MONROE — Four candidates are vying for the three, three-year seats available on the Board of Education in the upcoming election.
Incumbents Jill DeMaio, Kathy Kolupanowich and Steven Riback are joined by newcomer Michael Elgawly in the race.
Jill DeMaio, 50, who is a 12-year resident of the township, is seeking her second term on the board. She is married with two boys, ages 14 and 16.
DeMaio earned her master’s in business administration (MBA) from Rider University and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Delaware.
“I have lived in Monroe for 12 years and have been involved in many sports with my children, baseball, soccer, ice hockey and Boy Scouts,” she said. “As well as participating in each of their schools PTAs (Parent Teacher organizations) and the high school Diamond Club, I am a member of Nativity of Our Lord Church and my kids are involved in [the church’s] Senior Youth Group and Bible Camp. I am also an avid genealogist and when able, I attend the Genealogy Club at the library.”
DeMaio said she has enjoyed working on the board during the past three years and serving the community of Monroe.
“There are many challenges facing Monroe and we are committed to an excellent education for all students,” she said. “We have been able to deliver quality education despite lack of adequate funding and exponential growth by keeping costs in check and looking for ways to bring in revenue. We have been able to renegotiate healthcare costs that have saved the district millions of dollars and have instituted an in house before and after school care, which is generating a profit. Looking for cost savings and possible revenue sources is something we do [on a continuous basis].”
DeMaio said the greatest challenge facing Monroe is exponential growth.
“We are seeing over 250 new students yearly and we have over 1,000 unhoused students,” she said. “We need a new elementary school, middle school and an addition to the high school.”
DeMaio said she has been involved in addressing the exponential growth problem by being a member of the Ad Hoc committee that looked at how to handle the growth.
“Currently, we are in the process of planning for a referendum in March for the middle school where our need is the greatest,” she said. “Next year we are going to need 12 trailers at the middle school to house all the students. I am looking forward to seeing this process to fruition.”
Michael Elgawly, 51, who is a 20-year resident of the township, is seeking his first term on the board. He is married with three children, ages 11, 8, and 5.
Elgawly earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Rutgers University, an Associate’s Degree in information technology from DeVry University and earned a Masters in Finance (MBA) from Rutgers University.
He is an economics instructor at Rutgers University.
In the community, Elgawly is a volunteer parent coach for the Monroe Falcon’s girls EDP soccer team.
“I’m running [for a seat on the board] because I feel we are hitting a pivotal time in our community,” he said. “Monroe is changing and in my opinion, it’s not for the better.”
As a Monroe resident, Elgawly said he is disheartened at the direction Monroe Township is headed.
Elgawly said he is tired of the wasteful spending, excessive increases in taxes, potential overcrowding of the district’s schools and he said he is frustrated with the current management of the school’s budget.
If elected, Elgawly said he would like to work on the budget to make sure it is benefiting the students and teachers.
He said he can help eliminate expenditures while maintaining a high level of quality education with a level of taxation that is not a financial burden to the Monroe residents.
Kathy Kolupanowich, 63, a 31-year resident of Monroe, is seeking her seventh term on the board. She is married with three adult children, who went through the Monroe Township School District, and is a new grandmother as of Oct. 2.
She earned advanced certification at Katherine Gibbs Business School and is employed as an executive secretary.
During her time on the board, Kolupanowich has served four years as vice president and seven years as president.
Kolupanowich has been an active member in the school community for 30 years having been a member and officer of the elementary, middle, and high school Parent Teacher organizations.
She has participated in numerous district committees including Strategic Planning, Middle States Evaluation for the High School, Community Relations, District Education Council and School Goals.
Currently, Kolupanowich serves as the treasurer of the Monroe Education Foundation, is a member of the Oak Tree/Applegarth PTA, a member of the Friends of the Library and represents the BOE on the Monroe Township Recreation Advisory Board.
Kolupanowich is also a member of the district Steering Committee and the Ad Hoc Committee for Fair Funding.
The long-time board member said she is running for another term because education constantly changes and there is still much to do.
Kolupanowich said the district needs to continue to fight for a fair funding formula from the State to alleviate the tax burden on the residents; deal with the growing student population in the schools, recruit and retain quality staff, make sure every child in the district gets a quality education based on their individual educational needs; and increase communication from the board to the community so all of the citizens receive accurate and up-to-date information.
“With my experience and knowledge, I’d like to continue on the path to Monroe’s educational success,” she said.
Kolupanowich said the district’s biggest issue is dealing with student growth, which is why the BOE passed a resolution in September for a referendum to build a new middle school.
“We need to educate the public as to why the school is needed,” she said. “The ramifications of not supporting [the referendum] are high — the cost of adding trailers throughout our district, higher costs projected down the road and the high probability the State would come in and tell us we have to build at taxpayer expense.”
Kolupanowich said when residents did not approve the first high school referendum, it cost the taxpayers an additional $41 million.
“We can’t let that happen again,” she said.
Steven Riback, 70, a nine-year resident of the township, is seeking his second term on the board. He is married and has four young grandchildren.
Riback earned a master’s in education from Long Island University and earned a certificate of advanced study in educational administration and supervision from the State University of New York at New Paltz.
He is retired after serving 37 years in education, 21 years as a classroom teacher and 16 years as a school administrator.
“I became active in my community almost immediately upon moving to Monroe,” he said. “I started a community based group called Citizens about Responsible Development. We brought to the forefront the issue of over development and its impact on the community in general, but with a focus on the school system.”
Riback said after spending 37 years in education, he said he believed that he could offer his community the benefit of his experience and knowledge and he wanted to give back and help make a difference.
“I believe that in my years on the board, I have been able to work with all board members and central administration effectively,” he said. “Monroe faces some serious challenges because of new residential development. We have been working hard to meet those challenges, which will necessitate a new middle school, new elementary school and addition to our high school.”
Riback said the bond referendum on a new middle school and subsequent referendums are key projects that he would like to see come to fruition.
“I feel that I have been actively involved in dealing with the issue of growth in Monroe,” he said.
Riback said he was a member of an Ad Hoc committee, which began exploring the data needed to make recommendations to the board. He is currently on an Ad Hoc committee for fair funding from the state as Monroe gets [nothing] in equalization aid and he is on the Board’s Steering Committee, which will be making recommendations to the full board for upcoming referendums and projects.
“I feel that my efforts here have given me the background to be effective in helping to formulate our decisions,” he said.
Polls open from 6-8 p.m. on Nov. 7.