By Ron Leir
Five candidates, including two incumbents, are seeking three seats on the Kearny Board of Education in the Nov. 4 election.
The filing deadline for the election was July 28 and five people submitted nominating petitions to run for three-year terms, according to the Hudson County Clerk’s Office, which has the statutory authority to register candidates.
Incumbents John Plaugic, a detective in the Kearny Police Department, and retiree Sebastian “Zibbie” Viscuso are seeking re-election to their seats while incumbent John Leadbeater, slated to go to trial in December for his alleged role in a $13 million federal mortgage fraud case, opted not to run. He has asserted his innocence in the matter.
Two challengers – Mercedes Davidson and James Hill – will be running as a “team” with Viscuso, according to Davidson. Neither Viscuso nor Hill, who sits on the Kearny Zoning Board of Adjustment, could be reached last week.
The other newcomer is Oscar Omar Fernandez. He, too, couldn’t be contacted last week.
School board members continue to face daunting challenges. The district is paying two chief school administrators: Superintendent Frank Ferraro, whom the board placed on an involuntary leave some six months ago, and Acting Superintendent Patricia Blood. The board majority has challenged Ferraro’s administrative credentials and Ferraro is contesting that challenge.
At the same time, the district is still trying to puzzle out how to complete a lagging Kearny High School renovation project which has been stalled by the board and general contractor parting company after only a year or so into the job and the board reviewing whether it has enough money left from outside funding sources to finish the work. Until that happens, many of the students and staff are occupying classroom trailers on the high school’s front lawn.
And this fall, the district will be implementing a new middle school concept that calls for the former Lincoln Elementary School to now house all seventh- and eighth-graders. That move has prompted administrators to draw new boundary lines for schools and will result in many children and teachers transferring to different schools. Administrators are hoping the transition will go smoothly.
Against that backdrop, the November balloting looms.
Davidson, who moved to Kearny from her native North Arlington three years ago, is no stranger to education. She was a special needs teacher’s aide at Washington School in Kearny before getting her teacher’s certification. She then began a pilot program for religious education for special needs students at Queen of Peace School, North Arlington, which she continued several years. Most recently, she has been teaching special education for the Paterson public schools.
“As a teacher, I’m very interested in the welfare of children overall,” Davidson said. “And, with my son about to enter Kearny High School, I’m interested in seeing the completion of the high school capital project. I’m also interested in making sure that we settle the issues with the superintendent and that we have the most qualified person possible to run the school system. We’re currently funding two superintendents, which is taking away money that could be well spent on our students. I’m also interested in making sure that we have a good curriculum in place for the middle school and that it runs as smoothly as possible.”