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“The Book of Gene Bouie”

The irresponsible behavior exhibited by Board Member Gene Bouie in his Op-Ed that appeared in the Trentonian on Sunday, May 30th was not a surprise but expected. Bouie’s outright anti-union sentiments are evident throughout the thread of the article with accusations and false statements intended to create tension and divisiveness. 

Prologue, In his ill-written, fictional, literary Op-Ed, Bouie attempted to classify the Trenton Education Association as an organization hell-bent on causing problems, being combative, troublemaking opposers, and adversarial foes, rather than being gatekeepers for the Trenton Community.  It is quite troubling that he would publish this piece after Board President Addie D. Lane stated at May 24th’s Board Meeting that “the Board was looking forward to moving from the past and working in a collaborative nature with the Trenton Education Association.” Additionally, what would cause Board Member Bouie to place newly appointed Superintendent James Earle in such a position by writing this article, when Mr. Earle has come to the district touting working together, collaboration, and a 180-day plan that calls for inclusiveness among all stakeholders? In all actuality, the tone and tenor of this article reveal how Bouie truly feels. Board Member Bouie does not want to move forward but he wants to stay stagnant and continue with his anti-union animus reign of chaos, ineptitude, and division.

We also find it ironic that Bouie’s Op-Ed appeared after his reappointment to the Board by Mayor Reed Gusciora. Was he too afraid of speaking up prior to the reappointment for fear of losing his beloved seat on the Board?

Now let’s talk about facts versus fiction. Board Member Bouie expressed his dismay that the Trenton Public School District is now on its 6th Superintendent since he was first appointed to the Board in 2015. He attributed that to the Association and thus began his fictional Op-Ed with the assertion that the Association has run all but one Superintendent out of the district by way of bullying, harassment, intimidation, “bogus” press conferences, etc.

Chapter One, the fact of the matter is the Board is directly responsible for and is the reason we have not had more than one permanent superintendent over the past ten years. Please see below the previous Superintendents and the reasons for their departure:

  • Rodney Lofton, Permanent – Resigned due to poor management of spending on out-of-district education for special education students in 2008-2009, leading to improper shifting of funds and the creation of deliberately inaccurate financial statements.  In addition to the call from the community for him to step down.
  • Raymond Broach, Interim – Mr. Broach was a former retired Superintendent who never applied for a permanent spot. He was relieved of his duty when the Board conducted a search and hired a permanent superintendent.
  • Francisco Duran, Permanent – TEA had a very collegial and collaborative relationship with Duran.  The district was on the correct trajectory for instructional success.  Duran did not cave into political pressures for Charter and Renaissance School expansion.  Board didn’t support nor fight for Duran against the Chris Christie administration.
  • Lucy Feria, Interim – Mrs. Feria agreed to fill in as interim upon Duran’s departure but resigned due to her father being ill. TEA worked collaboratively with Lucy as she was a great chief academic officer. 
  • Nelson Ribbon, Interim – Mr. Ribbon was hired by the Board under the wrong title, for a vacancy that did not exist and then promoted to Superintendent in a single night.  Ribbon was forced to resign due to the selling of knock-off T-shirts to TCHS students and the Trenton Community.
  • Fred McDowell, Permanent – Resigned due to creating an anti-union animus atmosphere from the very beginning of his tenure. He eliminated in-district preschool and pre-school disabled programs, ended the Twilight portion of the Daylight\Twilight alternative high school for adult students, and continued to violate the civil rights of special needs students.  McDowell ended career-track offerings, such as cosmetology, culinary arts, and TV production, for Daylight\Twilight students and attempted to segregate Trenton’s Bilingual students. He also welcomed a new charter school into the city, taking away funds from our students. The Trenton Public Schools staff put forth a Vote of No Confidence for Fred McDowell, Assistant Superintendent Lissa Johnson, and Board President Gene Bouie.
  • Ron Lee, Interim – Mr. Lee was a former retired superintendent who never applied for the permanent spot.  He resigned due to the loss of both parents within a short period of time at the onset of the pandemic.
  • Alfonso Llano, Acting Superintendent – Mr. Llano was supported by and worked collaboratively with TEA.  Mr. Llano resigned because of the Board’s inaction and their delay to offer him a permanent position.

