This year is no different, as six candidates will be competing for three seats that come with a three-year term in office.
With the election coming soon on Apr. 17, a look at what the Secaucus school board actually does and why their work is important is merited.
School board beyond politics
The list of six candidates contains at least two familiar names: Anthony Gerbasio and Tom Troyer are incumbent board members.
The rest of the candidates would be newcomers, if elected. The aspirants include Edilberto Aguilera, Arlene Broemmer, John A. McStowe, and Frank J. Trombetta.
Voting will take place at all regular polling stations in Secaucus on Apr. 17 from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The structure of the board is relatively simple, as it is made up of nine members, or trustees. Susan Pirro is the current president, and Angelo Andriani is the vice president. The remaining trustees include Mark Bruscino, Mauro DeGennaro, William Millevoi, Eleanore Reinl, and Michael G. Schlemm, as well as the aforementioned Gerbasio and Troyer.
After nine years on the board, Schlemm opted not to run for re-election.
Despite its basic set-up, the Secaucus school board is in some ways unique. After originally being made up of appointed members, a 1968 debate by the Secaucus town government ended with a decision that all school board members would be elected to three-year terms, starting in 1969.
This result pleased many Secaucus residents at the time, especially those who had moved from neighboring Hudson County towns such as Union City and Hoboken. In these towns, the ruling administration appointed whomever they pleased to their respective school boards, angering many residents who saw these appointments as examples of political favoritism.
These former urban dwellers were determined that the same thing would not happen again in their new suburban Secaucus homes, hence the vote.
What the school board does
Constantino Scerbo, the Secaucus superintendent of schools, explained what the elected board is designed to do.
"Our main job is to direct policy in the school district," he said, referring to a district with an overall positive performance that significantly contributed to Secaucus' recent 19th place ranking in New Jersey Monthly magazine's annual poll of the best places to live in New Jersey. "Then we go out and hire staff to implement that policy. As superintendent of schools, I help implement the policies of the board by recommending staff, including principals, teachers, clerks, and custodians, who will help us to be successful."
Scerbo currently presides over a staff of 210 full-time and 62 part-time employees. Of this entire group, 165 employees are teachers. Out of the teachers, four are principals, one is an assistant principal, and six are supervisors.
Scerbo also noted that the policy that the school board directs does not stand still.
"If the policy is working, fine," he said. "If it isn't, then you have to make adjustments as you go along. We do constant revisions of policy."
These revisions do not only affect staffing and curriculum in the four Secaucus public schools.
"In the last year, we also set school-wide policy with the new uniform policy and with changes in the random drug-testing policy," he said. "Again, new potential policies constantly come up throughout the course of the school year."
What an elected school board means
Unlike larger New Jersey municipalities such as Jersey City and Newark, whose schools systems are currently under state control, Scerbo explained that by having an elected school board under local governance, Secaucus has an additional way to maintain control over its destiny.
"The elected Board of Education makes it possible for the community to select the people they want to oversee the educational policy of the district," he said. "With an appointed process, they don't get that opportunity."
Paul Amico, Secaucus mayor from 1964 to 1992, remembered when the town had an appointed board.
"When the idea for an elected school board went on the ballot, I did not support it, nor did I oppose it," he said. "I remember when we replaced Huber Street and Clarendon School and we had an appointed board, we did it relatively quickly. But by the time we were ready to build the high school in the mid-1970s, we had an elected board. It went on the ballot three times before it finally passed. Either way, it's not perfect. What's more important is the quality of the candidates for the board, not whether it's elected or not."
Although there is meant to be a Chinese wall between town politics and the school board, Amico offered a piece of political wisdom about the relationship between town government and the board.
"It's very important that the school board and the government have a cordial relationship," he said. "Otherwise, it's a lot harder to get things done."
There are other important decisions being made on April. 17 besides who will sit on the school board.
The budget for the next school year will also be up for voter approval. According to Secaucus Board of Education Business Administrator Edward Walkiewicz, the tentative dollar amount of the budget currently stands at approximately $33.1 million, a rise over last year's $31.1 million amount. The final number will be determined when the budget comes for a vote at the March 29 board meeting.
Scerbo knows that there is a lot at stake for the Secaucus school system on Apr. 17. However, he remains confident that those chosen by the community to represent their town in educational matters will try to do the right thing.
For Scerbo, the daily events of Secaucus life help to prepare candidates for public service, as well as reinforce the electoral process.
"You see our board members in the community in all walks of life," he said. "Whether it's at a recreation program, school event or church event, they are meshed throughout the community. This helps them to get the feedback they need to make good decisions for our community." Mark J. Bonamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.