Nine candidates vie for three seats on Edison school board


EDISON — The roster of nine candidates for the township’s Board of Education election could fill a baseball team, but these residents have a different idea of a home run — one of the three open seats on the board.

To help voters make an educated decision, the Edison Township Parent Teacher Advisory Council (ETPTAC) held a Meet the Candidates panel on Oct. 21. Seven of the candidates attended to take questions from the ETPTAC.

William Araujo, a Planning Board member and author who ran for governor as an independent against Gov. Chris Christie, said he’s looking for more ways to give back. He said he wants to see schools air conditioned, and would like the board to start getting creative about funding sources — possibly large companies interested in making an investment. Araujo also said he wants to look into bringing a grant writer to the district. He said he would like to serve on all the board’s committees, and wants Edison schools to be among the best in the country — schools that open as many doors as possible to higher education and jobs.

Shivi Prasad-Madhukar said she wants to work not just on behalf of her children in the district, but for all students in Edison.

“I believe that education is the single most important factor that can change a person’s life. There is no room for error,” she said. “Edison has an excellent school system, but there is always room for improvement.”

Prasad-Madhukar asserted that not enough effort is being put into students who are not “top tier.” She said she also would like to bring full-day kindergarten to the district, both by seeking to receive the district’s due in aid from the state and via funding from private corporations and foundations.

Kiel Thomas said he wants to bring cohesion to the board, as well as provide residents the opportunity to be heard.

“I’m running [for] the board to pull the board together, to work as one unit,” he said, adding that he also wants to bring transparency to the board. “We all have a stake in Edison; we all have a stake in our children’s growth.”

Thomas said he’d like to start an outreach committee to erase the imaginary line between north and south Edison. He also said he’s running at the request of parents and teachers.

Ralph Errico, principal of Franklin Elementary School in South Plainfield and former president of the ETPTAC, said he wants to be part of a board that “seeks answers and asks questions,” which he said is not happening now.

“I don’t think we have any checks and balances,” he said, adding that he can almost always anticipate a 9-0 vote on any given issue.

Also voicing concern about high taxes, Errico said they aren’t just driving seniors out of Edison, but also middle-aged parents who can’t afford to stay. He also said he would like to pursue instituting full-day kindergarten.

Hollie Gilroy, who said she has spent most of her adult career in public higher education, said she is running because education “equalizes the playing field for everyone,” and parents don’t have enough say in the process.

She praised the innovation and dedication that had students back in school in just a few days after the fire at James Monroe Elementary School. She said she wants all children to have the chance to succeed, and to that end, she is also in favor of full-day kindergarten.

“It’s not a luxury anymore; it’s a necessity,” she said.

Richard Brescher, owner of a construction company in New York City for nearly 25 years, said he had offered his expertise regarding building a new school to replace James Monroe at no charge — an offer that was accepted, but then rescinded once the bond for the school was passed, according to Brescher.

He said the current board has no one with construction expertise to be able to safeguard tax dollars in the project as he could. Brescher also said he wants to understand more about the state aid formula, and why a more affluent district like East Brunswick would get more money than Edison.

The only incumbent running for reelection is Debbie Anes, who talked about the need to prepare all students for the future. She said one of her recent accomplishments on the board was the favorable settlement regarding the rebuilding of James Monroe.

Anes said she and other board members have met with Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) about how to increase the state aid Edison receives, but she said their hands are tied because of the state aid formula. She said she’d like to continue addressing overcrowding issues. After a number of comments about full-day kindergarten, Anes said it wasn’t a matter of funding but a matter of space, as 32 classrooms would be required.

Dennis Pipala and Deborah Schildkraut, who could not attend the event, are running alongside Anes.

“I am running for the Board of Education because I sincerely believe a well-functioning and educationally excellent school system is critical to our community,” Pipala said after the event, adding that the school system is one of the reasons for the increase in property values.

“My goal … is to help assure that all of our citizens well into the future can continue to enjoy what we have received in the past.”

Schildkraut said she has her “finger on the pulse of the challenges and goals we all face, and can share the kinds of things on the minds of parents, students, teachers and support staff. It is critical to address the variety of needs for all students; one size does not fit all.”

In addition, she said, “I want to ensure people’s voices are heard, and that needs get addressed.”