So, Board member Bouie, the above is why you cannot hold onto superintendents, it has nothing to do with the Trenton Education Association.  Yes, it is sad and interesting that Board Member Bouie and his fellow Board members failed to secure a permanent superintendent before now. Fact, not fiction.  Truth, not lies.

Chapter Two, next, let’s discuss your fictional representation that the Trenton Education Association wanted to “pick the new superintendent”. The Association never wanted to “pick” the new superintendent but what we wanted as well as other union heads and community members, was a seat at the table.  We even spoke at a Board meeting outlining the correct way to conduct a superintendent search but like many of our suggestions to improve this District, it fell on deaf ears. A district with over twelve thousand students and seven bargaining units, should not have based their selection on a dismal survey return from just under 300 community stakeholders.

You, Board Member Bouie, and your colleagues are out of touch with the constituents you say that you serve. In fact, a proper superintendent search takes between 12 and 18 months to conduct and provides the opportunity for all stakeholders to have a meaningful voice in the process. It is unfortunate that Board member Bouie has taken a Napoleonic, tyrannical stance when conducting business for this Board of Education.

Chapter Three in this fictional literary work is Bouie’s statement “the Association, for the past 3 years went to the Mayor and asked him not to reappoint myself as well as some of my colleagues.” The fact of the matter is when Mayor Gusciora was running his campaign and sought the endorsement of the Trenton Education Association, he said that “he would not reappoint any member that served under the Jackson administration and especially those that voted in favor of giving failed Superintendent Fred McDowell merit pay.” That would include you, Board President Lane, Board Member Truehart, and Board Member Lopez. Mayor Gusciora was in fact endorsed by the Trenton Education Association so of course, we inquired as to whether or not he would follow through with the statements he made when he was on the campaign trail. So once again, your fictional representation of events does not hold up to a standard of fact.  It was Mayor Gusciora who said you all were incapable of carrying out your duties as Board Members and although we agreed with him and still agree with that sentiment, we were not the authors of that idea.

As a Teacher Association representing over close to1100 teachers employed in the Trenton Public School District, we will continue to advocate and forge ahead in our work to bring about educational progress in our district that will place Trenton on the trajectory to making meaningful educational gains as we educate, collaborate and invest in our students, parents, and greater Trenton community.  We will not be deterred by false allegations or facetious statements being made by Board Member Bouie. It is very clear that Bouie has an inability to navigate professional situations in which there are strong women in positions of leadership. Perhaps Board Member Bouie should attend some self-help classes that will help him navigate professional arenas that include women in leadership positions.

Chapter Four in this fictional literary piece, “Not one superintendent has been respected by the leadership of the TEA, nor has the leadership supported any of the district’s efforts.” TEA leadership is not in the business of bullying or lying.  However, we are in the business of telling truths and pointing out mistakes and errors that need to be corrected if we are to move this district forward.  The Board has negotiated a collaborative clause in the TEA contract, which they fail to adhere to on a consistent basis. Here lies one of the major problems.  TEA has offered its assistance to each superintendent who has worked in the district assisting with the Curriculum Department, and by sponsoring tens of thousands of dollars of community events, etc.

Chapter Five, Mr. Bouie’s former Employer ETS and its Quality Progress Team hired to examine the root cause of problems with special education in the district was thwarted by TEA and them telling their members not to participate. This was conducted as a direct result of threats of lawsuits from SPAG and NAACP regarding student violations occurring in the Special Education Department.  Your attempt to involve TEA members in the process was to undermine the advocacy efforts of SPAG and the NAACP.  I do not think you want to embarrass the district by traveling down that road Board Member Bouie.  Having to expose the inept capabilities of the leadership in the Special Education Department that has plagued this district.

Chapter Six, “How would you like it if the Board interfered with your selection of officers?” The Board has done just that by attempting to withhold the increment of our grievance chair.  When they did not win the case, they voted to vacate the decision in another attempt to bring TEA down. After spending thousands of taxpayers’ dollars to outside attorneys, they finally relinquished and restored the increment only to then come back this year and say that she isn’t entitled to her correct pay under her current position in the bargaining unit. Your repeated underhanded slick tactics and remarks to our Association grievance chair make me wonder what specifically are you threatened by Board Member Bouie? Or are your insecure, misogynistic ways coming through in your fictional literary piece?

