Newarkers elect school board members backed by powerful politicians, again

Newark school board president Josephine Garcia sits in the conference room where most board meetings are held.
Incumbent school board president Josephine Garcia, at a meeting last year, has likely been re-elected, election results from Tuesday night show. (Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat)

Newarkers have cast their ballots in the city’s vote-by-mail election, and the school board candidates backed by Newark’s mayor and other local politicians have prevailed, preliminary results show.  

Josephine Garcia, incumbent district board president and the president of the county school boards association; Flohisha Johnson, incumbent board member and local parent; and Hasani Council, the son of a South Ward Democratic leader, are expected to be seated on the nine-member board governing Newark Public Schools. 

They appear to have beat out independent contenders Sheila Montague, Ronnie Kellam, and Phil Wilson. But since voters had until Election Day to postmark their ballots, final results are not expected for several days. By 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, though, Garcia, Johnson, and Council held wide leads that would be difficult to overcome. 

For the second consecutive year, voters on Tuesday also overwhelmingly approved a 2 percent property tax increase to help fund the school system. This vote marked only the second time in over two decades that Newark residents got to weigh in on the district’s budget, which until recently was under state control. 

Josephine Garcia, Hasani Council, and Flohisha Johnson were backed by powerful city and state politicians on the “Moving Newark Schools Forward” ticket.

Just over 7,300 ballots were cast by Election Day, or just under 5% of registered voters, which is similar to last year’s turnout — despite some predictions that turnout might be lower during the coronavirus pandemic. As Election Day drew near, some Newarkers reported never receiving ballots at all

The winning school board candidates were, for the fifth straight year, part of a slate backed by a powerful coalition that now includes Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, and members of the Newark City Council. The results demonstrate the political forces that have helped guide the state’s largest school system. With this election, all nine Newark school board members will have been endorsed by the coalition, as has been the case for the past few years.

The board’s annual reorganization meeting was postponed because of the pandemic; the newly elected members are now tentatively scheduled to be sworn in on May 19. In the coming months, the Newark school board will have to face the extraordinary challenges brought on by the coronavirus. 

School buildings in Newark have been closed since March 16.

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