Belleville EA President Mike Mignone speaking at a March Board of Education meeting.
When it comes to being role models, the members of the Belleville Education Association expect their board of education to play their part. But for the time being, BEA members are keeping their enthusiasm in check.
At the May 7 Belleville Board of Education meeting, BEA members packed an auditorium to support their president, Mike Mignone, as he leveled ethics charges against three of the board’s eight members. Mignone alleged that the three members had used their positions for personal gain, obtained confidential employee information for the purposes of soliciting political contributions from school employees, or conducted business in an administrative capacity.
Each of these alleged offenses violate ethics in state code that board members are sworn to uphold.
“In an effort to hold you accountable for your actions and to ensure that you follow the code of conduct under 18A: 12-24.1 of the New Jersey School Ethics Act, I have filed ethics charges against you,” Mignone declared.
Since early fall, BEA members and leaders have spoken out on multiple concerns, including the district’s expenditure of over $2 million for security system upgrades over basic school supply needs and technology improvements, as well as the negative workplace climate fostered by per-ceived intimidation tactics.
“Simply put, it’s time for a better Belleville,” Mignone said.
Local president targeted
As a result of his activism, Mignone has found himself the target of disciplinary action, resulting in his being banned from district buildings, facing a failed smear campaign, and fighting fraudulent tenure charges—served to him shortly after speaking out at a board meeting this winter. Despite this, Mignone refuses to stray from his association’s commitment to holding the board accountable for its actions.
Proving that point, BEA is hosting a rally on June 23 and urges NJEA members, leaders, and community residents to attend. Mignone doesn’t want the events in Belleville to become a road map for other boards of education to follow.
“Our presence will demonstrate our commitment to each other and our collective refusal to accept nothing less than the highest of standards from our elected officials,” Mignone continued. “More importantly, it will send a clear message that we will not go away.”
NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer agrees.
At the May 17 NJEA Delegate Assembly meeting, delegates were updated on the situation in Belleville. Steinhauer expressed his admiration for BEA.“
I commend the Belleville Education Association for their tireless dedication to their students, their schools, and their association,” Steinhauer said. “NJEA stands behind Mike Mignone and the members of the BEA and will not rest until there’s a better Belleville for all.”
Call the cops
In late May, NJEA put together a team of staff dedicated to organizing members and the community around Belleville issues. On May 20, NJEA staff began hosting building meetings in the school parking lots with BEA members to avoid the constant audio and video surveillance within the buildings.
But at the Belleville Middle School, NJEA staff met with more than BEA members. In the midst of the meeting, three police cars showed up, in response to a call about the gathering. NJEA staff shared the Belleville saga with the officers and filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to determine who made the call.
“The BEA stands more resolute than ever. No matter what they do to intimidate us, we will not be worn down,” Mignone stated. “We are not afraid of bullies, and we will be victorious in the end.”