While Guttenberg has a highly contested election with a full slate of candidates, North Bergen has four candidates that will run unopposed in the upcoming Board of Education election.
North Bergen's school budget of $22.6 million is also up for a vote that day. The voters have turned down the budget in each of the last 23 school board elections.
North Bergen's incumbents are Charlotte DeGennaro, Edward LaTour, Miguel Hector, and newcomer Kanaiyalal Patel. Patel is running for the term left unoccupied last year after the death of long-time Board member Elizabeth LaBode.
DeGennaro, LaTour and Hector will receive new three-year terms, while Patel will get the one-year term.
But while there will be very little activity at the North Bergen polling places, Guttenberg should be hopping with the full slate of candidates.
Four of the candidates are running with the support of Mayor David Delle Donna and the Town Council. On that slate, one is an incumbent and three are newcomers.
The incumbent is Hepperle. The newcomers are Melanie Henry, Ana Castello and Maria Gonzalez. Hepperle is seeking another three-year term, along with running mates Henry and Castello. Gonzalez is one of two candidates seeking the available one-year term.
Those not on the mayor-backed ticket are incumbent Sari Zukerman, who is seeking her second three-year term of office. She is running with fellow Galaxy Towers resident Elsa Schwarz.
Independent Ivan Dominguez is also seeking a three-year term, while independent Ocaris Ortiz is seeking a one-year term.
The $11.7 budget calls for an annual tax hike of approximately $80 annually per homeowner, with an assessed real estate value of $100,000.
Hepperle says the main item on the agenda for the new board will be the town's proposed gymnasium/library that has been rumored for months.
"We have to see the construction of the new gymnasium and library," Hepperle said. "That's the priority that has to be on the table. We have to be able to work well with the town on this. They have the ability to secure the land for the project. We have the property. Hopefully, down the road, we're going to create more examples where the town and the Board of Education can operate together. If we build the new gymnasium, then there will be more room to create more classrooms and that will lessen the burden caused by overcrowding. But all of the agencies have to be involved. I offer a different kind of voice, but I think it's important that we're all on the same page."
Zukerman is proud of what she's been able to accomplish in her term on the Board of Education. Under Zukerman's guidance, Anna L. Klein School began a fishing program, received lessons on the history of Guttenberg and heard from a published poet. Zukerman also served on the re-organizational committee that sealed the deal on a new teacher's contract.
"My life's work has been with children," said Zukerman, a retired teacher's educator at the College of Staten Island. "I have very much enjoyed my tenure with the Board of Education and want to continue serving the people, especially the children. I am concerned with the school budget, which is one-third of our property tax. I am concerned about the cultural growth of the school. I want to be a part of the committee that sees the new gymnasium and library through. I support the other board members on getting this done."
Schwarz, who is Zukerman's running mate and friend, is also retired after spending her life in education. A native of Argentina, Schwarz co-founded a school strictly for Spanish speaking students in the early 1970s in New Providence and taught Spanish in schools for many years.
"I think I have the experience necessary," Schwarz said. "I want to help the community; my way of saying 'Thank you' to the community. I've lived in Guttenberg for a few years now and want to be able to help. I think I can help the Spanish-speaking people in the community. I think Ms. Zukerman and I have good experience in education and we can both give something to the Board of Education. Ms. Zukerman has done a wonderful job over the last three years. This has been a good experience for me getting out and meeting the people."
Ana Castello has been a housewife for the last 18 years, raising three sons, one of whom is in college and another at North Bergen High School.
"After all these years of living here, I wanted to give back," Castello said. "I want to help the children of Klein School. My children went there and became successes. I like being in the position to help."
Castello also supports the plan to build a new gymnasium.
"It will be a big task, but it needs to get done," Castello said. "I definitely support that plan."
Castello said that she has been bolstered by the support she has received from Delle Donna and the Town Council.
"It's been a huge help tremendously," Castello said. "It's good to have those good guys supporting us. It's been a good experience for me, meeting a lot of people I never knew, but know now."
Efforts to reach the other Guttenberg candidates were not successful by press time.
The polls are open from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. at assorted sites throughout the town.
Turnout usually low
Hopefully, Guttenberg will have a better turnout than recent Board of Education elections, which saw a total of 6 percent of the town's registered voters actually make it to the polling booth.
The new budget calls for includes new social studies textbooks for all grades; new computers and software programs; cultural programs and trips; assembly programs; expanded educational programs; a new bilingual teacher; extra-curricular programs to include the formation of some new clubs; upgrade of both computer labs; replacement of old chalkboards; replacement of a classroom aide; upgrade of the nurse's office; replacement of old existing classroom floor tiles; and demolition of 304-68th Street to create a separate play area for all early childhood children.
Overall, the amount listed in the budget is $730,000 higher than last year's, due primarily to insurance costs and teacher's salaries.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or email@example.com