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Edison school board race heats up

By Jacqueline Durett

EDISON—The Board of Education race this year has already seen some controversy.

Nilesh Dasondi withdrew after facing pushback about his eligibility to run with a criminal record for an immigration fraud scheme. His withdrawal leaves four candidates, Theresa Ward, William Araujo and Richard Brescher, who are running together, and Shannon Peng, who is running on her own.

There are three seats up for election this year.

Ward, an incumbent, said she, Araujo and Brescher are partnering together to advance board goals, “and we are committed to complement and enhance an already-excellent board of education record.”

Ward said she is looking to continue the work she has done on the board. “Edison Township has recently been ranked 19th among the 50 best places to live in America and that is due in no small measure to the people who work and volunteer in this community – including its schools. I’m proud to be one of them,” she said. “I do receive positive feedback from community residents and trust that Edison citizens feel they are receiving value as a result of my efforts.”

She said she is proud of her work on both the facilities and finance and equitable state aid committees, but more needs to be done. “Our high livability rating brings with it growth which, in turn, increases the volume and depth of issues our schools face.”

She called this year’s enrollment surge, enough to fill another school on its own, daunting. “Fifteen of our 17 schools are above the state feasibility standards by anywhere from 14 percent to 80 percent,” she said.

Ward also said she’s also committed to addressing the district’s shortfall in state aid.

“Our share of state aid, estimated to be short by $9 million annually, borders on penury,” she said. “We have met with and petitioned our legislators; our township leaders have pledged their support with a resolution. I have repeatedly presented county, state and education leaders with imminent facts that must be acknowledged along with a solution to alleviate our plight. And, if elected, I shall continue to do so vigorously.”

Araujo said he’s running because he wants to ensure district children are fully prepared and able to reach their highest potential. “As a parent of two graduating students from the Edison school system, I was given a first-hand perspective on the ins and outs. I want to make sure that all incoming and current students have access to the highest quality, whether it be the curriculum taught or classroom conditions, to name a few.”
He said that’s particularly challenging in light of overcrowding, but investments must be thoughtful. “Teachers and support staff are overwhelmed and students aren’t getting the attention needed with such a high volume,” he said. “We have to invest in our school’s infrastructure by adding on additional floors to our existing buildings. This will save millions of dollars, and at the same time, create world-class classrooms with the much-needed air conditioning and heating systems. Additionally, this will allow us to build state-of-theart classrooms for children with special needs and prevent outsourcing to different facilities outside of Edison.”

Araujo said that as president of his local union at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, “I have a lot of experience negotiating multi-million dollar contracts – my first priority are always my members and making methodological decisions that benefit all parties. My creativity allows me to think outside of the box, always dipping my hands in different things and having a multitude of conversations on any given day.” With that mindset, he’d like the district to hire grant writers, as he believes the district can secure millions in grants annually. “We can also engage large corporations to invest in our infrastructure and pay for a bulk of the cost of construction projects,” he added.

Araujo said voters who choose him are selecting an “honest, committed person who dedicates their time to helping others.” He is an auxiliary police officer and planning board member who has been recognized by the township for his service. He is also a published author and has three patents to his name. “My innovative thinking and passion for learning makes me a great asset to the board and being able to work together as a team towards one centralized goal – the betterment of our school system,” he said.

Brescher, who was born and raised in Edison, said he’s running because he wants Edison to “continue to be a premier school district. Our students need to be supported in all the different career paths they may choose to take, and ensure they are successful in those endeavors.” He said his experience with the district first-hand was so positive that he moved his family to Edison, where his sons later graduated. “As an alumnus, I have the utmost appreciation for the Edison education system.”

He also spoke about the overcrowding issue, and cautioned that inadequate facility space will have an academic impact on students. “Our students, teachers, and support staff, need to have sufficient space so they can help bring our students to their full potential,” he said.

He said he feels the current board is missing someone with “extensive knowledge in the construction, maintenance and insurance field.” Brescher, a construction manager in New York Ctiy who has been part of school renovation projects, said his professional experience can bridge this gap and help the board make “better and more cost-efficient choices.” He said he feels the board has dealt with “out-of-control budget costs in relation to construction spending.

“I will make sure that schedules are followed and costs are kept within the outlined parameters. We should never be surprised the last minute — in regards to delays or additional costs.”

Brescher said he is also concerned about the state aid issue. He said the district needs to better manage the budgeting process and find solutions to over-spending, and the state needs to fufill its obligation. He said he has been working with legislators on the issue and he will “continue to push the state until we are fully funded. However, we will still need to come up with additional forms of funding through grants, corporate partnerships and fundraising efforts. I will keep on looking to find other sources of money to bring to Edison and continue to ensure that our school district is one of the finest in New Jersey.”

The newcomer, Peng, a mother of two district elementary students, said her independence is an asset.

“My agenda is to work for the benefit of every Edison resident,” she said. “Just like all parents in Edison, I want the best education possible for our kids.”

She said she wants to see education be inclusive of all students and include arts, music, athletics and ethics. “All students in our district have the right to quality education,” she said. She added that her role as parent can help bridge communication between the board and other parents.

She said she’s concerned about how quickly property taxes have climbed and about district overcrowding. “Building permits should be issued with school capacity in mind. [Edison] should also enforce the zoning ordinance to stop multiple families from living in the same house.”

Peng has two master’s degrees and has worked in the software industry for nearly 20 years, which she said would also be an asset to the board. “My analytical skills and expertise on information technology will be helpful in the 21 st century learning with electronics devices,” she said.

When it comes to technology, though, she said the district may be implementing iPad usage too early and may be causing an increase in children’s vision problems. She said she believes that computers should not the primary tool for instruction in the upper grades. “[They] can never replace the traditional teacher-student face to face interactions in classrooms,” she said.

Peng said she also wants to see Edison get its fair share from the state. “Our school board needs to work with state legislators to work out a fair formula on funding for us,” she said. “Aside from state funding, the school board should also try to attract more private donations to our school, adapting certain policies to make this easier for private investors or small entrepreneurs.”



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