The race for three expired terms on the Hillsborough Township Board of Education is a crowded field, with three incumbents and three hopefuls looking to serve on the board for the next three years.
Incumbent member Deena Centofanti, whose term with the school board ends this December, did not file a petition to run. Current board members Brett Cooper, Dana Boguszewski and Christopher Pulsifer, however, are looking to retain their seats.
Pulsifer is currently serving on the school board after he was chosen earlier this year to fill a vacancy left by Thomas Kinst, who cited changes in his professional life that pushed him to resign last December.
The incumbents are facing off against Jane M. Staats, Lisa Maroun and Bonnie R. Kole for those open seats.
In order to provide candidates with an equitable platform to discuss their plans for the school district, all six individuals running for a full term on the board were given the same questions and the same amount of space for their responses.
Pulsifer did not respond to our questions before our deadline on Tuesday afternoon.
Why are you running for a spot on the school board? What drives you to public service?
Boguszewski: I am running or re-election because I want to continue to be the voice of my town, teachers and students. It would be an honor to continue to be apart of the future of Hillsborough, especially with the reconfiguration of all our schools to accommodate full day kindergarten and a new High School.
Cooper: I am currently on the school board and I am running for reelection to finish what the board has begun in particular improving our schools infrastructure and increasing the capacity to account for the growth of the town in recent years and into the future. I have always volunteered my time to the community by coaching many different sports for all three of my boys as well as volunteering in their schools in the form of teaching life skills from kindergarten through sixth grade, chairing the young author day committee and volunteering at other school events and fundraisers. I like to give back in many forms and continue to give back through my new venture a children’s consignment shop right here in Hillsborough.
Kole: I am running for the school board since I believe I bring a unique and comprehensive perspective to my candidacy. I think we need to have a township resident on the board with extensively varied experience as a professional educator. I am certain it would give a reality check to board discussions when needed.
I also had approximately 10 years of experience in corporate purchasing and facilities prior to becoming an educator; consequently, I have an in depth knowledge of the infrastructure of buildings, working with architects and space planners, understanding building maintenance, vehicle fleet management, large capital purchases, the bidding process, and how to purchase (or lease) wisely.
Maroun: I’ve always wanted to give back to the community in which I live and, as a huge supporter of public education, I feel like my experience in the field would be an asset to the Board of Education here in Hillsborough. I care deeply about students and their futures. I want to be a helpful voice in the decision making process that may not only affect our students, but our teachers, administrators and the entire school community. Because of my teaching and coaching experiences, I have seen first hand, how schools work. School and community go hand in hand and when the two can successfully get along, you have a school system that produces positive results for a bright future.
Staats: As a math teacher for 18 years at Hillsborough High School, I felt a sense of belonging to a family. I want to promote the feeling among Hillsborough residents that supporting our students’ education is part of belonging to the family of Hillsborough. As a teacher and volunteer in several community organizations, I feel obliged to contribute to our community, and I want to share my passion, support, and expertise for the sake of Hillsborough’s students. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I have often exercised my capacities for listening and compassion to help the child who is ignored, the student suffering from injustice. I intend to continue to contribute my compassion and awareness as a board member.
Other than taxes, what would you say are the most pressing issues facing the school district? If elected, how do you plan to tackle those issues?
Boguszewski: I am not going to let the loss of state aid diminish the educational experience or lead to larger class sizes. I will continue to fight for more teachers and smaller classroom sizes, all day kindergarten. I too want a new high school, but am very concerned for higher taxes. Considering the age of several of our schools we need to prioritize our budget to address several infrastructure concerns for instance: safety and security of our staff is essential and if the infrastructure is not upgraded and maintained it will compromise safety and security. We also need to be certain that the learning environment is adequate for our staff and students in order to maximize achievement.
Cooper: I do not see taxes as a pressing issue but what I do see as an issue is the growth of the community and the number of new families moving in each year. This growth has put a strain on our schools and has forced our schools to accommodate more students than they are designed for. I will help educate the community why we need to pass a referendum to increase the budget to bring our schools up to date as well as vote for a new high school that will increase our capacity and allow for movement of grades to buildings that will allow for smaller class sizes and schedules especially at the high school that do not force students to have split classes.
Kole: I would like to focus on literacy across the curriculum, as well as ensuring that our elementary and intermediate literacy programs are balanced and address the needs of all of our students. I also would want to ensure that we provide exceptionally supportive and relative professional development to our teachers and administrators. I also would want to take a very close look at school safety on many levels, including social/emotional well-being, keeping our schools free of vaping and other similar challenges. I would like to expand arts education in our schools, because for many students, the arts provide a special pathway for engagement to those who feel isolated, invisible or are on the outside looking in.
Maroun: I think that the overcrowded schools is one of the district’s biggest issues. After seeing the video created and presented to the board, I do believe that the hallways, classrooms and shared common spaces with in some of the schools pose not only a safety issue to our students, but a difficult learning environment for the students, teachers and all staff. I also feel that Hillsborough needs to keep up with the competitive educational structure in New Jersey and be on board for Full Day Kindergarten. If elected, I’d like to continue providing the public with the information needed to support and help make positive changes with these issues and will hopefully be a voice to the board and superintendent in support of these efforts.
