ELIZABETH, NJ – Both a state judge and commissioner of education said last week that Tony Monteiro can stay on the school board, rejecting attempts by a retired teacher to have him removed.
Commissioner of Education David Hespe said last week Monteiro had every right to continue serving on the board of education, despite claims that he violated the law earlier in the year.
Hespe affirmed the decision by Administrative Law Judge Joan Bedrin Murray, who on April 1 denied claims by former teacher Patricia Gallante “and her supporters” that Monteiro assumed his seat on the board illegally. The judge ruled that Monteiro staying on the board would not cause any irreparable damage.
“I might take a different view if there was a third party who had a meritorious claim to the seat occupied by Monteiro, but this is not the case,” the judge said.
Hespe also noted Gallante failed to demonstrate any entitlement to “relief,” which also prevents the former teacher from using the court system to get Monteiro off the board.
Gallente argued in her petition to the court that Monteiro should be removed from the board because it was illegal for him to withdraw his resignation from the board in January and then rejoin the board during a series of meetings the same month.
When Monteiro resigned, the board appointed Rafael Fajardo to fill his seat, whose term expired the following day. Although Fajardo served on the board very briefly and voted at the Jan. 7 reorganization meeting, Gallante filed a lawsuit claiming he did not receive enough votes to take a seat on the board in the first place.
At a school board meeting Jan. 14, things became even more complicated when the board ruled everything that happened at the reorganization meeting was null and void.
School board member Jose Rodriguez, who supported Gallante’s application, also wanted to see Monteiro removed from the board. Rodriguez argued that because Fajardo did not show up to meetings and Monteiro returned to take his seat, it was illegal.
Monteiro was elated about the decision, noting he was happy about the ruling in his favor. “It’s an honor to continue serving the people of this wonderful community,” he said. “Unfortunately there are some that have pursued this matter with a political vengeance, causing an unnecessary burden and expense.”
Monteiro also asked Gallante and her political supporters to “look at the larger picture.”
“We are the number one urban school district in New Jersey and we can all make an important contribution to further the cause of education in Elizabeth. These baseless and divisive issues that cause unnecessary legal expense should stop,” the school board member added, suggesting they all “get back to continuing the progress.”
Last week Monteiro called for a resolution to be voted on by the board “that will help bring civility back to local public meetings” and stop the “circus-like behavior.”
“I believe we need the commitment of everyone in the community to ensure that people adhere to some levels of common decency and civil norms of behavior at our meetings,” said the school board member, adding “these vile attacks and behavior don’t have a place in our society.”
Monteiro said no one should be attacked personally at school board meetings the way it has occurred over the last few months.
“Our democracy gives us the freedom to disagree on the issues, but the personal attacks by some needs to stop. It’s disrupting and makes a mockery of the democratic process,” the school board member added.
Monteiro said he will join with fellow school board member Elcy Castillo-Ospina to help pass the resolution calling for a “no bully zone” at public meetings, where people in Elizabeth can feel free to either accept leadership roles or be involved in community activities without fear of retribution.
“I believe that what we have seen taking place at our board meetings is an organized effort by some to try and detract from the much needed agenda of providing a quality education for the children at an affordable price for the taxpayers of Elizabeth,” said Monteiro.
Castillo Ospina said “all board members and their supporters have a responsibility to be role models for the children of Elizabeth.”
Both Monteiro and Castillo Ospina are asking that all nine school board members support the resolution, as well as the city council.
“If we don’t condemn this behavior, then we condone it,” said Monteiro.