Po-Lunatic-al Teacher Uprising

ELIZABETH — A politically inspired educator is waging an aggressive campaign to upset the longtime teachers’ union president, who she accuses of being too close to the school board.

Rosaura “Rosy” Bagolie, a teacher at School 23, cites a wide range of issues — from political to paranoid — in her campaign to oust Elizabeth Education Association (EEA) President Rose Carretto.

The EEA, an affiliate of the New Jersey Education Association and the National Education Association, is the labor union serving in excess of 4,000 members employed by the Elizabeth Public Schools.

“During my twelve years as President, the EEA has successfully defended and advanced the rights of all our members,” said Carretto, who notes that she has, “successfully negotiated contracts for our members with no give backs. Our current contract, where health insurance is paid by the Board, runs until 2012.”

Bagolie’s expensive campaign — complete with a customized website, glossy printed campaign materials, and several social events intended to wine and dine EEA members — is very unusual for a teachers’ union election.

Bagolie treated union members to free dinner and drinks featuring comedian Uncle Floyd Vivino on March 16 and she’s planning another event on March 23 complete with “Free Prizes and Giveaways,” but she denies trying to ‘buy’ votes.

Belying her denials of political links to one side of the city’s fractured Democratic organization, Bagolie launched into a tirade while being interviewed for this report, suggesting that the interviewer had a stake in the outcome of the union voting.

“Sen. Lesniak, Christian Bollwage, and Mr. Cuesta have nothing to do with my campaign,” said Bagolie, when asked if she had any connection to the city’s political establishment.

Cuesta, the principle at the school where Bagolie works, is a political ally of Mayor J. Christian Bollwage and Sen. Raymond Lesniak, who is sponsoring legislation to establish tuition tax credits in New Jersey.

“Everyone thinks the same thing –  Cuesta,  Jackus and Lesniak put her up to it with the support of the Administrator’s Association, but the Administrator’s Association doesn’t even have the support of the administrators,” said a school principal, who asked not to be identified.

The Bollwage-Lesniak faction has been at odds with competing Democrats in the city for at least 30 years.<

Bagolie said she knows about Lesniak’s school voucher legislation and was disappointed that the lawmaker voted against teachers’ interests on recent pension reform legislation.

“I agree with Sen. Lesniak about the corruption in the Elizabeth school system,” Bagolie said. “I see the fear in the eyes of teachers.”

If such fear exists, there’s ample evidence to suggest that it is unfounded. Cuesta and two other close Bollwage allies on the city council are employed in the school district.

Carretto largely dismisses the upstart challenger, focusing her attention on broader threats to public education.

“We now face a new challenge as state legislators try to blame educators for the budget problems they created,” said Carretto. “I will not allow my members to bear responsibility for the pension plan that the State has underfunded for years, nor will I give back any of the rights we have earned.”

The union voting will take place on March 29 and 30.

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