"I have no idea," said Koehler, a machine designer who serves on the Board of Directors for the PERC/St. John's Homeless Shelter in Union City. "I lost count. If it's 10, then it probably wouldn't be an exaggeration. It's somewhere in there."
Yet, despite the fact that Koehler has lost each time he has run for the Board of Education, the father of seven home-schooled children is on the ballot again for Tuesday's election, trying once again to crack the establishment and gain a viable seat.
"I keep trying because I want to give the people a choice when they go to vote," Koehler said. "I talk to people on school boards all the time, and they say that the incumbents call all the shots. Well, in this case, at least I provide an alternative."
So does Herbert Shaw, a maintenance worker and repairman for the Newark Public Library. Shaw has run for every office known to man, including governor, state senator, congressman and several different municipal offices. Shaw has also run in every single Board of Education election over the last 30 years and has never once won.
But Shaw, who did not return phone calls for this report, is once again on the ballot.
Koehler, Shaw and Imran Hosein, a home repair contractor, are facing the three incumbents backed by the political machine spearheaded by Mayor Nicholas Sacco: incumbent Board President Miguel Hector, seeking his second full term since being appointed to the board in 2000, as well as six-term incumbents Charlotte DiGennaro and Edward LaTour.
Challenges they face
The Board of Education faces some uphill challenges over the next three years.
First, there is the constant struggle with overcrowding in the classrooms. Some classes have as many as 30 to 35 kids, way over the state average. There is the ongoing debate over whether to build a new high school and whether the taxpayers would approve a bond or a budget that would include the building of such school.
Not to mention there's the ongoing dilemma what to do with the incomplete extension to Lincoln School, which was supposed to permanently house the township's Early Childhood (pre-kindergarten) program, but is right now only 20 percent finished, since the original contractor went bankrupt in the middle of the project. Twenty million dollars has already been sunk into a project that is nowhere near completion and won't be done anytime soon.
"I guess this is a very important election," said Hector, an electrical engineer and owner of an affordable housing complex on Kennedy Boulevard, who was the only Sacco-backed candidate to return calls for this report. "We're trying to do as much as we can with very little money. We know we have an overcrowded school system and we're trying to find a solution to the problem. In the past, we've done a lot of improvements to the schools. We're not happy with what has happened at Lincoln School. I don't think anyone is. But the original contractor went bankrupt, so that was out of our control. These things happen."
The $83.5 million budget is also on the ballot and will be up to the voters whether to approve or deny the budget.
Koehler said that he has a lot of things he would like to be implemented, like assigning a member of the high school student council to a permanent spot on the Board of Education.
"It would give the students the opportunity to express their opinions and have a say in what goes on," Koehler said. "I think it's important to have more involvement from the students on all levels, because what the voters choose affects them, too. I thought that all along."
Koehler said that he is disgusted to read and hear about the failures of the Lincoln School extension.
"I don't give much confidence to the contractors that the Board of Education is hiring," Koehler said. "If they can't get it done with a grade school, then how can they expect work to be done on a new high school? We can't keep saying that we need more money."
But Koehler is realistic about his chances of upsetting one of Sacco's candidates.
"In the beginning, when I first started running, I really thought I had a chance," Koehler said. "I really felt like I could make a difference. I sensed that people were so discouraged that they were serious about giving a guy like me a chance. At that time, there were 23 candidates and there were debates. Now, it's down to six people, three incumbents and three challengers. Do I feel like I have a chance? Realistically, no."
Hector, who said he will relinquish the duties of president if elected to another term, said that he has confidence that the voters will re-elect him and his running mates.
"I believe that the voters will see that we're doing a good job and give us another chance," Hector said. "I feel confident that they'll elect us all."
Voters in Guttenberg will also vote for three three-year terms and will vote on whether to approve a $9.9 million budget.
David Hepperle, the chairman of the Planning Board, is one of those seeking a term on the Board of Education, along with attorney Lee Robbins, New York school teacher Jeannett Consoro-Green, store manager Justin Rivera, Sari Suckerman and Ana Bestances.
None of the incumbents are seeking re-election, as former Board of Education president Frank Criscione will be seeking election to the Town Council on the June primary. The seat of former Board member Adela Martinez has been vacant since she resigned last year, when she was appointed as a member of the town council. Dr. Michael Baruch has decided not to seek re-election.