Bucco & Testa: State Board of Education Put Identity Politics Ahead of ParentsAugust 3, 2023
How About This Out-of-the-Box Choice For Murphy’s Lieutenant Governor?August 3, 2023
It wasn’t so long ago that school board elections in Lakewood were a non-event: the Vaad, eleven ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who control city politics, chose who ran and chose who won. Voters complied.
So it’s refreshing to see that this year’s election is more of a contest. Instead of three candidates running unopposed, seven candidates are throwing their yarmulkes into the ring. And, hey, one probably doesn’t even wear one. Meet Aurohom Schubert, Eli Eisenbach, and Yori Morgenstern, who are running as a slate called “Fixing the Formula,” Yehuda Shain, whose slogan is “Accountability and Transparency,” and incumbents Ada Gonzalez, Moshe Raitzik, and Eliyahu Greenwald.
The “Fixing the Formula” slate’s agenda is easy to guess: as a district that serves 5,000 low-income and Hispanic students in traditional schools and 35,000 (and growing) Haredi students who attend ultra-Orthodox day schools, the way the state funding formula leaves the Board contemplating an eternal budget hole. Currently it owes the state $135 million in “loans” to fill that gap and has requested another $93 million.. There’s also a lawsuit charging the state formula formula discriminates against this particular district. In an appellate ruling in March, the judge ruled in favor of Lakewood’s argument, which had been contested by the Murphy Administration. Politico called the ruling “a blow to the Murphy administration that could cost it millions of dollars” and “a rebuke to acting education commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan.”
It’s unclear what Shain’s agenda is. He is on record as filing a suit against the Lakewood Planning Board and Beth Medrash Govoha (BMG), the largest adult yeshiva in America, on the grounds that its expansion would create traffic and safety issues, which probably didn’t endear him to the Vaad. In 2018 he said, bemoaning the crowded city streets around BMG, “when the Messiah comes, it says the Messiah is going to come on a donkey.You know why? That’s going to be the fastest way of getting around Lakewood.”
(Fun fact: BMG’s expansion was partly funded by Charles Kushner, Jared’s dad.)
When the Asbury Park Press queried the incumbents about their agenda they didn’t respond, although Raitzik emailed, “I don’t have any comment on the challengers because I don’t know who they are. I’ve never seen or heard from them (at) BOE meetings before, and I don’t know their credentials. I do know my running mates, Ada Gonzalez and Eliyahu Greenwald, are dedicated public servants, and I am proud to run for reelection with them.”
In some ways, this election will be a test for the power of the Vaad. In every way, a contested election is good for Lakewood’–and, perhaps, not so good for board attorney Michael Inzelbuch, who is paid about a million dollars a year. Transparency and accountability, anyone? Especially for Lakewood in-district students, of whom fewer than one in four meet proficiency benchmarks for reading and math.
Meanwhile, Lakewood continues to grow as other ultra-Orthodox enclaves like Crown Heights in Brooklyn become too crowded and expensive. Currently Lakewood is New Jersey’s fastest growing municipality and its fourth largest city, behind only Newark, Camden, and Paterson. As the city bloats, people move to nearby townships with easy access to Lakewood’s 150 or so day schools, like Jackson, Howell, and Toms River.
Maybe we really do have to fix the school funding formula.