Three compete for two board seats in UFRSD

Newcomer faces two incumbents in upcoming election


Three candidates are vying for the the two Upper Freehold Regional Board of Education seats up for grabs in the April 20 election.


Newcomer Steve Gagliardi, 41, of Revere Court, faces incumbents Patty Hogan, 46, of Liberty Court, and Joe Calvitti in the campaign for the three-year term on the board. Married with two children, Gagliardi graduated from The Virginia Commonwealth University and works as the northeastern regional manager for Bio-Rad Laboratories. Married with two children, Hogan graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and works as a Realtor. Calvitti, who’s married with two children, is an application engineering manager who graduated from Ursinus College and Stevens Institute of Technology.

What are the most challenging tasks in the school district at this time, and what would you do to address them?

Gagliardi: How do we remain fiscally responsible and still provide our youth with the best possible education? The national budget crisis has affected each of us, and we are now feeling it in our schools. The current proposed budget has a reduction in teaching staff that will increase our studentto teacher ratio in the classrooms. This will put more strains on our teachers. I recommend that we initiate a parent volunteer program in the classroom, starting with the elementary grades. This program has been successfully used in other states to maximize the education of their children. Parents could help reduce some of the administrative burden on teachers and perform small projects. In addition, small group reinforcement at the direction of the teacher could reinforce the lessons.

Hogan: The most challenging tasks in the school district at this time are opening the new school on time and within budget, as well as continuing to increase student achievement with our current and future budget restrictions. Finding alternative sources of revenue, preparing staff for increased class sizes and having suitable curriculum to meet all needs in these larger classes. Planning and implementing additional shared service opportunities with other learning communities is also a challenging task.

Calvitti: UFRSD state aid has been reduced by 30 percent. The budget this year and in the near future is the single greatest challenge with the state aid the biggest constraint. We need to lobby for better leadtime for changes in state aid, and proper incentives to link state aid amount to the school budget. Additional cuts in state aid will devastate the school district. Significant improvement has been made as indicated in above-average test scores at Upper Freehold Regional School District, where the cost per pupil is below average. Additional cuts in programs need to be minimized. Substance abuse is a problem at all schools. Allentown High School is no worse than the average public or private school. Random Drug Testing (RDT) is a good deterrent for good students. I welcome RDT with my own child, but RDT does not address the root cause of drug use. RDT has minimal impact on children who do not value participation in clubs or sports. The school does a good job with limited resources in educating children on substance abuse, but we need to improve how we educate the parents. Easier said than done, but we cannot give up on educating parents. Parents are the best deterrent.

Why do you think taxpayers should or should not support this year’s proposed budget in the election?

Gagliardi: Each Upper Freehold taxpayer must look at their own financial budget and decide if they can afford an additional $851 in taxes based on an assessed value of $492,900. In an environment where many of us have taken pay reductions or become a two- or three-income family in order to survive, can we really afford to pay more?

Hogan: I believe our taxpayers should support this year’s proposed budget in the election. The revenue losses of this district have been devastating. The programs at all levels have been cut. Fees have been introduced. Schools are the No. 1 factor in the resale value of your home. Our taxpayers understand the importance of education. The school board and Dr. Fitzpatrick have been diligent in making sure that spending has been cut to a minimum, but we will continue to provide the children of this community the ability to continue to maximize their academic growth.

Calvitti: It’s not easy to support the budget. No one can be happy with huge budget cuts that do nothing but raise the school tax levy by almost 10 percent. There are always particular reductions that can get one upset. I almost voted no as a board member on issues that triggered my own emotions. A taxpayer at the public hearing made a good suggestion — wait 24 hours to make a decision. Go to the school website and educate yourself on the issues, then wait 24 hours until you make a decision. Please do not make an emotional vote. I’ll be voting in support of the budget on Tuesday because additional cuts will be severe. Your vote is your decision.

What do you think the school district’s options will be with regard to reducing spending or increasing revenue if the reduced state aid and other financial trends continue?