Chapter Seven, Board Member Bouie begins to list accomplishments that are directly related to the Teachers and the Trenton Education Association and have nothing to do with the Board. We will refute each one below:

  •     QSAC – Those scores under curriculum were a direct result of teachers’ work in classrooms and spending the evenings and summers rewriting the curriculum for the entire District.
  •     Release Time for Officers is being used to harass the Board, Superintendent, and Central Office Leadership – Release time allows TEA to have a seat at the table and to hold the aforementioned people accountable to ensure they are doing what is in the best interest of the students, teachers, and the greater Trenton community. This includes meeting and collaborating with all departments, Curriculum, Business, Human Resources, Special Education, Community Engagement, and the with the Superintendent. We do not have to harass these groups of people; they do a good job of being dysfunctional all on their own.  
  •     Can we stop the foolishness, distraction, and dysfunction? – By the mere fact that Board Member Bouie has chosen to write this Op-Ed makes it even harder for this to take place and he has doubled down on his attempts in trying to bring TEA down which in turn creates chaos and confusion he supposedly wants to come to an end.
  •     Authentic collaboration – It happened when we had Francisco Duran and was happening with Alfonso Llano until certain people got in his ear to tell him he didn’t have to listen to the Association. The only people continuing to stay adversarial are some of the current sitting Board Members and a few people on the central leadership team, it most certainly is not the Trenton Education Association.
  •     Students improving at least one grade level in reading – Teachers are directly responsible for this not the Board.
  •     The AMISTAD ACT – Although it was passed TWENTY years ago, we are finally starting to catch up to it ONLY because the Association was bringing it up constantly.
  •     Universal breakfast and lunch – That’s a state, not a district initiative and the Board cannot and should not be trying to take credit for it.
  •     Buses – Had the Trenton Board of Education not privatized our bus drivers and sold our buses years ago, this would not even be an issue. But since you brought it up, the buses came through the CARES act – the Pandemic money that should have been used for facilities and increased learning opportunities that may have been lost due to the pandemic.  The district received millions of federal dollars in addition to its regular funding.
  •     9 Nine schools came out of status – This is directly attributed to the Trenton Education Association because we applied and were accepted into NJEA’s Priority Schools Initiative, which created coaches, support, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in resources and professional development to improve the educational outcomes for our students.
  •     New curriculums aligned with the standards – This was accomplished by TEA having our teachers sit on the Textbook Committee and select new curriculum materials in tandem with the content area supervisors. The Board did nothing to help make that happen except approve it after TEA and TASA members did all the hard work.

Most of these “accomplishments” have occurred over this past school year or two, what are Board Member Bouie’s accomplishments from when he was the Board President for one and a half terms of his past two terms?

Chapter Eight, Board member Bouie please stop displaying the attitudes of a sore loser.  Stop continually trying to bring down the Trenton Education Association, especially its Grievance Chair to make yourself feel better after being exposed for the embarrassing harms the district and board have created.   Realize that the Trenton Education Association is collaborative and comes with a wealth of knowledge.  Your op-ed was drenched in passive aggressiveness. You take constructive criticism personally and use it as an excuse to be angry and lash out at TEA as opposed to you taking responsibility for some of the flaws of the district.

Epilogue, There are no winners or losers in the game of education. In the end, only the students lose when you continue to perpetuate false accusations and statements about the Trenton Education Association.  You say to stop the foolishness yet here you are continuing it.  You write an Op-Ed clearly to feed your ego, continue to divide and add to the dysfunction; not to help our students and schools succeed. If you truly want to stop the foolishness and disfunction, then start by:

  • respecting the knowledge and love that educators bring to work every day to educate our students.
  • acknowledging and respecting the brilliance and strength of the TEA leadership, and
  • recognizing and honoring the strong women who continue to lead the fight for access and opportunities for our students of color.

Let’s start there and find solutions.