The State Auditor’s report on the 2014 Belleville Board of Education deficit.

Belleville Watch Challenges All Board of Education Candidates to Publicly Support Attorney General Investigation Into 2014 Deficit

The unmistakable signs of election season are plain to see. Lawn signs have quietly begun to spring up on lawns across Belleville, and social media platforms are now crowded with various campaign photos, promises and updates. While the ballot offers candidates for president and Congress, as well as state referendums, two seats on the Belleville Board of Education are also up for election.

The Board of Education candidates will most certainly have their own visions of what the Board of Education should focus on, be it improving test scores, investing more heavily in special education, advocating for more of a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)-focused curriculum, or any of the myriad issues school districts face today.

This Board of Education election, like others in the recent past, has an elephant in the room: the events leading up to a $4 million deficit in the Belleville school district in fiscal year 2014.

Belleville Watch calls on all Board of Education candidates to publicly support a state investigation into possible criminal activity leading up to the $4 million Belleville Board of Education deficit in 2014.

No doubt the candidates are at least somewhat familiar with this series of events. After all, the continued presence of state monitor Thomas Egan at Board of Education meetings serves as a constant reminder of it.

2014 may seem like a long time ago to some, but Belleville taxpayers continue to pay for the scandal — to the tune of roughly $450,000 per year, as the district pays back the New Jersey Department of Education the loan it provided to close the deficit.

In July, Belleville Watch published an open letter to New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, asking him to investigate potential criminal activity related to this scandal. In 2018, New Jersey State Auditor Steven Eells published a report of his findings following a four-year investigation, and noted in that report that he had referred certain matters to the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice. As of this writing, Belleville has yet to hear from Attorney General Grewal’s office as to whether or not there is an active investigation.

The Challenge

The Belleville Board of Education remains under the eye of the state’s department of education, and that will most likely continue until the loan is paid back (at least five years down the road.) It is unfair that Belleville have been denied closure and justice on this sad moment in Belleville’s history, but the attorney general could help heal the wound by investigating, in the hopes that someone might be held accountable .

Belleville Watch hereby challenges all Board of Education candidates — whether incumbent or challenger — to publicly pledge support for an investigation by the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General into possible criminal activity related to the 2014 deficit. Furthermore, we challenge the candidates who win election to offer a board resolution supporting such an investigation.

The candidate(s) can meet the challenge by publicly pledging their support for the investigation. The pledge can be published on social media, through an official campaign statement, or by sending in a comment through our comment/contact form. The deadline to meet the challenge is Tuesday, October 13th. Belleville Watch will acknowledge on this website the candidates who meet the challenge.

Investigating the 2014 deficit may not seem as immediate an issue as improving test scores, modifying school curricula or other issues, but it is a matter of justice to Belleville and its residents.

We are hopeful candidates will pledge support for an investigation, as it is an issue that continues to haunt the school district. It would be refreshing to see candidates and elected officials who take seriously this matter of justice; after all, the Town Council — when Your Belleville Watchdog asked them last month to pass a resolution supporting an investigation — declined to do so, loudly in their collective silence.

We cannot imagine any candidate not meeting the challenge; as a matter of fact, we can think of at least three who would be particularly interested in doing so. We think here of Frank Velez, a recent graduate of the Belleville school system; his education and those of his classmates were undoubtedly impacted by the deficit. In addition, incumbents Michael Sheldon and Erika Jacho, both having had served on the board post-deficit and also having seen the damage wrought by this scandal. We are also confident the candidates running with Mr. Sheldon and Ms. Jacho would be interested in meeting the challenge.

Ballot positions for the 2020 Board of Education election. Mr. Velez confirmed that he is now running a solo campaign, as he says his running mate, Yael Cavero-Isakowitz, bowed out of the race after the final ballot deadline.
Please Vote!

Finally, Belleville Watch would like to encourage all eligible Belleville residents to please vote by completing your mail-in ballots and sending them in by Tuesday, November 3rd. Voting is your primary method to bring positive change to Belleville; we ask you to please exercise that right.