South Brunswick Board of Education Candidates 2012

South Brunswick Board of Education Candidates Answer League Questions

Vote Tuesday, November 6, 2012, 6 AM to 8 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: These are the verbatim responses of the candidates for the South Brunswick Board of Education to questions presented and compiled by The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area in cooperation with The South Brunswick Post. The candidates were allowed to vary the length of their answers to the three questions but were given a word limit for the total.

Candidates – Vote for three (three-year term)

Azra Baig - Emergency Nurse at University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro. Substitute RN in South Brunswick School District

Ray Kuehner - Transportation Director & Energy Specialist

Barry Nathanson (incumbent) Government Administrator

Stephen F. Parker (incumbent) - Aerospace and Software Engineering in the field of Atmospheric Transport and Dispersion

Peter St. Vincent - Vice President Absolut Contracting

1. Describe your personal experiences and involvement with public schools that qualify you as a school board member.

Ms. Baig

I, Ms. Azra S. Baig, am a highly qualified candidate for the South Brunswick Board of Education. Ever since my daughters attended Cambridge Elementary School, I have volunteered as a class parent, been a member of the PTOs and participated in countless school functions. Presently, I am a very active member of the SBHS Viking Athletic Club. In addition to volunteering, I have worked as a substitute RN and have had the opportunity to meet and work with school principals, staff members, fellow nurses, students and parents. I have also attended many of the BOE meetings and have been able to familiarize myself with the issues at hand while building relationships with members of the present board.

Mr. Kuehner

Member of South Brunswick Board of Education Citizens Budget Advisory Committee.

Current administrator in neighboring school district.

Current Vice-President State Transportation Supervisors Association.

Volunteer for several activities, departments, groups and clubs for SBHS & Crossroads Middle School, PAL, Department of Recreation and Church...

Past member Dayton/Deans, Crossroads and SBHS PTAs

I value the education provided in South Brunswick; I believe it is because of the excellent programs, staff, and the diversity they experienced here in South Brunswick that both of my sons thrived and achieved much after they graduated.

I possess a set of skills, knowledge and experience in several areas that I feel would be an asset to the district. These include; budgeting, transportation, and energy conservation. These skills make me uniquely qualified to become a member of the board as we look for new efficiencies in this tough economy. Through my volunteer work in South Brunswick over the last 23 years I have demonstrated my commitment and leadership. I will bring these skills and experiences to this position to ensure that our township continues to provide the best quality, most rounded education possible to our students and to do so while being fiscally responsible to the taxpayers.

Mr. Nathanson

My son started kindergarten at Cambridge school in South Brunswick in 1995 and my daughter in 1998. At that time, I saw a growing South Brunswick community and wanted to personally take part in being part of the decision making which I knew would be needed. I ran for school board in 2002 and was elected. I have been a school board member ever since and have spent much of the last 10 years dedicating my time and effort to Putting Kids First!

Dr. Parker

I have served on the Board of Education for 6 ½ years, serving as President since April 2011. Prior to serving on the Board I was a community member on the following committees; 2001: Redistricting Committee in preparation for the building of Brooks Crossing Elementary School, 1999: Study of Year-Round Education, 1996: 6-12 Committee dealing with enrollment issues and leading to the building of the new High School and establishment of our Middle School campus. 1994: Mutual Respect Committee for Monmouth Junction Elementary School. In addition I come from a family of educations covering Kindergarten to University and I understand the importance for our children to have access to a quality education.

Mr. St. Vincent

Relative to my employment, I have been in management positions since 22 years of age, with as many as 40 subordinates reporting to me at any given time.

I have had three children graduate from SBHS and go on to college. I’ve served for the past seven years as the president of the Viking Football Huddle Club; the booster club for football. We have raised on average over the years approximately $30,000 - $40,000 annually in monetary and product/service donations. I have acted as the intermediary between the Coach and the parents on many occasions. Working directly with the coaching staff, our mission is to create an environment that produces responsible, respectful student athletes, as well as creating positive memories that they may carry forward. With this position I have had many interactions with the administration including the Superintendent of Schools, and have always worked productively to resolution.

In addition to my volunteer work with the Huddle Club, I served as a coach within the South Brunswick Youth Leagues for 12 years.

That being said, I’m not certain that any specific experience or involvement automatically assert that an individual is “qualified” to be a board member. My belief is that its how one deals with issues and confrontations directly with others or with the administration to productive and mutually agreeable resolution defines this.

2. List, in order of priority, the three most important challenges facing the South Brunswick Public Schools. How do you plan, in both the short and long term, to address them?

Ms. Baig

The three primary challenges I feel this district is faced with is fiscal responsibility with the school budget, the need for increased volunteerism in the schools and the national concern with regards to obesity.

It is extremely important to be knowledgeable about the annual school budget and to be able to analyze what programs are beneficial to the students and to the district. We need to be able to compare our budget to the top school districts in the state and look to them to help continue to improve our own academic excellence and streamline programming to help improve our schools.

In addition, as a member of the BOE, I will work to create a program that recognizes volunteerism and encourages becoming a part of the effort through a rewards and recognition system. With everyone working together as a community and contributing in any way they feel they can help, the schools will operate more smoothly and effectively and we can build a successful community.

