MONROE – Seven candidates will vie for three three-year seats on the Monroe Township School District Board of Education in the Nov. 5 election. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Board incumbents Ken Chiarella, Michele Arminio and Patty Lang are seeking their fourth, third, and second terms, respectively, while Gail DiPane, Corey Gabriel Corbo and Adi Nikitinsky are seeking their first terms. Louis Masters did not respond as of press time.
Michele Arminio, 63, has lived in Monroe for 39 years and has been an engaged resident since then. She is married and attended Douglass College, Rutgers University. She is a full-time New Jersey licensed real estate associate.
“Witnessing the rapidly changing landscape of Monroe, I volunteered with grassroots organizations such as Save Open Space, Monroe Citizens for Responsible Government and Citizens About Responsible Development,” she said.
“Concerned and informed members of these groups live in Rossmoor, Regency, Greenbriar/Whittingham, Stonebridge as well as in other sections of the township. Over the last 20 years I have frequently attended a variety of municipal public meetings. I immerse myself in the issues that affect our educational system as well as the greater Monroe community,” Arminio said.
She is also a supporting member of nonprofit organizations including the Edison Wetlands Association, Pinelands Alliance, Lawrence Brook Watershed Partnership and Delaware River Keeper Network.
Arminio, expressing her opinion and not speaking on behalf of the Board of Education, said education has always been her priority.
“I am deeply committed to providing quality education for children in Monroe,” she said. “I work to promote quality academic instruction to assure future achievement for our students. I support giving needed tools to school district staff in the care of our students; tools of technology, training, books and the attention of the board.”
She said she supports state legislative bills that could increase aid for special education students.
“Schools and teachers and children … they represent our future,” she said. “Let’s do our best for them.”
If re-elected, Arminio said along with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) instruction and arts and music, she would like to advocate for civics classes.
“One focus would be to educate our children not only for good jobs, but also for good citizenship in adulthood,” she said.
Arminio said the big challenge is classrooms, and said the district needs the support of the entire community.
“Community support requires confidence in decisions proffered from board members,” she said. “That responsibility I take very seriously. Bottom line, I am not a politician, but I do understand the tough issues we need to work through. You can count on me to tell the truth, to listen and to try my best to balance our finances with our responsibility to support Monroe’s educational system.”
Ken Chiarella, 52, is a lifelong resident of Monroe. He has three children attending Monroe Township schools.
He is employed as a regional loss prevention manager for CVS Pharmacy and is a small business owner. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University.
Along with serving on the Board of Education, Chiarella has served on the Recreation Advisory Board, Historic Preservation Commission and as a member of the parents’ groups. He served as an alternate member of the Planning Board for eight months.
Chiarella said as part of the school board, he has served as chair of buildings, grounds and transportation and also the chair of the fair funding committee. He asked the board to create the fair funding committee so the board could advocate for funding from the state while also looking into suing the state for more funding.
“I am running so I can continue advocating for our children, teachers and taxpayers,” he said. “I would like to continue to fight for funding for Monroe, fight to stop the ridiculous building our politicians are happy to ignore, and to curb the rampant instability on the board.”
Chiarella said he is running to continue to try to restore the trust of the people on the board, which he said has been lacking.
If re-elected, he said the most important area is to continue to advocate for all the children in the district.
“From special education to talented and gifted, and all of the children across the spectrum, we must be setting them up for personal success,” he said. “We have to work to ensure our special education students are given what they need to succeed, while also ensuring we are equipping our children to get into the best schools, while also working to provide a path for children who will move on to careers in the trades, who will open small businesses or go on to managing a family. We are only here to educate our children. Everything else is often a distraction.”
Corey Gabriel Corbo, 39, has lived in the township for eight years.
Corbo said he is single and not a parent yet, but said it would “be highly beneficial for everyone if I win the election because I have no special interests, nor do I desire personal gain for myself or my family.”
He is employed as a communications technician. He attended Saint Peter’s College and the Jersey City Police Academy.
In the community, Corbo has volunteered for the New Jersey Special Olympics, the Salvation Army and St. Thomas the Apostle Church.
Corbo said he does not want politics to become involved on the board.
“We need a fresh outlook and perspective on all our current issues,” he said. “I care about our youth and understand what it’s like to make mistakes and to own up to them. We’ll do what’s necessary to correct mistakes so the children can succeed.”
If elected, Corbo said he would like to focus on regulating the opiate epidemic and keeping students educated on the dangers of drug use.
“It’s too easy for our students to fall victim to this outbreak,” he said. “I would know because I have suffered from it in the past and have been 100% sober since 2014.”
Gail DiPane, 67, has lived in the township for 14 months. She is running for her first time in Monroe after serving on the North Brunswick Township Board of Education for 18 years.
