The most competitive area school board election Nov. 6 will be in Egg Harbor Township, where 11 candidates are vying for four seats, in a district that served 7,800 students last year.
Candidates range from concerned parents to veteran educators, and even a recent 19-year-old graduate of the district.
Justin Riggs, at 19, is the youngest of the candidates. A liberal arts student at Atlantic Cape Community College, Riggs has graduated from serving as debate coordinator at the high school debate club to campaigning for a spot on the district’s Board of Education.
“I feel I bring a unique perspective that none of the other candidates can provide,” he said. “That’s a perspective that only a student who graduated from the district can understand.”
Riggs said he’d like to see students and teachers take on a more direct role with the board, which decides many aspects of school operations.
Most candidates, however, are concerned about maintaining a balanced budget while providing a quality education to the township’s children.
“Our tax base continues to contract as the cost of education continues to rise,” said Shae Dailyda, 50, who has two sons in the district. “We need to make some hard decisions now to put this budget under control before it gets worse and we won't have options.”
In order to do that, Dailyda said the board needs to look into creative measures, such as having older students tutoring younger ones.
Lisa Dagit, who serves as director of curriculum and instruction in the neighboring Hamilton Township district, said Egg Harbor Township taxpayers need a break. Dagit, also 50, said she’d bring her institutional knowledge of district operations to her role on the board.
“Being I have experience in education via my career, what better place than the Board of Education?” she said.
Paul Rosenberg, the 32-year-old president of Yellow Cab Co., said his top priority is to get spending under control without sacrificing education.
“The past two to three years’ economic situation demands a little more thriftiness,” he said. “I just don’t see that from the current members of the board.”
But Jack Haines, an incumbent who’s served on the board for 13 years, said balancing the budget isn’t that simple.
“Close to 95 percent of your budget is fixed based on the mandates from the state,” he said. “We run that budget really close to the vest — there’s not a lot of wiggle room.”
Haines, 56, said a good school system is a financial benefit to the district because it increases property values. His goal, if re-elected, is to promote a “clean, safe learning environment.”
Neil Anderson, 59, a 15-year incumbent, said the board has worked to give Egg Harbor Township as much value as possible for its taxpayer dollars. One example, he said, is the projected $20 million the district will save over the next 15 years after hiring an environmental consultant.
“We’ve always been aware of spending and have been doing things to help us reduce costs,” he said.
Brian Biscieglia, 39, decided to run this year because his 6-year-old son just entered first grade.
“I think we have a responsibility toward the children’s education and to taxpayers to balance the budget and make the budget open to people so they can see where tax dollars are being spent,” he said.
Stephen Rando, 40, an Atlantic City police officer and vice president of the Rando Bakery, said he’s worried that some children may still be slipping through the cracks of Egg Harbor Township’s schools, in spite of a $112 million budget.
“Unfortunately, there’s tough decisions that have to be made when you have to make cuts,” he said. “But children should come first.”
He also would like to see the schools adopt uniforms for the students.
“With what it costs to buy kids’ clothes for a school year, it would probably cut costs,” said Rando, who has three children in the district. “It also eliminates problems (because) people who don’t have as nice clothes as other kids tend to get picked on.”
Mary Anne Spiker, who’s served on the board for six years and returned to fill a recently vacated seat earlier this year, said she’s focused on new evaluation standards announced by the state this year.
“I want to stay on top of that and keep moving in the right direction,” she said. “Egg Harbor Township is so far ahead of so many places.”
Spiker, 62, is a retired math teacher who’s organized the high school’s alcohol-free Project Graduation event for more than a decade.
After taking a year off to care for his ailing parents, 10-year board member Pete Castellano, 49, an attorney at the Federal Aviation Administration’s William J. Hughes Technical Center, decided to run again this year.
“My priority is to get as much additional funding as we can for the district and to keep expenditures low,” he said.
That has included energy-saving measures and the Community Partnership for Egg Harbor Township Schools, a non-profit that Castellano helped form that raises funds for the schools.
One of the candidates, Lorelei Faber, could not be reached for comment.
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