Nine candidates seek Edison school board seats


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EDISON — Nine candidates are vying for the three, three-year term seats available on the Board of Education in the upcoming election.

Incumbents Beth Moroney and Jingwei “Jerry” Shi face seven newcomers including Carol Bodofsky, Elizabeth M. Conway, Ruchika Juneja, Falguni Patel, Aquib Virani, Sunil R. Vuppula, and Maria C. Wise.

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Two candidates are vying for the one-year un-expired term available.

Paul Distefano, who was appointed in April by the Board of Education (BOE) to fill the seat vacated by longtime member Deborah A. Anes after her passing in March, will face newcomer William Araujo.

William Araujo, 47, who is a 15-year resident of the township, is seeking his first term on the board.

He is married to Iris and they have two adult children, Michael and Samantha, who went through the Edison Township School District.

Araujo is a graduate of the Joseph D. Aries Apprenticeship School.

In the community, Araujo is a member of the Edison Township Planning Board, president of his local union and previously served as a sergeant for the Edison Auxiliary Police for a number of years. He is also a published author and a holder of three United States patents.

Araujo said he is running for a seat on the board because he loves to be involved and help those that cannot advocate for themselves.

“Each person has something to contribute to this board,” he said. “For me it’s making sure our tax dollars is spent directly on our children’s needs.”

Araujo said he is not a big fan of charter schools because it takes away much needed funding for the public schools.

He said he would like to incorporate some ideas from his employer New Jersey Institute of Technology as it pertains to technology. He said he would like to work close with other universities to make sure that all of the students are prepared for college not only in high school, but also on the middle school level.

Araujo added that having a background in construction gives him the knowledge to aid in the development and maintenance in schools to help lower costs.

Carol Bodofsky, 67, who has lived in the township for 35 years, is seeking her first term on the board. She is married with two daughters, both graduates of J.P. Stevens High School.

Bodofsky earned her bachelor’s degree from Douglass College at Rutgers University and earned her master’s degree from Glassboro State College, now Rowan University.

She is a retired public educator having taught in three New Jersey Public School districts for a total of 30 years. She was a teacher in Edison for just under 20 years and also taught at Monmouth University in West Long Branch.

In the community, Bodofsky has been involved in local Girl Scout troops over the years. She served as a troop leader, as a consultant, trainer and service unit director. She is also a member of St. Helena’s Roman Catholic Church in Edison where she served as a member of the CCD Parent Teacher Association and also as a teacher.

She was a longstanding member of PTAs holding many positions at a number of schools. She is on the JPS FCCLA (Family Career and Community Leaders of America) state advisory board.

Bodofsky said she believes that a strong and efficient public education system is the foundation for democracy.

“I have attended Edison BOE meetings, asked questions, made comments and suggestions for over 25 years,” she said. “It is hard to be an effective force for change, when you are not part of the decision making body. I believe that I can help keep the excellence in Edison and make more of a difference as a member of the BOE because I will be able to be pro-active, rather than re-active, or after the fact, which is all I can be as simply a concerned citizen.”

Bodofsky said overcrowding in the schools need to be addressed.

“Our schools are excellent and our students are awesome,” she said. “Our problem is that we have too many students for the space we have. We need to continue to provide [students] with nothing less than excellence.”

To do that, Bodofsky said the district needs room to grow and the staff and materials to support the learning needs of all the students.

“Learning in the 21st century reaches far beyond what we remember from our school days and Edison students need to continue to achieve their fullest potential,” she said. “We need to think out of the box”

Elizabeth M. Conway, 63, who is a 35-year resident of the township, is seeking her first term on the board. She is married with three adult children and a 5-month-old grandson.

Conway earned a bachelor of arts degree in special education and a master’s degree in Urban Education from Jersey City State College. She retired in June 2016 after teaching in the Edison School District for 16 years.

In the community, Conway has coached sports and had been on executive boards of the community sports leagues, is an active member of varied PTAs and PTOs throughout the district, including serving on their executive boards.

She has served as president of the Edison Township Parent Teacher Advisory Council for several years, currently is the chairperson of the Associated PTA/PTO council’s scholarship committee, has attended BOE meetings for more than 25 years and is an active member of Community Action Reaches Everyone (C.A.R.E.).

Conway said as an active member of her community for more than 25 years, she felt it was time to take the next step by becoming a Board of Education member.

“I have wide experiences which I can share with the board and feel that I could add opinions and advice to the board that would be beneficial to the school district,” she said. “I am a tax payer, a parent, a former teacher and most of all a voter in Edison.”

If elected, Conway said the one area which she would like to be involved with is the curriculum, specifically the special education department, which is where she has most experience in.

“I have seen the changes made over the years in special education and I would like to give advice to those making the decisions as to what has worked and what has not in my opinion,” she said.

