The Verona Education Association (VEA) has made its first-ever endorsements in a Verona Town Council race, and one of the three candidates that the VEA endorsed is also its long-time president, Dr. Christopher Tamburro.
The VEA said in an announcement that it had also endorsed Cynthia Holland and Jason Hyndman. “Although all of the candidates have outstanding qualifications, the committee felt that these three candidates, in particular, most closely align with the VEA’s core values and the mission of our school system to create an inclusive and dynamic learning environment.”
The Town Council, however, has nothing to do running Verona’s public schools, apart from the government’s long-standing, but informal, efforts plow school lots, maintain school sports fields and, occasionally, do repairs on school facilities.
To make its choices, the VEA sent a questionnaire to the five candidates in late March. It asked how long the candidate had been a resident of Verona, their history with Verona’s public schools, and what they would do as a member of the Town Council to support Verona’s schools. They were also asked what they think Verona schools do well and how they can improve, even though neither is part of the Council’s responsibilities. The municipal government and the school system set and manage their own budgets, and the school administrators are solely responsible for educational curriculum and administration.
The candidates were also asked for their philosophy about township and school district budgeting “especially in regard to PILOT programs.” Over the last two decades, Verona has implemented several payment-in-lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreements on redevelopment projects in town. Ordinarily, 55% of the property taxes paid in Verona go to the Board of Education, 25% goes to town government and 20% to Essex County. In a PILOT, 95% goes to the town, 5% to the county and nothing to the BOE. The PILOT split has been a thorn in relations between the town government and school leaders, who have felt that the town should share the money with the school district. Since Mayor Jack McEvoy has been involved in those discussions, MyVeronaNJ also asked him a question about PILOTs as part of our candidate interviews and he noted that, even if sharing were implemented, the school budget would still be subject to a cap on increases.
The VEA also questioned the candidates about their views on the collective bargaining process, even though the town manager, not the Town Council, handles that for municipal employees. The VEA will be in contract negotiations with the school district this year and Tamburro has served as a consultant to the New Jersey Education Association in contract negotiations and labor issues.
The VEA did not endorse McEvoy or Michael Nochimson. McEvoy is the only Verona High School graduate running for Council this year. Nochimson’s wife Kim has been a kindergarten teacher at Forest Avenue and Laning Avenue elementary schools for almost two decades.
UPDATE: The VEA has sent a statement about its endorsement process. You can read it here.