School board seats widely contested

Candidates file in Princeton, Montgomery, West Windsor-Plainsboro

By: David Campbell, Jake Uitti, Emily Craighead
   Except for Princeton Borough and a seat for a one-year term in Montgomery, area voters will have a choice when they go to the polls April 18 to vote on school board candidates.
   Here’s a rundown of candidates who filed petitions Monday to run for the board of education in the Princeton, Montgomery and West Windsor-Plainsboro districts:
Princeton Regional
Four candidates have filed to run for three available seats on the Princeton Regional Board of Education, which will mean a race in Princeton Township but uncontested bids in Princeton Borough.
   Caroline Mitchell, a former home-school liaison for the district who lives on Tupelo Row, and Mia Cahill, an attorney who lives on Ridgeview Road, will vie for one available seat in the township, district officials confirmed Monday.
   Joshua Leinsdorf of Forester Drive, who holds one of two available borough seats, said Monday he would seek a third term on the board. Rebecca Cox of Madison Street also filed as a candidate in the borough.
   Three seats with three-year terms are available on the board, which has nine elected Princeton members and one appointee from Cranbury, a sending district to the high school. Two of the available seats are in the borough and one is in the township.
   Township resident Anne Burns, a six-year veteran of the school board and its current president, announced in December that she would not seek re-election. Glenn Schiltz, a borough representative on the board, also will not seek re-election.
   Board member Charlotte Bialek said Monday that she is delighted with the quality of candidates this year. "We have a great candidate pool," she said. "All are active volunteers, all obviously care and should be assets to the board."
   Ms. Mitchell has been active on the Minority Education Committee, and has been involved in district and community issues for many years. She was unavailable for comment Monday.
   Ms. Cahill runs a law office located on Independence Way in South Brunswick. In addition to her law degree, she has a doctorate in sociology of law from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has been a visiting faculty member at New York University and Rutgers University.
   She wrote a book on anti-discrimination law, and her scholarly work has been published in the Stanford Law Review, Law & Social Inquiry, the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy and the Law & Society Review, according to her firm’s Web site.
   Ms. Cahill has worked with parents of autistic children and is a board member of the Princeton Educational Foundation, the Web site said. She was unavailable for comment Monday.
   Ms. Cox has two boys at Community Park School, a second- and a fifth-grader, and is in her second year as co-president of the school’s parent-teacher organization. She worked for several years as a financial journalist, first at The Times of Trenton and then at Bloomberg.
   She said she is running for a borough seat on the board with a mandate to ensure the schools are well run. She said her primary concern for the next three years is the district budget and constraints put on it by S-1701, the state law that tightened caps on school budgets.
   "It doesn’t take into account fixed costs, which will mean cuts somewhere else," Ms. Cox said. "I would like to be part of the process what happens to the budget."
   Mr. Leinsdorf, an election analyst who has also taught fifth grade in Trenton, cited budgetary issues as a pressing concern for the district. "It’s going to be a very ugly three years in terms of the budget," he said. "The state is broke. The big question is what do you cut?"
   He said he wants to ensure that spending cuts are not made in the classroom. He said he wants to see a reduction in spending for and reliance upon busing, which he said could mean annual budget cuts of up to $2 million and greater flexibility for adjusting school opening hours.
   Mr. Leinsdorf said he wants to see physics taught in lower grades so children understand the principles of friction, force and speed before getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle or think of using a gun. He also said he would like to get the New Jersey School Boards Association to deal with education issues and leave the tax issues to the Legislature.
— David Campbell
It will be a wide-open race for the township Board of Education with two of the four members whose terms are up in April, including board President Richard Specht, not seeking re-election.
   Four seats are open in this year’s race and there are eight candidates. Three seats carry three-year terms — those of Mr. Specht, Susan Carter and Reginald Luke — and one, now held by Wayne Fox, is a one-year term.
   Both Mr. Specht, who has been on the board for six years and served as the board’s president for the past year, and Ms. Carter, who has been on the board for 10 years and has served as the chair of the board’s Policy Committee, have said they will not run for re-election.
   "Because of some professional opportunities and a desire to spend more time with my family, I’m not running for re-election," said Mr. Specht. "The person who previously held my seat, Ben Bernanke, also retired after six years and he went on to become chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, so there is life after the board."
   Ms. Carter said, "I’ve enjoyed serving, but I think it’s time for other people to serve."
   Dr. Luke, who has been on the board for 18 years, will run unopposed for the remaining year of Mr. Fox’s term. Mr. Fox was appointed last year to fill the remaining two years of board President Linda Romano’s term after she resigned.
