MARLBORO – Three three-year terms on the Marlboro K-8 School District Board of Education will be on the Nov. 6 election ballot. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The six residents seeking the seats are Stephen Shifrinson, Robyn Wolfe, Kathleen Amster, Rakesh Chandwani, Sarah Harris-Kreisler and Michelle Montecalvo.
Shifrinson and Wolfe are incumbents seeking re-election.
Amster is an 11-year resident of Marlboro with five children in different grade levels from elementary school to college. She is a physician assistant and CEO of the Amster House.
Chandwani is a four-year resident of Marlboro with two children, one is a freshman at Freehold High School and the other attends Rutgers University. He is a senior planning manager at Verizon.
Harris-Kreisler is 17-year resident of Marlboro, a mother of two children in the K-8 school district and is a small business owner.
Montecalvo has lived in Marlboro for four years and has 10-year-old twin boys who are enrolled in the K-8 district. Montecalvo is a professor at St. Francis College, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Shifrinson is a 22-year resident of Marlboro. He is a retired educator and was the principal of the Robertsville Elementary School in Marlboro for 28 years. Shifrinson has been on the board for three years.
Wolfe has lived in Marlboro for 13 years and is a middle school teacher. She has served on the board since 2015.
Each candidate was asked to discuss issues that are important to their campaign and how they would address each issue, if elected.
Amster said, “As a resident of Marlboro and potential school board member, I believe it is the responsibility of elected officials to be a check and balance for the administration. The administration has influence over the tax rate and budget. The elected officials need to ask questions about how our money is being used for the best interests of the children and taxpayers. Over the last five years the tax rate has gone up almost 11 percent. We need to have a balance between these interests and the wants and needs of the school administration.
“It is my belief the board needs to be transparent to residents. Having (referendum) elections at off-times to potentially produce a low voter turnout and spending board funds to push administration agendas without full transparency is something all residents should be asking questions about. While the underlying referendum may have had good intentions, we cannot accept trying to push it through while less people are looking.
“As a mother of 5 children who have or are attending the Marlboro school system, I am passionate about all children receiving a fair and appropriate education. As an advocate for children through my work as a volunteer for children with special needs, I have come to understand all children deserve the best possible educational experience that we as citizens can provide,” Amster said.
Chandwani said, “For me, keeping our schools a safe place of learning is of utmost importance. I believe a good quality of education is possible only if the educators and students feel the environment they are in is perfectly safe and secure. In addition, I strongly believe we need to keep the quality of education in our schools at a very high level. Good schools make a great town where people see the value of homes grow. In addition to quality of education, I believe in equal opportunity for kids of all levels. I agree we have to recognize talent, however, schools also have a responsibility to provide an equal learning opportunity for all kids of the town.
“I have talked to many people in the community and the general feeling is that the taxes are high and yet the schools do not have enough funds to manage the aging infrastructure. After multiple failed referendums, we are at a point where taxpayers think the board should be fiscally prudent and look for managing the infrastructure without adding to the debt level on the school system.
“I want to work with the superintendent and fellow board members to look at new and innovative ideas of balancing the school funds so we address the short-term needs of the schools and also save some money for long-term infrastructure related items.
“My discussions with residents and other community organizers has led me to believe more can be done to make the functioning of the board transparent and inclusive of residents. I would like to create more avenues for the public to bring up their issues to the board and work closely with residents to make sure they feel the board is listening to them and is honest and transparent in its dealings,” Chandwani said.
Harris-Kreisler said, “I’m extremely passionate about the education of all Marlboro children. I want to see our school district practicing fiscal responsibility and transparency. I want to collaborate with other board members to create a positive learning environment for all children to reach their potential, grow beyond our expectations and develop a love for learning. All of our K-8 students should be receiving a quality elementary education that is designed to foster and nurture their current skills while developing other talents and aptitudes in preparation for future endeavors.
“I think we need to remember education should be our board’s No. 1 priority. We need to keep Marlboro’s educational ranking at the very top. I want to see more diverse programs offered to our students, including Mandarin and American Sign Language in our middle schools.
“We need to start holding the board accountable for their actions. Three failed referendums that cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars, wasteful spending due to lack of short-term and long-term planning, and a group mentality to ‘vote yes’ regardless of personal beliefs and simply to follow suit without questioning administrative requests or decisions.
“The current board votes as a team, not as individuals. We have a right to transparency in the decision-making process that affects our schools, our students, our staff and our residents. We should know where our dollars are being spent and not arbitrarily transferred from one ledger account to another. Our kids deserve (board members) who will allow our community to speak in a public forum without fear of retribution,” Harris-Kreisler said.
Montecalvo said, “The board faces many challenges and many successes. A major challenge is the engagement of the community members most affected by the financial aspects of education; our homeowners and the community members who have a direct relationship to the schools, our children.
