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New Brunswick Board of Education holds meeting on Lincoln Annex School, faces legal obstacles

<p>The New Brunswick Board of Education discussed the selling of the Lincoln Annex School to the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.</p>

The New Brunswick Board of Education discussed the selling of the Lincoln Annex School to the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

The New Brunswick Board of Education held a meeting on Tuesday to discuss Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital’s (RWJUH) plans to purchase the Lincoln Annex School to use the land for the construction of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. The Board members held a vote after members of the public left, which could have legal implications. 

Charlie Kratovil, editor of New Brunswick Today, attended the meeting. He said at the previous meeting, the Board changed the standard procedure for signing up to make public comments, preventing a number of community members from speaking on the issue. For this meeting, Kratovil and 32 others signed up to speak in advance via email in order to avoid losing their chance to comment. 

Kratovil said at the start of the meeting, RWJUH and the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO) presented their plans for the Cancer Institute to the Board. 

“The Board of Education had zero questions for DEVCO or Robert Wood after their presentations, even though there were a lot of unanswered, important questions. So the public, including myself, tried to ask them,” Kratovil said. 

Kratovil said the portion of the meeting open for public commentary lasted approximately an hour and a half before the Board members announced the time for public speakers had ended. He said only approximately 20 of the 33 speakers who signed up to speak were able to voice their concerns.

“It was really kind of an anti-democratic situation,” Kratovil said. “Ultimately the crowd was so upset that people like myself started heckling them and shouting.” 

Kratovil said many people were upset since they were promised a chance to address the board, as they had prepared remarks and sat through the meeting waiting for their turn. He said some of the individuals who spoke out against the time limit were ejected from the meeting. 

“The Board President (Diana Solis) blamed the public and tried to make it like, ‘if anyone speaks more than a couple minutes you’re cutting into other people’s time, we have a right to shut this down after an hour,’” Kratovil said. 

After the public commentary ended, Kratovil said the Board adjourned for a closed portion of the meeting and returned approximately 30 minutes later after the majority of the public left. 

“With only a small handful, (approximately) four or five people in the room, they voted to prepare a change to their long-range facilities plan that would result in the closure of the school and sending kids to the Warehouse (School),” Kratovil said. “Basically exactly what DEVCO wanted them to do, and that vote was 6 to 0, with two people abstaining.”

Kratovil said the Board will likely have to hold another vote to approve the transfer of the property, and the community will continue to oppose the sale of the school.

He said the vote that took place after the closed session was not listed on the meeting agenda, which could potentially be a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act. Kratovil said he plans to file a complaint with the Middlesex County prosecutor to challenge the vote. 

The Board of Education is also facing legal pressure from LatinoJustice, a civil rights organization. Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of the organization, wrote a letter to the Board questioning the sale.

In the letter, Cartagena questioned why the Board is looking to sell a school that was recently built, has modern facilities, is well-liked by the community and serves a majority of Latinx students. Cartagena also asked why the city is unwilling to construct a new school prior to selling the Lincoln Annex School. 

Cartagena said the lack of transparency is concerning parents of Lincoln Annex School students and said the community has received contradictory information from officials about the situation. 

“Relatedly, the Board of Education scheduled a vote yesterday on a binding resolution regarding this disposition after its representatives advised community members that such a vote was not on the agenda for this meeting. This action, and all related actions, will also be part of our investigation on behalf of the parents and residents of New Brunswick,” Cartagena said, according to the letter. 

Cartagena said their investigation also revealed that the property, which was sold to the Board of Education in 2013 by St. Peter’s Catholic Church, was sold with the restriction that the land “shall be used solely for public education or for public administrative offices for no less than 50 years,” according to the deed. 

“In short, the Board of Education’s proposed sale of the property in question appears to be in violation of the restrictive covenant demanded by the grantor of the property,” Cartagena said. 

Cartagena said in most cases, restrictions such as the one in the deed can be legally enforceable in New Jersey. He said the investigation in the school is ongoing but that LatinoJustice will address the issues listed in the letter. 

“That decision by the Board of Education in 2013 to purchase the site and renovate the school was clearly made in the public interest and for the benefit of the City’s school children, their parents, the residents of the City and the Board of Education,” Cartagena said, according to the letter. “All of these stakeholders have an interest in the disposition proposed here.”

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