Filing deadline for seat on Princeton school board is July 27

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Time is running out for would-be candidates to serve on the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education.

The deadline to file a nominating petition for one of three seats on the school board is July 27 at 4 p.m. The nominating petition, to be signed by 10 registered voters, must be turned in to the Mercer County Clerk’s Office in Trenton.

The school board election is Nov. 3. The term is for three years.

At stake are the three seats held by Beth Behrend, Jessica Deutsch and Michele Tuck-Ponder. Behrend and Tuck-Ponder are seeking re-election, but Deutsch has opted not to seek another term.

Behrend said she is seeking another term because she wants to continue building on the excellence of the Princeton Public Schools, and to provide continuity and experience to help address the challenges facing the school district.

The school board will be asked to make decisions that will impact public education in Princeton for years to come – from the continued pandemic and related financial crisis, to hiring a permanent superintendent of schools, settling labor contracts and updating the district’s strategic plan, Behrend said.

The school board will have to decide how to ensure appropriate space and facilities for the growing student enrollment, she said. It will also face the challenges of improving equity and student wellness, foster continued academic excellence and meet the needs of a diverse student body.

“All of this must be achieved at a price that taxpayers can afford in a time of economic challenge. The board will need all of the continuity, experience, professional skills, collaboration and community support it can muster,” she said.

Behrend said she would like to continue that work on behalf of the students, “building on our strengths, improving where we can do better, listening to all voices and ensuring that all board decisions are data-based, strategic, fiscally responsible and mission-driven.”

Behrend, who has three children, said she came to the school board as an activist and veteran of multiple volunteer board and 20 years of experience as a corporate lawyer, but “nothing quite prepared me for the intense learning curve and enormous satisfaction of school board service, focusing on work that is always about the kids.”

Tuck-Ponder, whose daughter graduated from Princeton High School and whose son is enrolled at the John Witherspoon Middle School, said she is seeking another term because there is much work to do – particularly in the area of equity.

“I have served as an independent voice, not only on equity issues, but on many other issues as well,” she said.

“As the only person of color on the board, as well as my background as a former mayor (of the former Princeton Township) and commissioner on the Princeton Public Housing Authority, I bring a unique perspective to the issues confronting the schools,” she said.

Tuck-Ponder, who is a 29-year resident of Princeton, is the executive director of Destination Imagination, which is a global education nonprofit. She is a former CEO of the Girl Scouts of Delaware-Raritan, Inc., former assistant counsel to former Gov. Jim Florio, and the former assistant director of the New Jersey Division on Women.

Tuck-Ponder also is a former aide to U.S. Rep. Louis Stokes and the late U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg. She is a former Community Builder Fellow with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Camden, and a lecturer at Princeton and Rutgers universities.

Deutsch said she is stepping down and will devote her volunteer energy “in the grassroots ways I had been involved in before (serving on the school board) – thought leadership, writing and activism on the ground, as opposed to in a board room.”

Deutsch said she had spent more than a decade, prior to her school board service, leading community conversations to help shift “an unhealthy culture known as the ‘race to nowhere’ – the relentless pursuit of busy-ness and achievement that characterizes many young people’s lives.”

Deutsch said it has been an honor to serve the Princeton community. She said she is looking forward to finishing her term with her school board colleagues and Interim Superintendent of Schools Barry Galasso during what will be a most unusual and challenging back to school season.

“With the community as a critical partner, with many dimensions of the pandemic, the school board has a complex mix of long-term projects ahead, especially related to equity and future planning,” Deutsch said.

Serving on the school board can be meaningful “if you have the time, energy, skills and patience it requires, and if you understand what the role is, and what it is not,” Deutsch said. It involves much time and it is not easy, she said.

Candidates for school board must be at least 18 years old, be able to read and write, and hold U.S. citizenship. They must have lived in the school district for at least one year, and be registered to vote.

They may not have an interest in, or hold a claim against, the school board. They may not serve on the municipal governing body, and may be disqualified from holding office because of conviction of certain crimes.

Nominating petitions and the candidates kit are available online at the Mercer County Clerk’s Office, under the Elections tab, at www.mercercounty.org.