Staats: As experts in their fields, teachers should be supported by the board as they implement strategies that align with the district’s high standards, especially when the teachers encounter roadblocks.
Many students could better serve themselves and their communities by pursuing careers that do not rely on a traditional college education; to that end, we need to destigmatize and promote vocational and technical education.
I would also like the board to increasingly address mental health and mindfulness education, as well as the issue of substance abuse among students, and related outreach to parents and the community at large.
These issues can be tackled through respectful and transparent communication and collaboration, especially about costs, among the board members themselves and all stakeholders in Hillsborough.
One of the biggest discussions going on at the school board is the upcoming referendums. Do you support that move and if so, what’s the most important part of the plan?
Boguszewski: Yes, our referendum in Hillsborough is long over due and we have one option. Our referendum should address: school and staff security; HVAC related issues and address all possible health issues.
Cooper: Since I am currently on the school board, I have been very involved in the discussions behind the upcoming referendum and I have been able to give much input that has helped shape what the final referendum looks like. Therefore I am very much in favor of both referendums, the one in March for full day kindergarten and to increase the tax levy to make up for the amount of money the state is taking from our budget over the next few years, and the one next year to approve the design and building of a new high school and funds to repair and bring all our schools up to today’s standards to assure our students and teachers are in the best possible learning environment.
Kole: I support the upcoming referendums and the most important part of any referendum is to improve the overall educational experience for each student. The issues of health, safety and overcrowding are paramount in my opinion.
Maroun: Yes, I support the referendums. I think that the full day kindergarten is of utmost importance. Not only do I believe that this move will benefit the education of our kindergarten students for many reasons too long to list, but if this referendum doesn’t pass, there is a possibility of programs being cut and losing teachers and/or staff. With the state reducing aid, we are only getting half of what can be given for those students because of half day kindergarten. To make up for that money lost, other programs/teachers would need to be cut so providing full day kindergarten and raising the levy, Hillsborough would be able to continue to provide the services, programs and teachers that our students deserve.
Staats: I would support any referendum under these conditions: we have exhausted all other avenues of revenues; we have exhausted all other solutions to problems; the reasons justifying a referendum are truly educational needs, not extravagances; full transparency, especially about costs, is demonstrated.
Every classroom should be a healthy, comfortable, uncrowded, and attractive space. Therefore, the plan should consist of maintaining, or reducing, class sizes and keeping current programs in order to make up for the state’s cutbacks in funding, and to make all necessary long-term infrastructure improvements, such as mold remediation and reliable air conditioning and heating in all rooms. As information continues to be shared, infrastructure needs may change. Because of the expense, any new construction should be the last resort.
How would you say you differ from your opponents? Why should voters choose you?
Boguszewski: As a current board member I truly enjoy being the voice of our town especially our students and teachers. For example: I had the privilege of speaking to seven seniors of the high school while waiting in line at Starbucks. I asked them what changes they would like to see and they all agreed that new bathrooms were a must and a new auditorium that can accommodate all students. As of right now our auditorium can’t even hold the whole eleventh grade class.
Since being on the board I am intimately aware of how hard our teachers work to maintain our high scores and will continue to be apart of the process to preserve as well as improve our standards in the state.
Cooper: All of the candidates are very capable and would bring something different to the the board. One advantage I have is that I am a current member of both the operations and education committees, and both are involved in the crafting of the proposed referendums. As I am already briefed about the current conditions of our schools, time will not be lost getting a new board member up to speed on the current issues and the next steps. Finally, I have three sons in our school district and I am involved in the community and the schools in our district. I have first hand knowledge regarding what our teachers and students need to succeed and be successful during their time in Hillsborough and after graduation.
Kole: I am a professional educator, but I differ from my opponents because I had a career in corporate purchasing. My corporate experience included building construction and interfacing with architects and related trades. The experience provided me with practical experience in business, which is paired with my professional experience across many functions in education. I would ask that voters consider voting for me, because of my many years of diversified experience and my ongoing concern for the bottom line in teaching and the infrastructure.
Maroun: I think I differ from my opponents in that I represent the “future” that is talked about in most board meetings. Many community members are worried that raising the tax levy and making changes in the district will deter young families from moving into Hillsborough. I moved into Hillsborough three years ago with my husband, my one-year-old and another child on the way because of the schools, the community and the continued forward progress that I see happening in this town. With 15 years experience in public education as a teacher and coach, my knowledge and support can help to plan and provide a positive future for our community, our school personnel and all stakeholders, and most importantly, our students.
Staats: As a math teacher at HHS, I have had an inside, unfiltered view of education in Hillsborough. I have stood up for the underdog, and I have pushed for policies and practices that I believed were best for the students, even when encountering resistance when I challenged the status quo. I volunteer at my church, with the Municipal Alliance, and as an artist for HHS Theatre. I listen to many points of view, especially opposing ones. After give-and-take of a respectful, compelling argument, I have changed my mind on issues, and I have changed others’ minds. Well rounded in personal attributes and contributions to the Hillsborough community, I am a tapestry of a distinctive combination of experience, expertise, knowledge, open-mindedness, understanding, and empathy.