She and her husband, Joe, have three adult children and three grandchildren. She is retired as an administrative assistant at The Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities at the University of Medicine and Dentistry and Rutgers University. She is a graduate of St. Peter’s High School, New Brunswick, and took courses at Middlesex County College, Edison.
In the community, DiPane is a member of the Democratic Club at Rossmoor and an alternate on the Commission for the Aged in Monroe.
DiPane said she believes there are three issues to be addressed by the school board: overcrowding and the use of trailers, trying to pass a referendum, and parental and community involvement in voting at election time.
“I will try to make sure these issues are addressed, but remember, one board member cannot take on City Hall,” she said. “We have to work together for the good of the children in our district. I would like to work on these issues for the sake of the children and the community. Being elected to the board would help me to reach these goals.”
If elected, DiPane said she would be an integral part in the board’s ongoing fight against the state for equal funding for the district.
“The district has already put together a resolution regarding this issue and sending it to the governor [and others],” she said. “I support this and will continue to support their effort to have the funding formula changed so districts like Monroe Township receive the funding needed in order to provide the best education possible for all of our students. I will work hard for all the children. I believe a vote for me is a vote for an honest, hardworking individual who will make the future of this district my No. 1 priority.”
Patty Lang, 54, has lived in Monroe for 17 years. She and her husband, Bob, have three adult sons and a 15-year-old daughter.
She is employed as a special educator. She earned her bachelor’s degree in education from the College of St. Elizabeth and a master’s degree in special education from Kean University.
In the community, Lang said she has been an outspoken advocate for inclusive opportunities for people with disabilities.
“I currently help my son moderate a Facebook group called Differently-Abled Warriors,” she said. “Our page is for people who, whether due to a brain injury, cognitive impairment, health issue or mental health issues – any type of challenge that makes navigating the world harder – and their loved ones to discuss the different challenges of living with a disability.”
Lang is active in the American Heart Association Go Red for Women and the American Stroke Association You’re the Cure movement. She continues to support the Empty Bowls project in Monroe led by Brookside Elementary School teacher Theresa Anthony.
She has assisted in developing and implementing the district’s state-mandated Special Education Parent Advisory group with other parents of classified students who want to work with the administration to identify the needs of the district and work to implement systemic changes.
Lang said she has worked diligently to be the best board member she can be.
“I believe strongly that being a board member is not just attending the required monthly board meetings, it is constantly increasing our understanding of our role by participating in professional development,” she said.
Lang said she believes in investing in students so they have the tools to navigate the future.
“As a school district, our two biggest needs are to provide enough facilities to effectively educate our growing student population and to meet the needs of the district within an operating budget which is being strained to its capacity,” she said. “To do this, we need board members who can work as a team. Working against each other due to politics and promises made to individuals or other groups is impacting our ability to accomplish our goals.”
If re-elected, Lang said she would like to work on improving the board’s capacity to work together and with the community.
“My experience, educational background and proven dedication to the board make me an effective member of the board,” she said. “I look forward to continuing to serve Monroe in this capacity.”
Adi Nikitinsky moved to Monroe Township from New York with his parents in 1993. He is a 1998 graduate of Monroe Township High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Rutgers University. He is married and a father of three children.
“My wife and I chose to build our family in Monroe Township not only because of the amazing residents, but also because of the excellent school system,” he said. “I started my company at the age of 24 and am proud to say that hard work, dedication and vision have paid off and I have built a successful printing company 15 years strong right here in Monroe Township.”
Nikitinsky said that growing up, one of the biggest lessons his parents taught him was everyone has a responsibility to help others. He believes in giving back to the community and has been a strong supporter of many fundraising activities by the schools and local organizations.
“As a 28-year resident of Monroe Township, I have seen a lot of favorable and unfavorable changes in our town that have had major impacts on us as taxpayers,” he said. “Now with three kids currently enrolled in the school system, I understand how much of an impact irresponsible spending of our tax dollars can affect our school programs and in maintaining quality education.”
Nikitinsky said he is seeking a seat on the board because “residents and the kids deserve better and need to be heard.”
“We need to ensure our teachers are allowed to teach and not just teach to tests,” he said. “We must ensure our children are taught, not just the basics, but then are given a path for success so they can get into the best universities while also ensuring that students who wish to go into a trade or business are also shown a path that will lead them to be successful and productive citizens. We need to advocate for fair funding for our schools. We need to be able to attract and retain the best school employees for our children.”
Nikitinsky said the biggest challenge facing the district is overcrowding in the schools. Before looking into building new schools, he said officials and the board must look into the existing school properties they currently have.
“There is plenty of room to build extensions on our existing schools, which will save taxpayers millions of dollars,” he said. “If I am elected, I will bring proven leadership, efficiency, transparency and fiscal responsibility to the board.”