A challenge that is facing all children is that of obesity. As a very active adult and a nurse, I am knowledgeable on the importance of health and fitness and its impact on the mind. I vow to be a passionate advocate for students to maintain an active healthy lifestyle to help promote academic success. In addition to encouraging students from an early age to participate in school sports, clubs and physical activities, we all need to be advocates of proper nutrition. Our school system must continue to offer nutritional choices and needs to educate our youth about the benefits of a healthy diet. I will work to further enhance the student’s education on the importance of proper diet and exercise and also help implement volunteer programs that help promote a healthy lifestyle.

Mr. Kuehner

Teacher’s Contract - We need to have a teacher’s contract in place as soon as possible. We should have had this done well before the end of last school year. We pride ourselves on having the best teachers available and we need to agree on a budget that is both fair to our teachers and does not over burden the taxpayers.

Shared Services - The board must look at surrounding school districts and the township municipal services and investigate more shared services.

Residency - We must improve our residency verification process. For each student we accept that is not an actual resident, we spend over $12,000.00. If we identify 4 non-resident students we could have the funds to hire an additional teacher.

Mr. Nathanson

The issue of improving student achievement doesn’t vary from the short term to the long term. As a BOE member, I want and expect that staff will continue to make this issue their number one priority. On a daily basis, staff members seek ways to make connections with students that are

positive and personal. It is through these connections, that teachers and staff forge relationships that yield growth in learning. When students know that you care about them, they work hard to please adults. This is hard work that is already occurring in our schools on a daily basis.

The second priority, for me, is the fiscal support for our schools. In the short term, we have experienced deep reductions in our state funding and in our local tax base (ratables). In response, the BOE has, out of necessity, reduced personnel. Our overall budget level is at the same level as it was several years ago. Our response was to lessen the impact to the taxpayer through these cost reductions. I am a taxpayer, so I certainly had a vested interest in containing taxes. In the long term, I hope that a gradual return to ratable growth will provide fiscal support to our schools that will serve to lessen the need for tax increases.

Out of necessity, the third priority for the BOE, in my mind, is compliance with state mandates. We are experiencing tremendous growth in state and federally-mandated programs. Such things as the teacher evaluation system, the principal evaluation system and expansion of the state data base for student identification and staff identification information and a number of other programs. The amount of time it takes to complete all of these requirements will consume all of the professional development time that was built into the school calendar this year and then some.

Dr. Parker

The three most pressing challenges are budget, maintaining quality staff and student achievement. Two issues over which the School Board unfortunately has no control are funding levels from the State and the devaluation of ratables within the Township, both of which affect our taxes. My short term goals are fiscal responsibility in the current difficult economic environment and implementing the new teacher evaluation program, EE4NJ, to ensure our children have the most qualified teachers possible. We must provide an educational system where our children can be prepared to meet the challenges of the future. Student achievement requires a program where each child is provided with the opportunity to succeed. In the long term we must look for alternate funding avenues to help provide tax relief and financial stability. One currently available avenue is advertising on school buses but it must be done with care. Finally it is important to ensure that South Brunswick has the best schools it can afford by balancing educational needs with fiscal responsibility.

Mr. St. Vincent

Currently, I believe there are several important issues confronting the Board and tax payers. First and quite obvious is the budget as it relates to state funding. Simply stated, we must identify areas that are underfunded and proceed in the most fiscally responsible way possible. It is important however that we do not compromise the integrity of education in South Brunswick.

We must again analyze the process by which funding is provided to the mandated state special needs programs. Inadequate funding in these areas must be a topic to be addressed regardless.

Finally I would address the privatization of public schools. The growth of non-traditional public schools, i.e.: Charter or On-Line Schools is crippling the system, as these schools acquire partial funding from school districts local to them. I am in favor of our “Traditional” Public School System; an integrated system which addresses the needs of all children in our community.

3. If budget cuts must be made to meet the 2% property tax cap, where would you trim and what programs would you fight to preserve?

Ms. Baig

Regarding the 2% property tax cap, I feel it would be premature to make any assessments on what should be preserved or cut without being able to review the information and hear from important stakeholders.

Mr. Kuehner

I would take a deep look to make sure that the buildings we use are all needed. If we can eliminate a building, we save on operating, upkeep and utility services.

I would fight strongly to preserve our extra curricular activities. I feel that we must provide our students opportunities to further develop with programs in social awareness, music, athletics and performing arts. We must be as fiscally efficient as possible in providing these programs, however. Studies show that the right combination of required educational programs and extra curricular programs allows our students to be successful in the classroom and beyond.

Mr. Nathanson

If budget cuts must be made, my hope, always, is to protect the classroom and instruction. Our previous cuts have demonstrated this commitment. The one saving grace is that the administration & the BOE have found grant money, refinancing savings, and other alternate revenue and cost-containment savings that have lessen the impact of the budget growth.

Dr. Parker

First and foremost we must preserve the quality of the academic programs as they are the core of public education. Secondly we must preserve the programs valued by this community such as the art and music programs and athletics. These programs complement the academics and provide additional opportunities for our children learn and to excel. We must work diligently to cut waste and improve efficiency within the school district to preserve the quality of our schools. I believe that with careful planning and prudent fiscal decisions we can stay under the 2% tax levy cap.

Mr. St. Vincent

If we are forced to make budget cuts, I believe that most of the cuts should take place at the Administrative Levels. We must preserve our student/teacher classroom ratios, insuring that our children are maximizing their classroom and learning experiences. I would also fight to preserve our existing athletic and extracurricular activities.

A vote for me would insure a voice for all parents and children of South Brunswick.

Your Children, Your Taxes, Your Voice!

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The Princeton Area League seeks new members (men and women) from the Princetons, West Windsor, Plainsboro, Montgomery, and South Brunswick.