“For many years, the board has operated with a full political agenda and not in the best interest of our two most valuable constituents, our homeowners and our children. My hope for this non-political board is to be a voice for these two critical populations, creating opportunities for fiscal transparency and policy engagement. The board has been a political forum, instead of a community forum. The infrastructure shift must change.
“The board has not made fiscally sound decisions. I seek to find a high return on investment for homeowners and our children. After several failed referendums, the board must be held accountable in the decision making process. As we move forward, we must seek a better understanding of the valuable taxpayer dollars.
“Education has become a lucrative business in the purchasing of curriculum and tests. When will we allow our children the opportunity to play, to seek service learning opportunities, and to participate deeper into curriculum focused on developing the whole person (i.e., arts, language, drama, music, etc.)? We need to do more for our children by better meeting their needs, not a subscribed standardized test.
“I seek to refocus the district toward creating better synergy between our diverse communities, welcoming opportunities to better engage the vast resources in Marlboro and in Monmouth County (for example, parks and libraries), and while establishing active learners who are engaged in their learning process as we (re)dedicate and commit the board to their charge,” Montecalvo said.
Shifrinson said, “Ensure that students continue to learn at an appropriate level and at an appropriate pace. Student needs and strengths vary greatly and need to be realistically addressed. I believe it is my responsibility, and the responsibility of all board members, to provide the instructional staff with the resources they need in order to provide all students with a thorough and efficient education.
“This includes, but is not limited to, providing a safe learning environment for everyone, hiring the best staff, supporting the staff with the fiscal and physical means that are needed, ensuring the curriculum is reviewed on a cyclical basis. Testing needs to be able to provide worthwhile information to teachers, parents, students and the district. The quality and quantity of assessments need to be consistent and accurately reflect the academic progress of the students and the efficacy of the instructional program.”
“School finance is a major factor for the board with the clear understanding schools cost money. Schools cannot operate or make any progress without proper financial resources. It is apparent the state aid to our school district will most likely decline during the next several years and a long-range plan needs to be developed on how best to address this oncoming crisis. This needs to be a multi-year approach with different contingencies considered.
“A balance needs to be created between needs and wants, all within fiscal prudence without compromising the integrity of the instructional program. This is ensured by the due diligence of the school district and of the board. From personal and professional experience, I know schools are expensive, but the cost of radically reducing school budgets will have major impacts on students in the short and long term. It is a known fact that people move to Marlboro for its schools. It is our job to ensure our schools are of the highest quality so Marlboro continues to be a destination district.”
“Providing a safe and healthy learning and teaching environment is crucial. School safety officers and the security protocols that are in place are making our schools safer for everyone and the district needs to continue to ensure safe practices. The infrastructure of the schools must also continue to be addressed. Many of the schools in Marlboro were built in the in the 1960s and 1970s and need to be upgraded.
“Some of these upgrades can be addressed through the annual district budget, but unfortunately, due to the defeat of proposed construction referendums, the completion of the proposed upgrades will continue for many years into the future when upgrades that were recently completed will possibly need to be done again. The board, and future boards, need to provide the monetary support so that all members of the education community can learn and work in facilities commensurate with what Marlboro represents,” Shifrinson said.
Wolfe said, “As a board, we always strive to improve our school district. One issue we are working to address is our aging infrastructure. We recently conducted a second facility study of all of our buildings and systems. In addition, we conducted an energy audit and are exploring the possibility of an Energy Savings Improvement Program (ESIP).
“If approved by the board, the ESIP could help us with some improvements at no cost to taxpayers. These improvements would help to address some of our infrastructure issues. As a taxpayer and resident, I realize the importance of every penny. It is essential for a board to find creative ways to address priority problems.
“I also believe we need to continue to discuss the importance of mental health. The district is working with Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care to deliver professional development to our staff and community. The well-being of our students is a top priority. As a district, we have created a mission statement and vision for mental health.
“We have also created a district-wide character education program for students. I know it is important to continue to develop programs and activities that will help shape our students into the leaders of the future. With so many outside pressures, I believe it is essential for our school district to partner with parents and guardians in protecting our children and helping them navigate the years ahead.
“Lastly, our board makes safety a top priority. As a sitting board member, I have voted to support safety measures for our students, staff, and community. We have many safety measures you can see. For instance, we have secure vestibules, Class III police officers, drop-off bins, etc. We also have many security measures you never see. As a board member, I realize my responsibility is to work with administration to protect our children. My goal is to ensure that safety is and will remain a top priority.
“I believe in respect, varying viewpoints and working hard to always make our district a better place. I always vote with my conscience in the best interest of all Marlboro children. I have dedicated years to our children and district, and I would like to continue serving our community and children,” Wolfe said.