Last week, the Manalapan K-8 PTA Presidents and the MEMS Booster Organization sponsored a “Meet the Candidates Night” for the upcoming Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District Board of Education election.
Seven candidates are vying for two open seats on the Board of Education and their names will be on the ballot come Tuesday, Nov. 6. The candidates include incumbent AnnaMarie Galante, Martin Mabe, Alana Nachmani, Joanne Schecter, Ryan Urgo, Brandon Jacobs, and Brett Rappaport.
“Meet the Candidates Night” consisted of introductory and closing statements by the candidates as well as a question and answer section moderated by a member of the League of Women Voters. Jacobs and Rappaport were unable to attend the event, but have provided statements explaining their positions.
Galante is the incumbent on the Board of Education, who has served for the past three years. She has three children who have attended the Manalapan-Englishtown K-8 school district.
“As a Board member I try to provide a quality education for all of our students,” Galante said. “There is a reward, which is the student achievement and the success rate and to have an environment to lead to more successful lives.”
Galante said that being a member of the Board of Education is a “constant commitment and big responsibility.” The Board works on such thing as improving curriculum, personal hiring, establishing the annual budget, contract decisions, and transportation policies, Galante said, and she said she strives to be a voice for the community in making decisions.
Mabe, his wife, and their two sons have lived in Manalapan for nearly ten years. Currently, Mabe serves on the Township Emergency Management Committee, the Englishtown-Manalapan Volunteer First Aid Squad as an EMT, Manalapan’s Transportation Committee, the Manalapan CERT team, and the Monmouth County Medical Reserve Corp.
Mabe’s primary concern is district taxes. “I am a small business owner who, in this tough economy, has had to hold down a second job just to make ends meet,” Mabe said. "Living in a community like Manalapan is not cheap.”
Since the largest portion of Manalapan’s tax dollars go to the public school system, Mabe said that a business approach is needed to keep the district healthy and functioning.
“I believe we have one of the most fiscally responsible Districts in the state . . . but I do believe that there is always room to be better,” Mabe explained.
Mabe said that the district should look into shared services, grants, and local sponsorships as a means to save taxpayers money.
Additionally, Mabe said that since school tax revenues are based property taxes the property assessments need to be performed again since home values have dropped.
His three focus points for the district are ensuring the best education for the students, creating a timely contract for the teachers’ respective of their hard work and also mindful of the taxpayers, and to make sure all of the budget is spent wisely and transparently.
Nachmani is a teacher and was born in Manalapan; she did her student teaching at Pine Brook School and holds three teaching certifications. She is an active member of the Community Alliance, secretary of the Manalapan Arts Council and a member of the Environmental Commission.
“As an educator and an active community member, I truly have the students’ best interests at heart,” Nachmani said.
Nachmani cited literacy, safety, health and wellness, and a sense of community as the most important aspects of the students’ education. She also said she is pleased with the technology in the schools as well as the anti-bullying and environmental programs.
Schecter has been a resident of Manalapan for 46 years and went through the Manalapan-Englishtown school system. Schecter currently has one child within the district. She also volunteers on the PTA and was the President of the PTA for three years at Milford Brook School and for one year at Pine Brook School. Presently, Schecter is the treasurer of the MEMS-Booster Organization.
As a PTA President, Schecter said that she has knowledge of how school’s work and has been a liaison between parents, administration, and teachers. “I have also worked with administrators during budget constraints to find creative solutions so our children are not drastically impacted by budget cuts,” Schecter said.
She said that her volunteer work within the school would be beneficial in making positive decisions for the district.
Urgo, 32, is married to a teacher at Taylor Mills School and they have a young daughter and have lived in Manalapan for a decade. A graduate of Rutgers University with a Bachelors in Psychology and a Masters in Public Policy, Urgo works for the pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly.
Urgo explained that he is running for Board of Education because he has a vested interest in the future of the district with a wife as a teacher and a daughter who will be entering the public schools in several years.
Besides enhancing the educational system, Urgo said he wants to improve the culture on the Board - including their responsiveness, interactions, and transparency. “I think my job experience lends nicely to these goals in the sense that I have been involved in relationship management and negotiation on a regular basis,” Urgo said.
He also cited creating a new teachers' contract is a priority since the teachers' have not reached a contract agreement and have worked on an old contract for the past two years.
Jacobs is a 41-year-old father of an 8-year-old girl who attends Lafayette Mills School. Jacobs and his wife, Shannon, have resided in Manalapan for the last 8 and a half years. While volunteering at school events including carnivals, Bingo, and holiday parties, Jacobs said he realized that he wanted to make a difference on an even larger scale.
“I have decided to commit to making a difference and change for the better – the Board’s culture and practice for fostering a positive relationship with its stakeholders in the community who support quality education for our children – like the parents, teachers, support personnel and administrators,” Jacobs said.
After witnessing several Board of Education meetings first-hand, Jacobs “was appalled with the manner in which our current Board members ran the meeting, and interacted with themselves, and the public who were in attendance.”
He said that the Board was only interested in non-transparency and keeping a system of non-accountability which has created an air of mistrust between the Board and the community.
“There has to be a balance of treating people fairly, hearing people’s concerns, and then making responsible and ethical decisions for the good of the order,” Jacobs said. “At all times, we should be working together, as one team, for our schools – that includes the people who work for our schools and volunteer their time in our schools.”
Some issues which Jacobs is concerned about include communication between parents and the Board, the teachers’ contracts which have been in negotiation for two years, and a need for coming up with outside of the box solutions.
Rappaport is a 40-year-old father of two who has an Accounting Degree from Syracuse University and is currently working on getting his Masters in Taxation. He is the host of a talk radio show and has lived in Manalapan since 2006. He also is a soccer coach and has “spent a great deal of time with hundreds of the children who are within the K-8 school system.”
“I do believe that our children's education and their development during these years is the most important factor in shaping their future,” Rappaport said. “Regardless of what federal and state standards or mandates may be, we must strive to exceed the expectations and challenge our students to be the best students they can be.”
Rappaport said that providing the necessary tools for success is vital and that a strong administration, Board of Education and teachers can help accomplish that.
Wasteless spending is also something Rappaport said he is mindful of. Rappaport also said he is committed to reducing the use and abuse of drugs by students on all levels.