By KATHY CHANG
WOODBRIDGE — Six candidates are vying for the three, three-year seats available on the Board of Education in the upcoming election.
Incumbents Jonathan Triebwasser and Joseph Velez and newcomer Akshar “A.J.” Sidana are running on the McCormac Team and face three challengers — Thomas (Tom) E. Maras, Mubashir Ahmad and Rupal Patel — in the race.
Velez, who is seeking his first elected term on the board, is a 46-year resident of the township.
He is married with two young daughters.
Velez is a graduate of Woodbridge High School and a 34-year veteran of the Woodbridge Police Department. He is currently a police lieutenant supervising the detective bureau.
He formerly served as a county corrections officer and a Middlesex County Sheriff’s Officer.
Velez said he instructed at the Junior Police Academy, provided fingerprinting identification services at St. Andrews Church and St. John Vianney Church and assisted many Boy Scout troops with attaining their fingerprint badges.
He has previously served as treasurer for the Woodbridge Police Benevolent Association No. 38 and recording secretary for the Woodbridge Supervising Officers Association.
In January, Velez was appointed to fill Brian Small’s remaining term when Small was sworn in on the Township Council.
“Having lived and worked in town for many years I feel now is the time to give back,” he said.
Velez said, if elected, he would work on realizing district-wide full-day kindergarten and is committed to a world-class education at a price that the community can afford.
Triebwasser, who is seeking his third term on the board, is a 25-year resident of the township.
He and his wife have three adult children who have attended and graduated from the Woodbridge public schools.
Triebwasser earned a degree in civil engineering from the State University of New York and a degree from the Culinary Institute of America.
He said he has done a lot of things for the community, which he said he would rather be unrecognized for, including helping with various fundraisers and Tooling Around the Township.
Triebwasser said his experience is unique since he served the Woodbridge Township School District in food service and transportation for 17 years. He currently serves the Point Pleasant Borough Board of Education as director of food service and transportation.
For years, Triebwasser said the Woodbridge School District has received a lot of bad press, which he said has since turned around with a new superintendent and administration.
“We made a major commitment to turn around and focus on cost containment,” he said.
Triebwasser said with collaborations and partnerships with the municipality, the board has been able to allocate funds into the classroom offering students a top-notch education and providing resources to administration and teachers.
“I think we are the only district in the state with this kind of shared-service collaboration with a municipality,” he said.
During his tenure on the board, Triebwasser said he was instrumental in increasing investment for technology, such as the implementation of a new fiber optic network, resulting in increased speed and bandwidth while saving the district $200,000 annually.
Additionally, with the Board of Education, he worked in partnership with the township to usher in state-of-the-art facility improvements throughout the school district.
Sidana, who is seeking his first term on the board, is a lifelong resident of the township.
He is a 2000 Colonia High School graduate and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in information technology from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Sidana is a business owner of Indianica Academy, an academy of performing arts, based in the township.
He said he has worked with students through his academy and as a tutor with the desire to give back to the community.
“I believe that the education system works wonders with the right kind of influences and decision makers,” he said, adding that he looks forward to having the privilege of joining a team that continues to bolster and enhance an already well-rounded education system.
Sidana said he is an advocate for creating a positive, more conducive and well-equipped environment for every student to flourish to their full potential.
Patel, who is seeking her first term on the board, is an 18-year resident of the township.
She is married and has three teenagers, ages 15, 17 and 18.
Patel earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree and is an art teacher in private schools.
“I am involved in a cultural activity where we try to establish values in the life of kids ages 5 through 16,” she said. “I also assist students who are going to take the SAT exam in the near future by understanding the test myself and teaching them basic strategies.”
Patel said being a mother of three as well as a teacher in three different schools, she said she notices on a daily basis what she perceives as a lack of values in the education system.
“Programs such as DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) should be reestablished to instill values and raise awareness in students,” she said. “I believe I can bring an important perspective to the Woodbridge Board of Education.”
Patel said also being a wife of a businessman, she is well aware of the high taxes that people pay in general.
“With that in mind, we should at least make students the central focus of our spending in terms of the percentage of taxes that goes towards the education system,” she said.
For example, she said, the district should spend more money inside the classroom for things like electronic devices that may allow students to do better research and [engage in] interactive activities.
Patel said, if elected, one area she would like to focus on is incorporating creativity in education.
“Things such as artistic posters, debates and group projects can not only maintain a student’s interest in the subject, but also give them a better understanding of it through visual and interactive methods,” she said.
Ahmad, who is seeking his first term on the board, is an 18-year resident of the township.
He is married with three adult children. He earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree and is a business manager operating a service-oriented store in the Iselin section of the township.
Ahmad said he also is involved with Humanity First USA, a nonprofit organization established to promote and safeguard the preservation of life and dignity.
He said he is running for a seat on the board so that he can be a proactive member of his community who is willing to volunteer his time and business talents to cut costs and improve scholastic achievement in the school district.
Ahmad said, if elected, he would focus on improving the education standard.
Maras, who is seeking his first term on the board, has lived in the township for more than 35 years.
He has two adult children. He studied business and psychology and obtained a New Jersey real estate license.
Maras said he went from a very blue collar background to assistant senior executive vice president with Foster Wheeler Corporation followed by director of procurement at Stone & Webster, Ras Tanura Project, Saudi Arabia.
“My involvement in my community has been actively ongoing for the past 15 years,” he said. “During that time, I have been a strong community activist, the vice president of a local AARP organization, a member of the Fords Seniors, the Cpl. Reinhart Marine Corp League and the Woodbridge American Legion.”
Maras said this is his third time running for a seat on the board.
“Because of my love of this diverse community, I am compelled to try to use all my knowledge of the community,” he said.
Maras said his blue collar/international corporate expertise is essential to contain school taxes and to ensure the school district will be ranked among the highest in the state.
“Based on our school district’s $230 million budget, I have a hard time understanding why our school district is graded a ‘C-’ by Ballotpedia.org, a grade I will work to improve,” he said.
Maras said, if elected, he would focus on improving the district’s curriculum.
Polls will be open from 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Nov. 8.