Paul Distefano, 52, who has been a resident of the township for more than 18 years, is seeking his first elected term.

He is married with four children, ages 13-24. His three sons are J.P. Stevens High School graduates and his daughter is in middle school.

Distefano is a graduate of St. Peters Preparatory High School in Jersey City.

He has been a real estate appraiser for more than 30 years and currently manages an appraisal department for a worldwide workforce mobility company.

On the BOE, Distefano is a member of the Technology and Curriculum committee and Policy and Personnel committee.

In the community, Distefano is a member of the Edison Township Ice Hockey Parents Association for both J.P. Stevens and Edison High School. He is the former board member of J.P. Stevens Back of the Net Soccer Club, former member of J.P. Stevens High Stix Lacrosse Club and has done extensive coaching and managing of youth sports over the past 20 plus years.

He is past president of the Metuchen Area Chamber of Commerce and is a recipient of the chamber’s Citizen of the Year. He is also a commissioner for eminent domain hearings in Middlesex County.

Distefano said he is running for the Board of Education so he can try to make a difference.

“The children and the taxpayers need a voice,” he said. “I am the only candidate with young children in the school system.”

Distefano said the key issues that have had an impact on his family and he cares about are special education and athletics.

“My children have been part of both programs [in the district] and have benefited greatly,” he said. “I’d like to use my experiences to help the programs and other students who could benefit. The biggest concerns of the community are the overcrowded classrooms and taxes. These issues will need to be at the forefront of the board agendas going forward.”

Jerry Shi, who is a 25-year resident of the township, is seeking his second term on the board. He is married with two adult children.

Shi earned a master’s in business admistration and a master’s in science degree in computer science from Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. He is a project manager for a pharmaceutical company.

In the community, Shi has been involved with the Huaxia Edison Chinese School for more than 18 years. He served as a member of the J.P. Stevens Band Parent Association for six plus years, member of the Human Relations committee at the Edison schools, a member of the New Jersey Chinese Festivals Association, and he has organized and volunteered his time with multiple local/national nonprofit organizations.

Shi said as a parent, he wants the Edison Township School District to have the best teachers and staff, to have the curriculum choices continue to expand, and the student’s learning environment to be exceptional.

“As a taxpayer, I want our property values to increase while tax increases are well controlled,” he said. “As a board member, I want all the students to have the good experiences my children enjoyed and eliminate the bad ones.”

As a board member, Shi said he wants to continue to develop policies that can create an environment focusing more on teachers teaching and students learning and maintain an independent, ethical, financially responsible and trustworthy school board that will work hard for students and taxpayers.

Shi said the number one priority that needs to be addressed is the overcrowding in the district.

“Overcrowded classrooms are putting students learning at risk, making it easier for struggling students to fall through the cracks due to lack of one-on-one interactions with teachers,” he said. “Overcrowding is also seen as the root cause of teachers’ dissatisfaction. Overwhelmed teachers cannot meet the needs of their many students. Although teachers give more than they’re asked to give, there has to be a point where they have to say it is enough. Overcrowding will lead to many problems in the long run.”

Shi said another issue that needs to be addressed is technology usage in the schools especially with the lower grade students.

“Technology should be used as supplement tools and well balanced,” he said. “Students should be taught by teachers and not computers. The over usage of electronics will also result in less and less human face to face interactions, which will be critical for our students’ success in the future.”

Beth Moroney, 68, who is a 35-year resident of the township, is seeking her second term on the board. She is married with a daughter, who is a graduate of Edison High School.

Moroney earned her bachelor of arts degree in English and history and a master’s degree in English literature from Montclair State University. She received a school administrator certification from Kean University in Union.

She retired in 2013. She was an English teacher in Bridgewater-Raritan for 14 years before coming to J.P. Stevens in Edison where she taught English for 15 years. Moroney then spent two years as the assistant principal at J.P. Stevens, Woodrow Wilson Middle School for eight years, and ended her career as the administrator in charge of the two pre-schools in Edison, the Edison Early Learning Center (EELC) and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Preschool.

Aside from the Board of Education, where she has served as vice president for the past two years, Moroney is a member of the Edison Municipal Alliance and serves on the Board of Trustees of the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park.

She has served as the board liaison to the Edison Public Library for three years and is a consultant to the New Jersey Commission on the Holocaust, which is a branch of the New Jersey Department of Education.

Moroney said she is running for re-election to the board because serving the community as a board member has brought her 45-year career in education full circle.

“I have been a parent, a teacher, and an administrator in the district and bring more knowledge of what a school system is all about than any other candidate running,” she said. “Giving back to the community that put its faith in me as an educator is one of the most important things I have ever done.”

Moroney said being involved on the Board, especially as vice president has allowed her to address the concerns of the citizens in the community.

“I have returned every phone call and e-mail sent to me by the various stakeholders and followed up every question and concern that has been brought to my attention,” she said. “I will continue to operate in this manner if re-elected.”