Gagliardi: It is very difficult to know exactly what the future will provide. However, by making the difficult decisions today, we can reduce the financial strain in the future. School districts will need to look at and eliminate redundancy in both personnel and activities.

Hogan: Increasing shared services would be a revenue opportunity for the district.

Calvitti: See my response above. State aid — the cuts this year are significant. Our state aid has been reduced by 30 percent.

How would you feel trying to negotiate a salary freeze or giveback with teachers, administrators, and other staff members if necessary?

Gagliardi: Unfortunately, both of these options may need to be explored. Our teachers and staff are definitely world class. The Upper Freehold teachers were among the first to freeze their salaries for six months. This has reduced the burden tremendously. I am sure they would discuss ideas of how we can achieve our budgetary needs.

Hogan: Negotiating a salary freeze or giveback with teachers, administrators and other staff members is and has been an ongoing process during this budget. If we can find a way to not fire a teacher by asking for a salary freeze or giveback, then it is our obligation to do so.

Calvitti: During the first round of budget cuts, based on a 10 percent reduction in state aid, the local teachers’ association did proactively volunteer a giveback — the first giveback in the state. We have a good partnership with the local teachers’ union, and need to help each other. Given the fiscal crisis of the state, we will need to ask for more help in the future. I also realize whenever I am in a foreign customer’s lab or at my company’s contract manufacturer in Thailand, that our teachers and administrators have a more import role than ever in our children’s future. Unlike in a corporation, teachers’ pay is not correlated to the corporation’s profit or return to profitability.

What do you think about the new middle school project?

Gagliardi: One of the biggest opportunities must be the anticipated opening of the new middle school for the 2010-11 school year. This will provide much needed space for expansion and a facility designed for excellence. This new opportunity brings some potential pitfalls and areas of concern. The administration and Board of Education will need to develop strong plans to deal with new staffing requirements, technical needs, facilities management, and logistics issues. The community is dependent on these professionals to make the right choices that will be effective for the next five to 10 years, if not longer. If done correctly, this school will advance the educational excellence of the district.

Hogan: The middle school project was and is critical to this district. It is my hope that the new middle school will have a positive effect on the financial crisis in the district and in the homes throughout the community by eliminating the overcrowded learning environment in the elementary and middle school, opening up critical learning space for students and significantly increasing student achievement. This will make our school district even better and therefore our homes more valuable.

Calvitti: The middle school is on time and in budget, and the impact on this year’s operating budget is only to support custodial staff and increase in cost of utilities. For sure the elementary school, middle school and high school programs will suffer in the near future.

How will you help preserve what UFRSD has achieved in recent years as having one of the top public high schools in N.J., a well-rounded offering of Advanced Placement and honors courses, and better state test scores?

Gagliardi: Before cutting any program or activity, we must identify whether it will provide an impact or opportunity for the rest of the participant’s life. If it does, we must fight to save this program. That may mean an alternative form of funding (i.e., private/corporate donations or fundraising). We need to establish a mechanism for applying these donations to a specific program or event. We live in a community that crosses all walks of society and are represented by all areas of society. The combined experiences and knowledge within our community must be used to achieve our goals. We must look at new, novel ways to continue all of the recent advances in our school district. Too many ideas are met with “that will never work here.” Our country was founded on the ingenuity of the person. Therefore, we must explore each idea and see if it can help further the education of our youth. Only then can we truly provide the strong roots and wings to our youth.

Hogan: The groundwork has already been done in this district. The test scores have risen in the double digits. The curriculum improvements in the elementary/middle school — writers’ and readers’ workshops and Envisions math program — teach to all levels of learners. The AP course offerings at the high school are getting more of our students into better colleges and universities. All of these things make your homes worth more. I’m invested as a mom, community member, homeowner, school board member.

Calvitti: Budget cuts that impact honors and AP course need to be lowest in priority. SAT scores, AP scores and the percentage of high school children in honors classes directly impact property value.