WW-P School Board 2012: West Windsor

West Windsor Candidates Answer League Questions

Vote Tuesday, April 17, 2012, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

EDITOR'S NOTE: These are the verbatim responses of the West Windsor Township candidates for the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional Board of Education to questions presented by The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area in cooperation with The Princeton Packet. 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 one (three-year term)

Peter Abitanto - Insurance broker focused on employee benefits for NJ School Boards

Michele Kaish - Stay at home mom and school volunteer

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

Mr. Abitanto: Despite great results in the past, the district is faced with challenges such as balancing the $161 million budget while keeping taxes stable, high expectations of student success with continued demands to do more with less, and maintaining class sizes that provide the best opportunity for all the children to get the necessary attention. If elected, I would work closely with the eight other Board Members and district administration to maintain and improve current levels of excellence by reviewing what our district does relative to other high performing districts and try to identify opportunities for improvement. I would support any efforts that will benefit the children's education and safety, while maximizing the tax dollars available within the budget.

Mrs. Kaish: Responsible Fiscal Management – We need to consider economy and efficiency in our school budget. Every expense should be justified and every dollar should be spent wisely. To lower costs, I would look for programs that are underutilized and explore whether they could be consolidated or otherwise provided more efficiently.

Classroom Consistency – Classes should have clearly-defined and consistent standards and expectations. Each child should have a uniform experience no matter which school he attends or which teacher she has. The district should assess and facilitate parity in assignments, grading practices, and the content and pace of the curriculum.

Technology – Technology should be used to improve communication and transparency. Furthermore, curriculum should be adapted to better integrate technology into instruction. Better use of technology in communication and instruction could yield cost-savings to the district.

What are your thoughts about curricular and financial policies?

Mr. Abitanto: With three children in the district, I see firsthand the curriculum challenging the students with problem solving, analytical thinking and working collaboratively with others. I am very proud of the results I see with my children's development. As far as the financial performance of the district, the cost per student is $12,388, which ranks among the best in the County. When comparing that metric to twenty-four other high performing districts in the State, there are eight with slightly lower results and fifteen that are higher. While the results are outstanding, there is room for improvement.

Mrs. Kaish: I support the district’s goal to educate the “whole child,” both in and out of the classroom. Teaching and learning should always be child-centered. Class size should be kept down so all students are supported and engaged in learning to their potential. Every attempt must be made to maintain the depth and breadth of extracurricular activities.

In maximizing our limited resources, quality instruction and programs should not be compromised. Fluctuating state aid and caps necessitate careful evaluation of the school budget so that educational goals are met economically. Budgets should continue to fall below the state cap limit. In keeping costs down, emphasis should be placed in areas that have the least impact on students.

Describe how your personal experiences and involvement with public schools would qualify you as a member of the Board.

Mr. Abitanto: My firm manages the employee benefits programs for over 285 NJ Boards of Education. This is the second biggest line item in the budget and one of the most complex. As you could imagine, I work closely with administrators and board members in the collective bargaining process. I am focused on identifying cost savings opportunities, while maintaining the integrity of the benefits program. That process involves negotiating a fair and equitable deal and providing solutions while working collectively with administration and the teachers union. I have spent many hours with Business Administrators, Superintendents and Board Members throughout the State discussing their specific challenges, and I would have access to these contacts for input on challenges we face. Identifying opportunities and finding solutions is part of my everyday life and skills that will prove useful if elected.

Mrs. Kaish: For 15 years, I have been a committed WW-P volunteer. In addition to countless hours volunteering in classrooms, clubs and teams, I have held every possible PTA board position. My hands-on experience and in-depth knowledge of how our schools operate on a day-to-day basis give me a unique perspective. I will bring to the board a successful history of leadership working collaboratively with WW-P stakeholders.

As an active district volunteer and PTA leader

  • I have experience making budgetary and fiscal decisions during difficult economic times. My past decisions maximized our resources and benefited the largest number of students. As a board member, I will continue to be guided by these principles.
  • I created the process of sending weekly emails to parents at Village School. I am the current writer of the CMS PTSA Weekly News Update. I will continue to look for ways to use technology for effective communication as a board member.
  • I oversaw the implementation of the “Just Write a Check” programs at DNS and CMS, a response to parental dissatisfaction with traditional fundraising. I will bring these same listening skills and ability to implement constructive change to the board.

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