Board candidates discuss priorities

By: Lea Kahn
   The three incumbent candidates for the Lawrence Township Board of Education are in agreement — overcrowding at the public schools must be addressed, most likely through a bond referendum.
School board members Philip Benson, Janardhan Manickam and Lawrence Reccoppa are seeking re-election to the three, three-year seats up for grabs in Tuesday’s school board election.
   "We have to alleviate overcrowding, particularly at Lawrence High School," Mr. Benson said. "One of the reasons I am running again is because I want to be involved in developing the building plan and getting a referendum through."
   Also, Mr. Benson said he wants to make sure students improve their reading scores on standardized tests. The scores are good, but they could always be better, he said.
   The academic performance of black males also is a concern, he said. The children do well in school until they reach the fourth grade. Then, their performance begins to decline, he said.
   "I want to see what can be done to improve their academic performance," he said. "We will discuss it as we go along with the superintendent and the staff. There really is a problem."
   Dr. Manickam said one of his priorities is to provide adequate school facilities to ensure students receive the best possible education. That objective can be achieved through a bond referendum, he said.
   Some of the facilities, such as the science classrooms, are outdated, he said. A lack of classrooms in some schools means children are taught art and music by teachers who bring the materials to them on a cart, he said. At the Slackwood School, overcrowding means the library has been converted into a classroom. The library has been relocated to the basement.
   Dr. Manickam also said he wants to devote more time to long-range planning. For example, it is important to plan ahead for the eventual departure of Washington Township high school students and the loss of tuition revenue.
   Washington Township pays tuition to send its high school students to Lawrence High School under a contract that expires in 2005. Washington Township is planning to build a high school so it can educate its own students when the contract expires.
   Mr. Reccoppa said that working on a school bond referendum is one of his priorities. He said he wants to see what form it would take and what it would include.
   Mr. Reccoppa also said he is concerned about the impending departure of Washington Township students from the district. It will be necessary to take a hard look at how the district will handle the loss of tuition revenue generated by Washington Township, he said. The district anticipates receiving $3.3 million in tuition for 2002-03.
   He said he wants to continue working on ensuring all children learn to read at an early age. The current review of the special education program also is of interest to him, he said.