An independent candidate, Glenn Fuzak, filed a petition to run for a Board of Education seat against the three incumbents - longtime Board President Richard Barsa and members Joseph Rutigliano and Alberto Cabrera - in the April 18 election for three 3-year terms on the Board.
The three incumbents are supported for re-election by Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner and the Weehawken and You Civic Association.
Fuzak, a resident of Weehawken for the last 12 years who works in technology sales and marketing, looks at the Board of Education as a way of "getting involved in the community."
"I have a history of getting involved," said Fuzak, who lives in the Riva Pointe luxury housing development on the Hudson River waterfront. "I'm a member of the Rent Control Board and the Condominium Owner's Board, so I have been involved. I just think maybe we can use a change in the Board of Education. A lot of the members have been in there for a while. It's time to give someone else a chance."
Fuzak said that he has a background in finance, so he is very interested in working with the Board of Education budget.
"Forty-five percent of the total taxes go to the schools," Fuzak said. "I want the people to know what's going on, good or bad. Especially the newer residents of the town - people who move into Riva Pointe or Gregory Commons, they need to be a little more aware of what is going on with their taxes. They don't know if their money is being spent wisely. There will soon be a new tax assessment in the town and when that happens, we want to know where the money's going. I will look at it closely if elected."
Barsa, who also serves as the township's finance director, has been a member of the Board of Education for the last 16 years and has been the president for the last 10 years. He said that he originally began to serve on the board when his son, Richard, was in kindergarten and has remained a member ever since.
"After all the success we've had in turning the district around, we want the success to continue and the district to prosper," Barsa said. "I think overall the board has done a good job, and I think our ticket has done a good job, especially working with the mayor and town council. We have good teamwork."
Rutigliano has been a member of the Board of Education since 1983, serving seven terms.
"People have said to me, 'You have to be nuts to stay around that long,' " said Rutigliano, who is a retired school teacher and administrator, after working in the Weehawken school district for 41 years. "I've been around for a very long time. I guess I have expertise, so to speak. I've traveled throughout the state as an active member of the New Jersey School Board Association and the Vice-President of the Hudson County School Board, so I get to know what others are doing as well. Education has been my life. I'm committed to it. I think we have done a good job presenting everything to the people."
Cabrera just completed his first term in the Board of Education. He was appointed to replace Carmela Silvestri Ehret, when Ehret was elevated to the township council after the passing of First Ward Councilman Louis Ferullo.
Cabrera, who owns a snack distribution company, is also the chairman of the Weehawken Zoning Board. He is proud of his time served on the Board of Education.
"We've been able to do a lot of improvements to the schools in the last few years," Cabrera said. "We're also very proud of the test scores. I'm a product of Weehawken. So is my wife. I'm very proud of the community, and this is my way of giving back."
Cabrera praised the board's relationship with the town council.
"I've seen other towns waste so much time, because there is no communication between the Board of Education and the elected officials. Nothing gets accomplished that way," Cabrera said. "We're blessed here in Weehawken that we all have one common goal. We have our record behind us, and we want to continue to do what we were doing."
A 'difficult' challenge
Fuzak knows that he has an uphill battle, challenging the incumbents.
"It's going to be difficult," Fuzak said. "I don't mind being the underdog. I just have to get out there and get the votes, get people to want to come to vote. If I can do that, I think I can get in. You can't win unless you try."
Barsa said that it is different having opposition in a Board of Education election.
"It's been a real long time," Barsa said. "We haven't faced opposition many times. But we always work hard to make sure we get people out to vote. I just hope the public is happy with what we've been doing."
"When I first started, there were a lot of people running and a lot of opposition," Rutigliano said. "I always go out and see people during an election. I try to explain to people what's going on, and they feel better about us. So it's nothing new. We'll work hard."
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.