Moroney said there are so many areas in which she has been involved since coming on the Board, which include negotiations with the teachers and custodians, as well as the loss of the James Monroe Elementary school due to the fire and the fight with the insurance company that ensued.

“The Board has fought for Equitable School Funding, which is essential in order for the BOE to address the number one concern in Edison right now, the overcrowded conditions of our schools,” she said. “My passion, being a former teacher, is the Curriculum and Technology Committee, on which I have served for the last two years. I have been serving as the chair of the newly implemented Personnel Committee, which is essential in hiring the most qualified administrators and staff possible as the Edison Schools move forward.”

Moroney said if re-elected, her first area of focus will be overcrowding.

“Edison Schools are in crisis and we must find a creative way to build new schools without over burdening an already over-taxed community,” she said.

Falguni Patel, 32, who is a four-year resident of the township, is seeking her first term on the board. She is married.

Patel earned her bachelor of arts degree in political science and psychology from Rutgers University and a law degree from Western New England University in Massachusetts.

“I am an attorney and a product of the New Jersey public school system and a Rutgers University graduate,” she said. “I am also a committeewoman for my district. In this position, I was able to connect with a lot of parents who have voiced their concerns regarding issues that are affecting the school system like overcrowding, so I decided to do one of two things. Either I send messages to the proper channels so these issues can be addressed or I become part of the decision making process. So here I am running for the BOE.”

Patel said one of issues that really hits home for her is the one of financial and debt management.

“Since graduating law school I have seen my peers struggle to make ends meet, buy homes, and get married all because they can’t get out of debt,” she said. “Just the overall uncertainty for what they wanted to do in the future contributed to their increasing student loans.”

Patel said being $200,000 in debt at the age of 25 is not the American dream that the generation before her had envisioned and it is not the dream that she has for the next generation.

“In my opinion, we can address this issue by implementing courses related to debt and finance management, creating and funding existing programs that encourage kids to discover their passion and become well rounded,” she said. “Giving them that flexibility early on will allow them to compete in a rapidly changing world.”

Patel said she and her husband bought a home in Edison because they are invested in the future of Edison.

Aqib Virani, 27, who is a lifelong resident of the township, is seeking his first term on the board.

Virani is a 2008 graduate of J.P Stevens High School. He earned a bachelor’s of finance degree from Rutgers Business School and is currently working towards an MBA. He is expected to graduate in May 2018.

He is an entrepreneur with an e-commerce start up, retailer of fine jewelry and hospitality management and real estate acquisitions.

Virani said he has been involved with the community since he was student.

“Whether it was volunteering at JFK Hospital or tutoring his fellow peers after school, I was deeply invested in helping my community grow academically and economically,” he said.

Virani said the Edison Public Schools have been great to him and have shaped him into becoming the successful person he is today.

“I give credit to all my teachers from Kindergarten all the way to 12th grade for all the lessons they taught me about life and academia,” he said. “The public school culture also molded me into having the competitive edge. Because of all the great things the public school system has done for me and my peers, I want to give my knowledge and expertise back to the system to make sure our girls and boys are not only getting the best education, but are having the great culture I had back when I was in school.”

Virani said from residents he has talked to the township’s taxes are high because of an over-inflated school budget.

“Coming from a financial background, I would like to dive into the budget and see which areas we should spend more and which areas we should spend less,” he said. “ROI [Return on Investment] is a big term we use in the business world and I feel investing in our teachers and facilities will give us the best return.”

Virani said the public schools are more overcrowded than they were when he was a student and he said another issue is teachers are not being treated fairly.

“People say our school systems are already top rated we don’t need to change anything,” he said. “The fact that the school system is strong is true, but to keep something strong and well sustained, capital and human capital investments needed to be made wisely.”

Sunil Robert Vuppula, 49, who has been a resident of the township for 12 years, is seeking his first seat on the board. He is married with two children, ages 17 and 5.

Vuppula earned two master’s degrees, a master’s in business administration and another in communication and journalism. He is a marketing director for a tech firm.

In the past, Vuppula offered ideas on ways to foster communication with teachers at Woodbrook Elementary School.

“I am actively involved training young kids in communication and leadership, having run leadership boot camps for kids” he said adding that he also volunteers at Rahway prison teaching communication and leadership skills to inmates.

Vuppula said he is running for a Board of Education seat to offer his skills in leadership.

“I bring a different world view and a diverse set of skills to make our school district even greater,” he said.

Vuppula said he is concerned that the district is not developing the well-rounded student.

“I am particularly concerned about kids who have potential to do better, but for a plethora of reasons are falling behind,” he said. “In that sense I would like to examine how the bottom half of the class is doing and strive to move the needle there.”

Ruchika Juneja and Maria C. Wise did not return election questionnaires before deadline. Polls open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 7.

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