By JACQUELINE DURETT
SAYREVILLE — Three incumbents and one newcomer will compete for one of three, three-year terms on the Sayreville Board of Education on Nov. 8.
Lucy (Lucille) Bloom is running for re-election, and the former Sayreville War Memorial High School teacher and Sayreville Education Association president said she sees how much more the board has to accomplish for district students.
She said the district faces aging facilities, potential overcrowding from the National Lead site project (The Pointe) and staff retention.
“I understand the needs of our students, as well as those of our staff. My goal over my past three years on the board has been to help improve the learning and work environment in our district. I will continue in that goal if re-elected,” she said.
Bloom said she also plans to continue to serve on the Building and Grounds Committee. She also chairs the board’s Blue Ribbon Committee, which she said has been tasked with addressing the overcrowding issue.
“Our goal is to make facilities recommendations to accommodate future enrollment trends and other facility needs to support 21st-century learners. The committee will act as key communicator in sharing recommendations and in building support for those recommendations within the community,” she said.
She said staff morale needs to be improved.
“Staff retention is key to consistency in education,” she said, adding that as a member of the Vision 2030 Committee, she hopes to discuss the issue with the Sayreville Education Association.
Incumbent Dan Balka said he feels being on the board is a way for him to give back to the community, adding that “a good school system is the backbone of any community.”
Balka, a CPA who heads the Budget Committee, said he is committed to balancing the needs of both taxpayers and students.
“I have always supported strengthening our school district and have done so while being financially responsible to the community,” he said.
He said he takes into consideration feedback from parents, students and community members.
Balka said he feels increasing enrollment and limited funding, particularly in regards to technology, are two of the biggest challenges facing the district. He said the state is not fulfilling its obligation.
“The state does not properly follow their funding formula, which results in shorting Sayreville by millions of dollars each year,” he said.
He said the district is looking at raising additional funds through advertising.
Balka said in spite of the shortfall, the district has worked to increase the types of devices that students have access to, including SMART boards, Chromebooks and iPads.
Regarding the enrollment issue, he pointed to the Blue Ribbon Committee’s work, adding that the committee has board members, community members and staff working together on solutions.
He said he is also concerned about residential development projects using PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) programs instead via the traditional property tax structure.
“These agreements result in people not paying their fair share of taxes,” he said, adding that The Pointe is lobbying the Borough Council for a PILOT. “With the volume of residences to be built on that property, the negative impact on the school district and the community will be immense.”
He said he would like to educate the public about the impact of PILOT agreements and encourage the council not to enter into these types of agreements.
Incumbent John Walsh, a former teacher, has three children in the district.
“When I left teaching to join the maritime industry, I decided I wanted to continue dedicating time to the education of our children,” he said. “I have seen our teachers up close and feel strongly that we have some of the best around.”
He said he is focused on staff retention and recruitment, class size and providing adequate facilities.
Walsh was the chairman of the Personnel Committee and participated in the superintendent search and feels that under Dr. Richard Labbe, the board has made great strides in his top areas of concern.
He also has served on the policy and the Vision 2030 committees and represents the district on the board of directors for the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey.
He added that he is concerned about the influx of students the district may take on from residential projects in the borough.
“I think it is important to work collaboratively with the town council and the mayor so we can be prepared for whatever challenges the new construction may bring,” he said. “As a Sayreville resident I look forward to our town growing and moving forward, but understand we need to have solid information so that we can plan on what kind of resources it will take to retain our staff, hire additional staff and keep all of our programs.”
He said he looks forward to implementing the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Committee.
Newcomer Ryan De La Uz was born and raised in the borough and attended borough schools. He is currently a weapons and ammunition quality engineer for the U.S. Army, and has a master’s degree in systems engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology.
He said he is running because he has two daughters who will be going through the borough school system, as well as family and friends currently in them. “I want them to have the best possible education they can have,” he said.
He said he feels the board does not get enough teacher and parent input before making decisions. He said in many families both parents are working, and as such information from the board needs to be easier to access.
“Without an overall consensus on parents’ and teachers’ opinions on major decisions made by the board, how will a fair decision ever be voted upon?” he said.
He said he has attended several parent-involvement meetings over the past five years, but only a handful of parents were in attendance. “
The board is well aware that parents will not show up to these meetings or they would have these meetings in a school gymnasium. I will come up with a method to try and ensure parents have all the information they need to make informed decisions about their kids, the schools and the teachers,” he said.
De La Uz also said he is concerned about how money is spent, particularly in regards to teacher salaries, adding that he does not understand how low-income districts can afford to pay their teachers more than their higher-income counterparts.
“Over 50 percent of our Sayreville property taxes goes to the Board of Education, yet there doesn’t seem to be a lot of educational improvement in comparison to neighboring districts,” he said.
In regards to funding, he also wants to examine how the funds the Parent Teacher Organization raises are used, and whether they are being used for items that should be covered by the board budget. He said he has concerns that funds are being misappropriated.
He said he would work “to ensure that every cent the board collects from property taxes (and other resources) is accounted for” and would hold the board accountable for its decisions.
In addition, De La Uz said he is against Common Core.
“It is an awful teaching system and makes some learning 100 times harder and more complicated than it should be, or expects children to be two years ahead of their reading level in order to understand the questions asked,” he said.
He said he believes “there are corrupt politicians getting kickbacks for forcing schools into using this horrible teaching method.”
He also pointed to Common Core reading assignments that he felt had inappropriate content for the intended age level.
He said he is also opposed to how school officials communicate about the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test and how they may be influenced by politics.
“There is a serious problem when the superintendent uses scare tactics toward parents stating, ‘In order to guarantee your eighth grade child from graduating high school, he/she must take the PARCC.’ There are other equivalent tests children can take to graduate high school,” he said.
He claimed these alternatives are not communicated.
“A board member/superintendent who is concerned about the children’s education and future before their own political or official position — pressured from the state and from federal influences — would never try to bully parents into doing something which will not benefit their child’s future,” he said.