Allen tapped as prez of Old Bridge board

First-term board member to graduate from college this spring


Staff Writer

OLD BRIDGE – The Board of Education reorganized Tuesday night, swearing in its newest member and electing its youngest as president.

With Matthew A. Sulikowski taking his seat on the dais for the first time, and longtime board members Annette Hopman and Ellen McDermott being sworn in to new three-year terms, the board voted to make John Allen, a 23-year-old Rutgers University student, its next president.

Allen, who will graduate from Rutgers this spring, was elected board president in an 8-1 vote amid some worries related to his age. Allen, now finishing his first three-year term on the board, is believed to be the second-youngest board president in the district’s history.

“I was the first one to support John when he decided to run a couple of years ago,” board member Frank Piccillo said, “and I think he’s an excellent board member. I think he’s a very bright young man with a promising future. … But I do not believe he possesses the leadership qualities at this point in time necessary to lead this board in the right direction.”

He also said he felt Allen might be “blinded by the notoriety” associated with serving as board president. But chief among Piccillo’s worries was that Allen has not yet had to deal with issues that other board members face.

“For someone to lead this board who has never paid property taxes, and a board that is in control of over a $100 million budget, I cannot sit here, honestly, and tell the public that I will support John Allen for presidency,” he said.

“He’s just not ready,” he added.

Piccillo told the Suburban that when the board was voting on the appointment of Superintendent of Schools Simon Bosco earlier this year, its members were accused of preparing for the appointment in a secretive manner. The same thing has happened here, he said.

“I believe that the inappropriate process that some of the board members have been accused of in the past has occurred tonight,” he said Tuesday.

Up until 24 hours before Tuesday’s meeting, Piccillo said, Allen was expressing support for another member to be president. But, Piccillo said, some members had a problem with the dynamic that would have been created by that person’s election and sought to break that support. As a result, he said, that board member, whom he feels is more deserving of the position, would not have had the necessary votes.

Piccillo said he did not nominate that member for that reason, and that he is disappointed in his fellow members for the way this happened. Board members, he said, keep up the appearance of harmony, when in reality they are split on one issue or another.

“I will not try to portray any kind of unity [when there isn’t any],” Piccillo said.

Attempts to reach Allen for comment on this story were unsuccessful prior to press time yesterday.

Allen has served in the face of serious challenges during his two years on the board. He headed the board’s Strategic Planning Committee, which oversaw the drafting of a controversial redistricting plan at the elementary schools, as well as the changing of feeder schools at the middle school level.

Before his graduation from Old Bridge High School in 2001, Allen was the board’s student representative.

He is currently a double major in political science and economics, with the hope of becoming a college professor.

When he ran for the board in 2004, Allen told the Suburban that his recent experience as a student in the district would be a boon to the board, and that his youth did not mean he couldn’t do the job.

“My age should not be of any consequence,” he said at the time.

Piccillo cast the lone dissenting vote for Allen as president.

Linda Ault-McLaren, a board member since 2000, was elected vice president, also in a vote of 8-1 with Piccillo in dissent. Ault-McLaren has chaired the board’s policy committee and has served on several other committees, including technology, public relations, finance, athletics, food services and long-range planning.

Ault-McLaren said the board is currently assessing goals from last year in order to determine what must be done this year. District officials will work to tie up loose ends from the recent district-wide construction project, and work toward the smooth transition of movement to the new single high school campus.

“We’ll go forward from that,” she said.

Ault-McLaren said she is pleased with Allen’s election as president, and is optimistic about the board’s future.

“We’re going forward on a positive note,” she said.