, Gaddy works as an environmental justice organizer with Clean Water Action of New Jersey, a leading advocacy group for environmental issues around the state. She also founded and served as executive director for the South Ward Cultural Center, and led parent-teacher groups at Weequahic High Schools and Harriet Tubman Elementary School. She is a member of the "Newark Unity" slate.

Leah Owens – Owens came to Newark in 2004 to teach English as part of the Teach for America program, and remained beyond her two-year commitment to take a position developing curriculum, after school programs and other educational initiatives. She has also served as an adjunct professor at Essex County College and Rutgers-Newark, and currently works as a community organizer for New Jersey Communities United. She is a member of the "Newark Unity" slate.

Sheila Montague - A professor at Essex County College, former Newark Public Schools teacher and a mother of three, Montague fell just short of a school board seat during a 2015 run. Along with Jason Dotson, she is a member of the so-called "Transparency" slate.

Jason Dotson – A program co-director at the Hispanic Multi-Purpose Youth Center, Dotson counsels LGBTQ youth between the ages of 14 to 24. The father of a teenage son, he has also worked as a crisis specialist for children whose behavioral disorders prevent them from learning at home or at school. He is a member of the "Transparency" slate.

Carole A. Graves – A former special needs teachers at Dayton Street School, Graves is also served as president of the Newark Teachers Union from 1968 until 1995. She has worked as a commissioner on the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission and has been an adjunct professor of Labor Relations at Essex County College and Rutgers Institute of Labor and Management Relations.

Jimmie White – A 27-year-old activist and graduate of Malcolm X Shabazz High School, White is a member of the People's Organization for Progress and serves as director of education for local youth club FP YouthOutCry. He is also the owner of I.M.P.A.C.T (Initial Major Progressive Articles Creating Tranquility) LLC, which works to "showcase, spread and create positive and progressive news" about Newark.

Juan Silva – A native of Ecuador, Silva emigrated to Newark as a child and lives in the city's East Ward. He works for Solar Technology and Urban Farming and served as campaign manager for an East Ward City Council candidate in 2014.

George Tillman Jr. – Tillman is the owner of a local construction business, a former commissioner on the city's Affirmative Action Review Board and the father of 11 children in the Newark Public Schools. He is hoping to represent parents on the board.

Tamara Moore - Moore is a mother of children in the Newark Public Schools who is seeking a seat on the School Advisory Board.

Read more about the candidate's backgrounds and their positions on local education issues at the Newark Trust for Education's website. The Trust is also hosting an candidate forum Tuesday night from 6 to 8 p.m. at Essex County College's Smith Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

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