Fort Lee Voters Elect Four New School Board Members
Challengers Esther Han Silver, David Sarnoff and Holly Morell easily defeated John Bang, the only incumbent running for reelection to the Fort Lee Board of Education Tuesday. Candace Romba was the only candidate running for a one-year unexpired term.
The Fort Lee Board of Education will look markedly different next year, after voters in Fort Lee Tuesday overwhelmingly voted for the three challengers for three-year terms on the board over the one incumbent running.
In unofficial results and absentee ballots yet to be tallied, Esther Han Silver received 2,562 votes, David Sarnoff received 2,415 and Holly Morell garnered 2,183.
All three easily outpaced incumbent Bang, who received just 1,660 votes.
The BOE announced in September that it had only one candidate who would appear on Tuesday's ballot to fill the rest of former board president Arthur Levine’s unexpired term, and he resigned from the board in August.
Candace Romba was therefore the only name on the ballot to serve out the remaining year of Levine’s term, and she received 2,567 votes Tuesday.
"I'm thrilled with the election results, and am looking forward to working with the Board members, school administrators, teachers and parents," Silver said. "The community with this election has made it clear that we need to bring new ideas and change how things are done. I will make sure the education of our children is the priority."
Sarnoff said he believed local voters "sent a message" Tuesday "that they would like the board to work together for the benefit of the community and the students and to have more transparency and to use their resources more responsibly."
"I look forward to working with the board members who will be present in January and the new board members-elect, and I thank Linda McCue, Angela Napolitano and John Bang for their service," Sarnoff said.
Morell thanked all her supporters and called the experience of being elected to the school board "surreal" and her reaction as being as being that of elation.
"I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and get busy for the children of Fort Lee as well as the community as a whole," Morell said. "I think it’s time that the community and the school board finally come together, and let’s do what we’re supposed to do for the benefit of our town."
Bang admitted Wednesday he was disappointed by the results but humbled that more than 1,600 Fort Lee voters “honored me with their trust and support.”
He also said his campaign strategy, which he called “a concerted ‘Get Out the Vote’ program,” was derailed by Hurricane Sandy but noted that he received about 600 more votes than the first time he ran three years ago.
“I congratulate Esther, David and Holly,” Bang said Wednesday. “They are all concerned parents, caring neighbors and dedicated community volunteers. They will serve Fort Lee well.”
In the meantime, Bang pledged to serve to the best of his ability for his remaining two months on the board, saying it would be “irresponsible” of him to "shirk the many tasks that are pending" for the BOE.
“It would also be a gross act of ingratitude to the many people who placed their faith in me three years ago and [Tuesday],” Bang said. “Therefore, I intend to commence a meeting of the Curriculum Committee as soon as possible. I want to invite the new board member and the three board member-elects so that they can get up to speed now instead of waiting until they are sworn in.”
Bang was the only incumbent school board member running this year, while challengers Silver, Morell and Sarnoff, all first-time candidates, filled out the field of four vying for three, three-year seats on the school board.
At a United Homeowners of Fort Lee-sponsored debate in October, Sarnoff and Bang butted heads over Bang’s attempt to disqualify him from running for the board on a what he referred to as a “technicality.”
Bang, an attorney like Sarnoff, said he was just doing what any lawyer would do, attempting to dismiss a motion, and defended his record on the board, saying he had been an active, conscientious and vocal board member.
All three challengers were critical of the school board for the way it awards contracts. Sarnoff referred specifically to a contract awarded to a company that reviews special education, saying the board failed to specify expenses potentially incurred by the company’s representatives for things like hotels and meals, something Bang said wasn’t a problem because the contract was for a set amount.
Morell said all contracts should go out to bid, while Silver suggested taking a closer look at contracted work in general to see if some of it could be done in-house.
Silver criticized the board for not posting meeting agendas in a timelier manner, and Morell said there should be no three-minute cap on public comments at BOE meetings.
Sarnoff also chastised school board members for not speaking up enough at meetings before voting on resolutions.
While the three challengers didn’t go after one another much, if at all, choosing instead to focus on what they saw as problems with the current board and the way it conducts its business, all four candidates were in accord on the issue of overcrowding in Fort Lee schools, which they agreed had become a critical problem.
The four also agreed that AP classes should be limited to students who were truly ready to take them.
As of Oct. 24, there were 19,719 registered voters in Fort Lee, according to Borough Clerk Neil Grant, who said that between May 28 and Oct. 24, 951 voters were added to the registration list.
No absentee numbers were available as of Wednesday.