It may be surprising for some to note that none of the current members of the Teaneck Board of Education have children currently matriculating in the school district, but that will change if Gerald Reiner is elected. Reiner’s two children, Antonio Tomás, a second grader at The Whittier School, and Alejandro, a kindergartener at The Bryant School, already enjoy their father serving on the PTOs of both schools. Reiner is also vice president of Teaneck Organization for Public Schools (TOPS),
a non-profit organization that helps support district programming. He has been a coach with the Teaneck Southern Little League and is currently coaching at the Teaneck Junior Soccer League.
This is Reiner’s first run for public office. However, he does have expertise in town finance policy, currently working for Bergen County as director of purchasing. He is also an instructor of municipal finance policy at the Rutgers Center for Government Service, at the university’s campus in New Brunswick. “The truth is that municipal finance is a unique problem, and a unique system, unique unto itself. You don’t run a school or town like a private business. You don’t run it like a business because there’s not a [measurable] ROI (return on investment). You don’t do things according to generally accepted financing principles. That is the biggest thing I can bring to the board,” he told The Jewish Link.
Reiner moved with his wife, Desiree Ramos-Reiner, to Teaneck from North Bergen a little over two years ago, seeking “the best public school district we could afford,” and a four-bedroom home “with a backyard for the boys to ride their bikes,” he explained. Ramos-Reiner is the chief external affairs officer at the American Red Cross of the New York region (the Red Cross’ largest region), and was recently recognized by Bergen County at its Hispanic Heritage Day for her service work.
“We parent as a team so it helps build our community perspective,” he said, noting that “we all know the Red Cross by name, but it’s not just blood drives.” Ramos-Reiner went to Puerto Rico with the Red Cross to help deliver generators last year, and Reiner said he learned only through her work that the Red Cross helps people in small emergencies as well, such as installing smoke detectors, and helping families cope after house fires.
Reiner was inspired to run for the board of education when he and his wife started registering their children for school. They heard things like, “we don’t do this in this district” or “we don’t handle that in this district.” Even, “we don’t take these kinds of kids in this district” and “we don’t have a lot of resources because we spend so much money busing people out of the district.”
“That didn’t make sense to me because the district should still be spending 15K per student,” Reiner explained. “I found [former district personnel] always looking for an excuse, rather than self-reflecting and looking for solutions,” he added.
For example, Reiner referenced a special education audit that recommends dramatic cuts to special ed programs. “That audit concerned me. There’s a section of the audit that calls out specifically religious, non-public school, placement, noting that the district pays for five students at 50K apiece, all ‘who were represented by the same lawyer,’” he said.
Reiner, who is not Jewish, noted that he has seen veiled references to cultural differences in district literature like this and noted that, coming from northwest Bergen County (he was raised in Ringwood, which is positioned next to Mahwah), “we don’t want to change the culture of our community. There have been key words that have this inference of ‘people of color, or poor people, or people who send to private school.’”
Recalling and contextualizing some old wounds from Ringwood: “The Ford plant was in Mahwah, and they were looking for a place to dump their toxic paint chemicals. There were old mines in Ringwood from the iron ore days. Ford came in and dumped their sludge, on Ramapough reservation land. It’s now a Superfund situation,” Reiner said.
On the board of education, Reiner plans to work against hate and celebrate cultural differences. “Maybe people think it’s okay to say stuff like this in Mahwah,” referencing last summer’s eruv debate, which pitted the some of the county’s Jewish community and state leaders against the town council and many residents. “Unfortunately when it comes to hate, they have no boundaries. There are people who are full of visceral hate. It’s unacceptable whoever you say it to, and it’s behind closed doors where it’s most [damaging],” he said, noting the recent resignation of Sheriff Michael Saudino.
Reiner also noted that since he has students in elementary school, he wants the board of education to be more active at the elementary schools, indicating that many of the current board members are “hyperfocused on the high schools,” likely because, as parents of adult children, that’s where they carved their most recent memories. He was unhappy to note that no members of the board of education attended his PTO meetings at either school last year. “As a parent of young children, my experience will bring an added focus to the board of education team,” he explained.
Five other people are running for three, three-year terms: Shahanaz Arjumand, Sarah W. Rappoport, Lisa Dash-Grimes, Victoria Fisher and Michelle D. White. The election will be held on Tuesday, November 6.
By Elizabeth Kratz