For nearly all of the six candidates running in this year’s Secaucus Board of Education election, Dec. 14, 2012 holds a special meaning.
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that left 26 people dead, most of whom were young children, made it clear that such things can indeed happen here, and has made candidates look at school security as one of their top priorities.
When Secaucus voters cast ballots for three people in the Board of Education election on April 16, they will get to decide on a public question of whether the school district should hire six security personnel for school buildings at a cost of $175,000.
Along with the two ballot questions, voters will also have to decide on $33.4 million school budget, a slight increase from last year.
“Some things need to change and some things need to be applauded.” – Kathy O’Connell
Three incumbents – Maryann Weiner, John (Jack) Mc Stowe and Salvatore Manente – are being challenged by former school trustee Tom Troyer, as well as John Gerbasio and Kathy (Huber) O’Connell. While there are no real tickets in the election, Mc Stowe, Gerbasio, and O’Connell are seen as roughly aligned, while Weiner, Manente and Troyer share common concerns.
Troyer seeking to have a say in future superintendent choice
Troyer, who was defeated in last year’s school board election, has served five three-year terms on the Secaucus Board of Education, three terms in the 1970s, and two terms in the last decade.
“I’m for as much security as we can get in our schools,” Troyer said.
A former teacher and coach in Union City, Troyer has been an early supporter of anti-bullying, and takes credit for inspiring statewide initiative when Secaucus began to question the glorification of bullying that seemed to be taking place in the district.
Calling himself an anti-political machine candidate, Troyer said he has resisted during all of his terms on the school board political influence on decisions such as selecting of insurance providers.
A staunch defender of the districts outgoing superintendent of schools, Troyer said he wants to be part of the process for deciding the new superintendent.
“I do not want our superintendent being decided by others in the county,” he said. “If we have a leader, it should be in the hands of our education people.”
O’Connell wants to get involved in the system
Related to one of the founding families in Secaucus, O’Connell is running for the board for the first time.
“I’ve wanted to run for a while,” she said, noting that she has two sons who are extremely active in local sports, and has had the benefit of seeing how effective or ineffective policies and programs have been on her sons.
She is also a teacher with knowledge of how things work or don’t work in classrooms in her school district, and believes can provide another perspective to decisions that the district will need to make over the next few years.
“Some things need to change and some things need to be applauded,” she said. “I thinking I’m bringing experience as an educator and a parent to the board.”
The school district will be faced with some serious changes over the next two to three years, including a new testing process for students that will be done entirely on-line. There is also a new core curriculum standard being developed, which will likely focus on allowing students in each grade to master areas of study in each grade so that they can advance to more advanced areas of study as they progress through the grades.
“We also need to hire a superintendent,” she said, saying her experience as an owner of an employment agency would be an asset in this area as well
Gerbasio brings businessman’s perspective to board
Gerbasio is no stranger to Secaucus, even though he is the owner of a small business in Jersey City. He has lived and raised his family in Secaucus, and has been a volunteer for numerous events from K & S Club as a booster to serving as a coach for the Little League.
“Because I’ve volunteered so much, I thought this is a good next step,” he said, explaining that he could bring his experience as a business owner to the district.
He said he believes overall the current Board of Education has done a pretty good job. “I just think I can bring a different perspective to the board,” he said.
As a pharmacist, he has dealt with a number of issues, from changing state regulations to insurance questions, and though his experiences are slightly different from those that the board faces, he believes that he could have a lot to contribute.
“Secaucus is a great town to live in, and people have been very receptive to me,” he said, adding that the election process has allowed him to meet a lot of new people and to get a sense of their interests and needs.
Mc Stowe is running for his third term
The owner of a tax preparation business, Mc Stowe actually made his living as a post office worker in Jersey City, who retired from service after 38 years.
“I’m running for my third term,” he said.
For him, the two biggest issues the board faces in the upcoming year involve selecting a new superintendent of schools and possible expansion of class sizes in the Middle School. Secaucus has seen a steady increase of student population over the last few years, and that this poses challenges for a district that has to live within state-mandated budget cap increases.
“The other issue that is fresh on many people’s minds is school safety,” he said. “We have been proactive, but we have to keep enhancing what we have as we go along.”
He said voters should consider his six years experience on the board when they vote on April 16.
“I’ve tried to balance education needs with the needs of the taxpayers,” he said. “I think it is important to remember taxpayers when making decisions about what our schools need.”
Connecticut shooting convinces Weiner to run for second term
When Weiner first ran for school board in 2010, she intended only to serve one three-year term.
“I wanted to work to create peace between teachers, staff, and superintendent, who were in a tug-of-war,” she said. “I was concerned about the fallout that would not be fair to our kids.”
Teachers and many parents were at odds with some of the decisions made by the superintendent of schools, who has since resigned.
“I was willing to give up three years of my life to resolve some of these issues,” she said. “Until Dec. 14, I still thought I would only serve one term.”
But the shootings in Connecticut, she said, inspired her to run again, if only to work on the issue of security for the schools.
Also, “I knew we needed to keep up with technology in order to have a good school district,” she said. “People move in or out of towns because of the schools.”
A one-time teacher who became a stay-at-home mom, Weiner returned to education to teach English to adults in a school in West New York. She also taught religion as Immaculate Conception School in Secaucus for 12 years.
As a board member, she and Manente when to a school security seminar after the Connecticut shooting to garner more ideas about increasing safety of students, only to find out that Secaucus was ahead of most schools in the state.
“We also went to Hackensack and Bayonne and I was amazed at what Bayonne is doing. I sat down with the chief of police and superintendent and they invited us to look at their procedures,” she said. “I’m not saying our schools are unsafe, but we must reevaluate to see if they are doing everything possible, and we must explore the facts.”
Manente seeks his second term
A former town councilman, Manente said he has a lot of educational background from being a teacher for 38 years in Hoboken.
“When I first got elected to the board, I was very concerned about school security and pushed to get security measures implemented,” he said. “Before I got onto the board, we had a security group, but not much was being done. When I became board president, we revised our security, inviting in two professionals.”
It is partly for this reason Secaucus is ahead of the state. Many of the suggestions raised at the New Jersey School Boards seminar after the Dec. 14 shooting, Secaucus already had in place.
Manente said one of the big decisions that have to be made in the district is deciding who the new superintendent will be, something that will be decided right after the election. The district is currently active in recruiting candidates, and he would like to be involved in final decision.
Manente also said he would like to continue some of the programs that were started during his first time, and to improve on programs that he still sees as weak.
One area he is particularly interested in is a support system for those students who do not intend to go to college after graduating high school.
“We don’t have much to offer,” he said. “I would like to have programs for kids who are skilled with their hands. We are still going to need plumbers and carpenters.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.