MONROE: School board candidates tackle issues at forum

Candidates for the Monroe Township Board of Education fielded questions that addressed school issues at a candidates’ night forum at Monroe Township Middle School on Wednesday.

By Amy Batista, Special Writer
MONROE — Candidates for the Monroe Township Board of Education fielded questions that addressed school issues at a candidates’ night forum at Monroe Township Middle School on Wednesday.
   ”The most important thing to know is that it is very important for our community, especially our parents, to come out and advocate for our students by voting for Board of Education candidates on Election Day, because our children don’t have a voice in their education,” said Kathy Kolupanowich, board president in an email on Thursday. “We are their voice.”
   The event was sponsored by the Oak Tree-Applegarth PTA in conjunction with the League of Women Voters, which is a non-partisan political organization.
   ”I would like to welcome you to the first ever collaborative effort in an informative meet the candidates night,” said Jodi Desai, First Vice President of the Oak Tree-Applegarth PTA as she welcomed everyone. “We sincerely appreciate the candidates coming out this evening.”
   Seven of the 13 candidates – Michele Arminio, Thomas Nothstein, Steven Riback, and Frank Russo in addition to incumbents Louis Masters, Lew Kaufman and Ira Tessler were present at the forum and all are vying for three open seats on the board.
   Candidates who were not present were Deborah Schneider, Richard Gibbons, Daisy Robbinson, Michael Klein, Camille Ragin, and Richard B. Gibbons.
   ”There are two distinct educational philosophies by candidates running that could have a major impact on the future of education in Monroe,” Ms. Kolupanowich said. “It is up to each individual to do their research and make the best choice for their child.”
   The candidates each presented opening statements before tackling questions.
   Ms. Arminio has been a resident of Monroe for 32 years and resides with her husband, Bob. She belongs to the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government, which advocates for compliance with New Jersey Laws. She is also a licensed real estate agent for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in East Brunswick.
   ”I have attended many BOE meetings and council meetings and I believe in full participation,” said Ms. Arminio. “I am here basically to ask you for your vote because I believe that Monroe is a whole community and we should behave as such and that we should not be fragmented in our community.”
   According to Ms. Arminio, there is a lot “misinformation out there.”
   ”A healthy democracy system requires checks and balances, answers to questions, listening and learning,” Ms. Arminio said adding that she was there tonight to answer “your questions.”
   According to Ms. Arminio, if you elect her to be your representative she will “listen to your concerns, learn what your needs are, and act in a pragmatic and transparent matter.”
   ”I will continue to ask questions on your behalf and in the interest of our students in our school system,” Ms. Arminio.
   Mr. Kaufman, Mr. Masters and Mr. Tessler are running together on the same slate advocating fiscal accountability, excellence in continuing and maintaining in education, and leadership and experience “you can count on.”
   ”We share the same ideas,” said Mr. Masters.
   Mr. Masters resides with his wife, Corrine, and four sons, three of which are attending school in the district. He works for the Federal Home Loan Bank as a System and Software Engineer in New York City.
   Mr. Masters is seeking his second term on the board and is also a board member of the Middlesex Regional Education Services Commission Board since 2013. He is the chair of the buildings, grounds and transportation committee and co-chair of the finance committee in addition to serving on the policy and curriculum committee.
   ”I am running again because I would like to continue this effort and expand on the accomplishments we have made,” Mr. Masters said in reference to increasing student performance and fiscal efficiencies.
   Mr. Kaufman has been a resident in Monroe since 1995. He works for JP Morgan Chase doing global data privacy and data protection department. He has two children that have gone through the school system.
   Mr. Kaufman is seeking his fifth term and joined the board in 2001.
   ”If re-elected I will continue to be your advocate for school excellence in Monroe Township,” said Mr. Kaufman.
   Mr. Kaufman first joined the board in 2001 and commented on the “transparency issues and challenges” and “teacher morale” during that time that he faced since being elected.
   ”I would like to think that during my tenure on the board a lot of those challenges have certainly been cleaned up,” Mr. Kaufman said.
   Mr. Nothstein has been a resident in Monroe since 1985. He has two children that graduated from Monroe. He is a technical sales engineer and project manager, which deals with industrial automation for a company in Brooklyn.
   ”Without these types of forums it is hard to get a good feel of the candidates,” said Mr. Nothstein.
   According to Mr. Nothstein, it is his desire that Monroe has a “stellar educational system” after the school experience he had growing up in Jersey City and being sent to parochial schools due to the “deplorable conditions” that the public schools were in.
   ”I don’t feel we are quite meeting that,” Mr. Nothstein said. “We do have a good system in Monroe. It’s been improving somewhat but it’s not nearly where it needs to be.”
   According to Mr. Nothstein, approximately 60 percent of the budget is spent on the school system. Roughly 51 percent on the senior citizens “that don’t even impact the school.”
   ”My concern is are we really getting the most bang for the buck,” Mr. Nothstein said. “We need to make sure that we are good stewards of the money that the taxpayers fund to the schools. More importantly we need to make sure our children are getting the education they deserve for their future.”
   According to Mr. Nothstein, if you vote for him and his running mates Ms. Arminio and Mr. Riback “you will have some fresh eyes and look at the current state of our school district and hopefully improve it for the better.”
   He has attended “nearly” every school and council meeting since 2003, according to Mr. Nothstein.
   Mr. Riback is a retired teacher, assistant principal and principal after 37 years in the education field. He worked with teachers to develop professional development programs and workshop in addition to writing grants to fund programs.
   ”The key to a successful lesson is motivation and if you are motivating the students and you are motivating your teachers you have most of the battle won right there,” said Mr. Riback. “I am instrumental in fighting what I see is a real threat to our community and our schools and that’s this high density construction.”
   According to Mr. Risnack, the development on Route 33 and Perrineville Road, The Market Place, was estimated to bring another 1,200 students to the schools when completed and the application was “denied without prejudice.”
   Frank Russo has been a resident of Monroe for the last 16 years. His wife works for the Monroe Township School District. He is a United States Air Force veteran and has worked as an IT manager for the United Nations for the last 32 years.
   ”My reason for running is a little different,” said Mr. Russo as he held up his tax bill and talked about the various increases in his taxes over the last few years.
   ”I found out that the school loses $1 million on an I-Pad project,” Mr. Russo said who feels that future IT projects are sure to grow in scope and costs.
   According to Mr. Russo, the people are telling the school board something and they are not listening.
   ”So I lost confidence in the school board and that’s why I want to run,” Mr. Russo said adding he feels he can “be an asset.”
   According to Mr. Russo, the school board has not served with “the best interest of the stake holders, the taxpayers, the teachers, the administration and more importantly, the students.”
   Ira Tessler has been a resident of Monroe for the last 17 years. He is a trustee of the Monroe Education Foundation for the past 10 years. He serves as the vice president, chair of the personnel committee and a member of the building and grounds committee on the board.
   ”Over the past three years we have worked with the administration to cut costs in the district,” said Mr. Tessler.
   According to Mr. Tessler, the board saved the district $1.7 million by offering the staff an insurance opt out program, saved $4 million by refunding the high school bonds in order to reduce the interest rate, joined a joint a purchasing consortium which saved them $748,000, and saved another $1.5 million by switching health care brokers.
   ”Since 2009, there has been a steady increase in the (NJ ASK) test scores in language arts, math and science which is great news for Monroe and homeowners,” Mr. Tessler said noting that there is “room for improvement.”
   ”We will continue to improve the education opportunities for Monroe from special education to honor students,” Mr. Tessler said adding that the board did this while opening a new high school, renovating Applegarth Elementary School and moving into a new middle school.