No wonder, then, that voters here take school board races more seriously than other towns.
The upcoming election, to be held on Tuesday, April 15, will be among the most important in years, as the new board will help choose a new superintendent of schools to replace outgoing Constantino Scerbo who is retiring on June 30.
Polls will be open from 1 to 9 p.m.
The system has an enrollment of 2,112 students this school year, with 2,178 projected for next year, and a full-time staff of 200 employees. The budget for the 2007-2008 school year is $34.2 million.
There are seven candidates running for three slots on the nine-member school board. The winners will each serve three-year terms.
Every voter can select three candidates to support.
Although Mayor Dennis Elwell backed a slate of candidates during the 2006 school board race, he said he will not so this year.
In alphabetical order, the Reporter profiles four candidates this week: Michael J. Makarski, Dora Marra, William Millevoi, and Susan Pirro.
Next week we will profile fellow candidates Eleanore Reinl, Gary Riebesell, and Thomas Troyer.
The Reporter asked all seven candidates the same three questions:
1. What do you think are most important issues facing the district?
2. What special skills or qualifications would you bring to the board?
3. What are the skills, characteristics, and qualifications you would like the new superintendent to have?
Michael J. Makarski
At just 22, this campaign is Makarski's first foray into politics. The Secaucus native went through the town's public schools, graduated in 2004, and attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He graduated a year early with a B.A. in political science with a concentration in journalism.
Makarski is unmarried, does not have any children, and coaches seventh and eighth grade boys' and girls' soccer in town.
His father is a lieutenant with the Secaucus Police Department.
1. "The progression of new technology is a huge issue. One thing I've been looking into is moving from paper textbooks to digital textbooks. There are advantages to digital textbooks. It gives us a way to save money because a textbook can cost up to $100. But once you buy the licensing rights for a textbook that's on a CD, and let's say a student loses their CD copy; it only costs a few cents to burn a new copy."
2. "I think being youthful and having fresh ideas that other people might not be thinking of would be a benefit to the board. I'm a complete product of the school system and I graduated just a few years ago. So, I have a good sense of what the classroom experience is for students who are there now."
3. "The new superintendent needs to be personable. I would like to see someone who is able to relate to the kids - at all ages and grade levels - and figure out what their needs are and what we need to do to improve their education. The new superintendent is going to be the voice of the school district, so it needs to be somebody who I can stand behind and be proud of."
Like Makarski, this is Marra's first campaign for an elected office, although many members of her family have served on the school board in the past.
Marra is a Secaucus native who owns the women's accessory store Head Dress NY, headquartered on Irving Place in Secaucus. Marra, who is married, does not have any children but attended the Secaucus School System as a youth.
1. "Managing the budget is going to be a major issue. With state funding getting cut, we won't necessarily be able to rely on aid and funding from the outside to help us as our district grows. At this time, we don't necessarily know how possible funding cuts in Trenton may affect us. But we need to be proactive and look at how we're going to handle a worst-case scenario. Even if it doesn't happen, we need contingency plans."
2. "I'm a small business owner. I've been in business for 15 years and I've seen it all, good times, bad times. As a small business owner you have to learn how to budget, and you learn how to make cutbacks when times are tough and your cash flow shrinks. So I think I'd be able to bring a business mentality to the board, but more specifically the mentality of a small business owner."
3."The new superintendent needs to be someone who can really communicate and have a good rapport with all the segments of the community, that includes parents, the faculty, the larger community, the school board. Our school system is good, but I don't want someone who just wants us to rest on our laurels. If we need to advance in some areas, I want someone who will be able to tell us where we need to make improvements and help us get there."
Millevoi has served on the Secaucus School Board for the past 15 years. Married with two adult children who went through the system, Millevoi spent 34 years as an educator in Jersey City's James J. Ferris High School. He has three grandchildren who attend Clarendon School.
1. "My focus has always been on the curriculum and developing programs that will help the kids succeed beyond high school. One of my goals is to expand the academies because it keeps students interested because they get involved in something that interests them and it keeps them in school and it gives them a career opportunity. What I would like to do is expand the academies to include hotel management, because we have a tremendous amount of hotels in Secaucus."
2. "I've been part of hiring every principal, the assistant principal Ralph Merlo, and every supervisor. I taught history and English on a high school level. I was a dean of students and I've been a high school administrator. I was also the one who got the media and science and math academies started in Secaucus."
3. "While you can't replicate Mr. Scerbo, I would like somebody who has his people-skills in dealing with the community and faculty. I'd like to see somebody who has been innovative in the field of education, who has new ideas that have been successful, and someone who is aware of current trends in education. Finally, I'd like someone who has a track record of success in their previous district."
Pirro has served on the on the Secaucus School Board for six years, and like Millevoi, she is an incumbent running for re-election. A divorced mother of three, all of Pirro's daughters were educated in the local school system. Her youngest daughter is still a student in the high school.
1. "One of the main issues is the increasing enrollment and space in our schools. So far, we've been able to keep our school budget down, which means helping keep taxes down, and we've been able to keep our class sizes small. We've done that by being really creative with the space in our schools. We've redesigned some of our space so that we can have more classrooms with small class sizes. But every year it's a challenge. And that's going to be a challenge for the foreseeable future."
2. "The [current] school board works really well together. We get a lot accomplished. And I've been a part of that board. I also work as a benefits administrator in the Union City school district. So I have a broad knowledge of how to put together health insurance plans, employee pension plans, benefits packages. I have experience with contract negotiations. These can be some pretty expensive line items in any budget, and of course, every school system is trying to figure out how to save money as all these expenses keep going up. I have experience doing that."
3. "I'm less interested in a superintendent who has a lot of degrees. I'm more interested in someone who has the right feel for this community, who really understands Secaucus, the residents and parents here. I want someone who understands how we might be different from other districts. I'm also looking for someone who will be a very visible presence in the community."