Three incumbents, one newcomer seek three seats on Sayreville school board


SAYREVILLE – Four candidates are seeking three three-year terms on the Sayreville School District Board of Education in the Nov. 5 election.

The terms of board members Daniel Balka, Lucy Bloom and John Walsh will end in December. Seeking the terms are Balka, Bloom, Walsh and newcomer James Bello.

Bello could not be reached by press time.

Balka is the chief financial officer for South Amboy and worked for Sayreville as the chief accountant for more than 20 years. A lifelong resident of the borough, he joined the board in 2010 and has been active in Parent Teacher Organizations (PTOs) throughout Sayreville, with his daughter attending school in the district.

“I believe a good school system is the backbone of any community and while many changes have been implemented during my tenure, I believe more still needs to be accomplished,” Balka said. “In today’s world, students need a solid education to succeed and I want to ensure the board is doing everything possible to provide a high quality and well-rounded educational experience. I also want to make sure that the district continues to upgrade the technology throughout the district. We have successfully attained a one-to-one student to device ratio. It is important for a quality education that the district maintains this ratio.

“I have a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration/Accounting from Seton Hall University and possess a certified public accountant as well as a certified municipal finance officer license,” he continued. “My employment experiences and educational background enable me to understand and contribute to the budget process and appropriately allocate taxpayer money. My background tends to make me analyze data and listen to all sides of situations before making decisions and I feel that is very important in serving the public. I strive to earn the trust of the taxpayers by providing our students with the best education possible. Allocating the taxpayers’ money into the classroom where it is most effective and beneficial for our children’s education would continue to be my top goal.”

If re-elected, Balka said three areas of focus for him would be continuing to improve college readiness of students, seeing more taxpayer money go directly toward classrooms, and staff retention.

“I would like to continue to improve the college readiness of our students,” he said. “We have made many great improvements in our course offerings, but I believe there is always more that can be done. Now that all our students have access to technology we have to continue striving to offer the best technology we can to prepare our students for college and the workforce. We have more students taking the Advanced Placement exams and our scores are dramatically improving as well. Our STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] program as well as our Jr. ROTC [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps] programs have had success and I would like to see them continue to expand.

“I would like to see more of our taxpayers’ money go directly into the classrooms and not for additional administrators,” Balka continued. “An example of putting the money in the classroom is technology. Although we have a one-to-one device to student ratio, we have an alarmingly high number of devices that are beyond their end of life. We need to plan and address this issue to ensure our students always have access to current technology.

“The third item I think needs to be addressed is staff retention. High teacher turnover rate is very detrimental to the quality of our students’ education. Our students need a stable environment to be highly successful and staff turnover does not provide such an environment. I support a more collaborative effort between the administration and the staff.”

Bloom is a retired high school art teacher who worked the last 19 years of her career at Sayreville War Memorial High School. She has resided in Sayreville for 47 years and joined the board in 2013. In addition to the district’s school board, she serves on the New Jersey School Boards Association Audit Committee and Board of Directors and is president of the Middlesex County School Boards Association.

“Education has always been a part of my life,” Bloom said. “I wish to continue to advocate for our students and staff in a position where I can make a difference.

“As a former teacher and former local union president, I believe my years in education have given me the insight needed to help promote change when needed and improvement when necessary,” she said. “We need to continue to maintain a high level of student development. I would work to continue to achieve this goal.”

If re-elected, Bloom said three areas of focus for her will be security, facility upgrades and air conditioning.

“We have made great strides [in security], but we still have a lot to do,” she said. “The safety of our students and staff is primary. Our buildings are aging and in need of improvement. Continuing to fix what is in need of repair is a top priority. [And] we need to ‘cool the school.’ Keeping our students and staff healthy is also a concern and air conditioning in our schools has become a necessity.”

Walsh is an executive director for the New York Shipping Association-International Longshoreman Association. He holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Montclair State University and previously worked for 15 years as a public school teacher.

A lifelong resident of Sayreville, he joined the board in 2013 and is also on the board of the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey, as well as serving as president of the Sayreville Junior Bombers Youth Football and Cheer organization and president of the Sayreville AAA youth lacrosse program.

“I am running for re-election to continue the work we have accomplished in these past six years,” Walsh said. “I believe under the leadership of [Superintendent of Schools Richard] Labbe and the hard work of our incredible teachers, these past six years have been the most fruitful Sayreville has ever seen and I’m proud to be a small part of it. Although my current job has given me valuable perspective in the workings of a major industry, it is my experience in the classroom that most assists me in my role on the board.”

If re-elected, Walsh said three areas of focus for him will be safety, additional opportunities for students, and recruiting and retaining the best teachers.

“As a father of three children being educated in our district, the most important issue to me will always be safety,” he said. “I believe thanks to the hard work of Dr. Labbe, our safety committee and our staff, we are among the safest schools in the nation. The addition of security vestibules, metal detectors and security guards are just a few example of the enhancements we have made. That being said, I will never stop working to make sure we stay ahead of the curve and never become complacent. The most important thing is that our children come home safely from school.

“I will also continue to look for additional opportunities for our students,” Walsh continued. “In the past few years we have added an Air Force ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program, boys and girls lacrosse, new band instruments and a unified sports program where our special needs students get to participate and compete with their peers. It has been proven that when students are involved with extracurricular programs they perform better in the classroom. Therefore, I will support the addition of more of these programs.

“Lastly, I want to continue to support Dr. Labbe in recruiting and retaining the very best teachers. The No. 1 factor in education is the teacher and I think we have some of the best here in Sayreville.”