   Dr. Luke said staying for one year would provide some continuity in negotiations with several employee unions, which require new contracts this year.
   Mr. Fox will run for a three-year term.
   "I (was on the board) for a year," Mr. Fox said, "and I would like to continue serving the school district. I still think Montgomery Township needs to be an open book, so taxpayers can see what value they are getting. I want to see a high-quality school district."
   In addition to Mr. Fox, township residents who filed to run for three-year terms are Saul Rubinstein, Lisarenee Benz, William Hyncik, Mark Conforti, Mohamed Kilany and Christine Ross.
   Mr. Kilany and Mr. Rubinstein have been outspoken critics of the incumbent board and administration, voicing their concerns during the board’s regularly scheduled Tuesday meetings over transportation and spending.
   In July 2004, Mr. Hyncik was selected to fill the seat that was vacated by former board member Douglas Kling. Mr. Hyncik had lost a bid for re-election three months earlier.
   Ms. Benz, who is a self-described homemaker, has been a resident of Montgomery for eight years, has three children in the school systems, and has been an active member of the district’s PTA.
   Mr. Conforti and Ms. Ross were unavailable for comment.
   This year’s election comes on the heels of a contentious 2005 election, during which four new members were elected to the board and the sole incumbent was defeated. Also, the school’s budget was voted down by a 2-to-1 margin, and a second question to provide every student with a laptop computer was defeated more decisively.
   This year’s election also comes at a time when the board is searching for a new superintendent of schools. Current Superintendent Stuart Schnur has announced he plans to retire July 1.
— Jake Uitti
West Windsor-Plainsboro
Both West Windsor and Plainsboro will have contested races for three open seats on the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional Board of Education.
   Four newcomers — including a high school student — are running for two open Plainsboro seats on the board. They are Anthony Fleres of Mifflin Court, Anjani Gharpure of Blossom Hill Drive, Neal Phenes of Chandler Court and Christopher Pordon of Hampshire Drive.
   Meanwhile, in West Windsor, incumbent Stan Katz of Rumford Way will face Park Hill Terrace resident Brett Boal in a race for the single open seat in West Windsor.
   Each seat carries a three-year term.
   Plainsboro incumbents Henry Wieck and Liyou Yang said they would not run again, citing work-related and personal reasons. Mr. Wieck served two terms and Mr. Yang served one term on the Board of Education.
   Mr. Fleres served on the Citizens Referendum Team, which campaigned in favor of the recent successful facilities referendum. He moved to Plainsboro in 1993 and has a daughter in third grade at Town Center Elementary School and a son in seventh grade at Grover Middle School.
   "I think my services would be good for the board," in helping to oversee the referendum projects, said Mr. Fleres, a civil engineer. He is also concerned about making sure taxpayers get the best value for their tax dollars.
   The only female candidate, Ms. Gharpure, said she is running because she wants to ensure that all the district’s students have access to the programs that have benefited her children. Currently a stay-at-home mom with children at Community Middle School and High School North, she has served for three years on High School North’s Parent Teacher Student Association.
   "I wish to give back and serve the community and school district by making sure that the school district continues to provide quality education while taking into account the tax burden on local citizens," she said. "I would also like to ensure that the referendum projects are completed with minimal disruption and within budgets."
   Mr. Phenes, a lawyer at American Reinsurance, has two children in kindergarten and second grade at Wicoff Elementary School. He said his main concern is rising property taxes, but he is also worried about the student-teacher ratio and whether all students, including those not headed for an Ivy League education, have access to the resources they need to succeed.
   "I’m interested and willing to spend the time to make sure my fellow citizens know what’s going on," he said.
   Mr. Pordon, a High School South senior, said he wants to bring a strong student voice to the board, with new ideas and the desire to keep property taxes down. He moved to Plainsboro nine years ago and said he plans to attend college in New Jersey so he can serve out a three-year term if elected.
   Mr. Boal is asking West Windsor residents to vote for him because he wants to change what he sees as the district’s failure to push students to excel, particularly in math. He has daughters in kindergarten, fourth grade and eighth grade.
   "The system does not allow as many kids into pre-algebra as they should," precluding them from taking calculus in high school, he said. He attributes student success to outside tutors, rather than to their teachers. He said he also is concerned that the district is failing to take into account population growth in its strategic planning.
   The incumbent, Stan Katz, has served 10 years on the Board of Education. Finance Committee chairman for five years, Mr. Katz was a member of the boards that oversaw construction of the district’s three newest schools. He said he wants to make sure projects approved in the recent referendum go just as smoothly.
— Emily Craighead