Serving on board takes long hours

Three three-year School Board seats up for grabs in Monroe, Jamesburg and Cranbury.

By: Rebecca Tokarz
   School board members say it takes a lot of time and a willingness to jump right into the thick of things to serve on the Board of Education.
   Three three-year seats will be up for grabs in April’s school board election in Jamesburg, Monroe and Cranbury. Anyone interested in running for a seat on the nine-member school board has until March 1 to file a petition at the Board of Education office.
   In Jamesburg, Thomas Bodall, Patrice Faraone and Mike Tehan are up for re-election this year.
   In Cranbury, Walton Caldwell, Adam Hawes and William Persons are up for re-election.
   In Monroe, three-year school board veteran Lew Kaufman says he’s willing to serve the community if elected to another three-year term. Carol Haring, currently serving her ninth year on the board, says she hasn’t made up her mind yet.
   Also up for re-election this year is Amy Speizer, who could not be reached for comment.
   Ms. Haring said she needs to give the matter some thought before making a decision to seek another term. She said it’s logical that she should continue with the board if elected, but the amount of time the position takes is a drawback.
   "I haven’t decided just yet," she said Tuesday. "I’ve been on the board and I have a great deal of experience. It would make sense for me to continue, but it takes a great deal of time. I’ve been privileged to have served this long."
   The Board of Education is in charge of creating district policies. Those policies are implemented by the administration and keeps the school district operational, according to Frank Belluscio, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association.
   Collectively, the school board is responsible for providing adequate facilities and equipment, the necessary financing for the present and future of the district and effectively communicating education issues and policies to the public.
   Mr. Belluscio said that for members of any school board to be successful, they need to be willing to make adjustments.
   "They need to be willing to learn. There is a sharp learning curve. They need to develop a knowledge of policies and labor relations," he said.
   Most importantly, Mr. Belluscio said, a school board member should be able to understand that board members are not managers, they are policy-makers.
   "They need to know the difference between being a policy-maker and a manager. Their role is to evaluate the superintendent, whose job is to manage the district," he said.
   According to Mr. Kaufman, being a member of the Board of Education is not for everyone. School board members need to take on the challenges of being involved in projects that fellow members may already be familiar with.
   "You don’t have a lot of ramp up time," he said. "You are dropped right in and you have to hit the ground running.
   With eight other Board of Education members to work with, and countless members of the administration, Mr. Kaufman said, there are times when board members need to put aside their personal differences for the betterment of the school community.
   "As a board member, respect the right to disagree. I may not agree with you, but you have to agree to disagree," he said.
   Mr. Kaufman serves on the Personnel Committee, and two ad hoc committees that worked on getting a $82.9 million high school plan approved by voters in December. In addition, he is the chairman of the Technology Committee.
   He advises anyone considering a run for the school board to be self-motivated and have strong convictions.
   "The kind of person who believes in education and can make good decisions and can point yourself in the right direction," he said.
   Ms. Haring, who won a one-year unexpired term in 1994, has been in the school board mix ever since and called the experience a great accomplishment.
   Ms. Haring said she’s served on every committee during her time on the board, including Curriculum, Finance, Policy, Transportation and Negotiations. She’s even served as board vice president for two years. Ms. Haring took it upon herself to take additional classes offered by the NJSBA in order to be better informed about the decisions that needed to be made. For that accomplishment, she’s considered a master board member, she said.
   "It’s a big responsibility — our budget is bigger than the township’s," she said. "There’s a lot of stuff to digest and two meetings a month and a packet."
   Ms. Haring said it takes a lot of time to prepare and that school board members often rely on professionals to help them along with policy-making decisions.
   "We depend a lot on the people we hire. We don’t know everything about everything," she said. "We listen to professionals and weigh what they say and be sensitive to the public."
   People interested in running for school board can pick up a candidate kit at the school board office during regular business hours, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
   Nominating petitions must be filed with Business Administrator Wayne Holliday by 4 p.m. March 1. The public will have the opportunity to meet with the candidates prior to the April 20 election, at a yet to be determined date.
   Those interested in running for the board need to have a petition signed by 10 township residents who are registered to vote in town. Those signatures serve as confirmation that the candidate is legally qualified under state laws to run for the school board.
   The state requires all school board members to be able to read and write English, that they live at least one year in the district in which they are seeking election and that they have no interest in, or claim against, the school board. Board members cannot hold office if they also are mayor or a member of the municipal governing body. They must be a registered voter in the district, according to Mr. Belluscio.