Home East Brunswick Sentinel EB News Spotswood school board vice president runs against newcomer for seat

Spotswood school board vice president runs against newcomer for seat

Spotswood school board vice president runs against newcomer for seat
Bertrand Louis

SPOTSWOOD–Board of Education Vice President Bertrand Louis will face off against resident Daniel Lennan for the one open seat that holds a three-year term on the Spotwood Board of Education.

Election day is Nov. 3.

Daniel Lennan, 43, and his wife have been borough residents since early 2001.

“I think there are things that can be improved in our district and I want to help drive those changes and improvements,” Lennan said. “Nothing I would like to see happen is going to get done by me sitting off to the side and just talking about it. I always encourage people to get involved and help out if they want to see something get better.”

Lennan said he has questions about why certain things are done and the only way he is going to get the answers is to be involved in the process that makes the decisions he wants to know more about.

“Really, I am running because I want to help. I know that I have the ability to improve on many of the issues parents come and talk to me about and I look forward to the opportunity to do so,” Lennan said.

Lennan works as an outside sales representative for a construction equipment company covering Staten Island and southwest Brooklyn, New York.

Previously serving as the board liaison for the Spotswood Parent Teacher Association (PTA), Lennan also was vice president and coach for the East Brunswick/Spotswood Golden Bear Chargers football and cheer organization from 2012-15.

“During my time as PTA liaison, and more so now that I have announced I am running, the number one issue people come to me about is communication. Open and transparent communication between the school district and the community is very important especially now as we just began a school year like never before,” Lennan said. “I don’t want that to be misconstrued as me saying that I think the district hides things from the parents or students, that is not what I am saying. I feel communication is a skill that needs to be improved and with my background and experience I know I can help make that better for our community.”

Lennan said he has noticed that many parents will come to him, go to the PTA or other groups in the schools with questions or issues when really they need to go to the board.

“[T]he biggest reason I get for them not doing that is they are uncomfortable or think it won’t help. That is a big problem. People need to know that there is someplace they can go for help when they need it,” Lennan said.

With the state facing a financial shortfall in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent shutdown, Lennan said the fiscal decisions the board makes over the next few years will be that much more important.

“The board has a financial responsibility not only to the staff and administration of the schools but to the towns our schools serve as well,” Lennan said. “There is no way around the fact that at some point the bill for the stay-at-home order will come due. We will need to face that head-on and some tough decisions will have to be made.”

While he does not look forward to that time, Lennan said he also will not shrink away from it. The board needs to do what is best for the students without taxing the town to oblivion, he said. He thinks there are places the district could save money for the district without a major impact on the quality of the schools.

Bertrand Louis, 43, and his family have been borough residents since 2007.

“I am excited to humbly seek re-election because I believe I have effectively helped our organization focus on our mission and I will continue to do so over the next three years if I am elected,” Louis said. “Here is our mission: ‘We are dedicated to excellence in education by inspiring and challenging our students to achieve their full potential while becoming productive citizens of the global community.’ “

Louis said his record as a board member has solidified the board’s intention to focus on its mission since he joined the board in 2014.

During his time on the board, Louis said he has helped the board pass two referendums in 2015 and 2017; negotiate two labor contracts with the district teacher’s union, with the first being a three-year contract in 2014 and a five-year contract in 2017; in source its transportation program in 2015 instead of outsourcing it to a vendor. This change allowed the district to have more control over the program and ultimately saved a few thousand dollars in the process; and build a strong professional team of educators to execute its mission.

“As a member of our financial committee, we generally start our annual budget by aligning our resources, our investments, with our vision by framing the steps to take or the path we will follow to achieve our mission,” Louis said. “Our goal as a team is to provide our professional educators the resources/investments they need and get out of their way so that they can do what they do best, which is educating our students.”

Back in 2014, Louis said the board confirmed that it needed to address the district’s roofs, HVAC systems, locker rooms, bleachers, track surfaces and safety concerns, among others. He said the board put forth a game plan to issue a referendum.

Louis said the board worked with its administrators, the PTA and members of the community to assist in communicating the benefits of passing the referendum for about $9.2 million.

“Part of our strategy was to let the community know that we would lose $3.1 million in state funding if we fail to pass the referendum. We were essentially borrowing about $6 million to fund projects costing $9.2 million,” Louis said. “We successfully passed the referendum and were able to upgrade our facilities. Spotswood residents saw an increase of $9.80 a month on their tax bill. As an experienced municipal bond analyst, I helped in coordinating with our financial advisors, bond counsel and auditors to make sure that everyone was on the same page.”

Louis said the board oversaw the completion of the projects in October 2016.

As a member of the board’s Negotiations Committee, Louis said dealing with contract negotiations is not fun, but is a vital part of the job. Although he has his own issues with collective bargaining, he came to understand why it is important in education.

“Having successfully negotiated two contracts in the past … I have learned that our staff has some very legitimate concerns,” Louis said. “Respecting all members on the other side of the table, listening to their concerns, articulating our positions clearly, and understanding the true motives behind those concerns generally are keys to successful negotiations.”

Louis works as a mutual funds portfolio data analyst/project manager.

If re-elected to the board, he said there are several issues he plans to tackle that include reopening the district’s schools safely, improving communication between the district and parents, and using better data to measure the board’s performance and help students achieve their full potential.

“Our number one priority today is for us to reopen schools as quickly and safely as possible while we are providing quality education in a challenging remote learning environment. In my line of work, I have learned that ‘quickly and safely’ generally does not go together,” Louis said. “That’s why we believe that we have a major challenge in front of us, which is to be extremely transparent with our key stakeholders: parents, students, staff, general community, Office of Emergency Management and county officials, as we are making decisions and dealing with regulations coming from the Department of Education.”

Louis said he believes that as a board member and a governing body, the board needs to have an administrative team that the community is very confident about and who can improve the schools.

“Currently, we have a team of professional educators who truly acts with transparency, in good faith and in the best interest of our students and community,” Louis said. “If that was not the case, I would fail in my duty of care and fiduciary duty.”

As a data analyst, Louis said his second plan is to address the board’s need for better data to measure its performance and help students achieve their full potential.

“I have learned about education over the last six years and I am still learning about the intricacies of the inner workings of the classroom; however, I do know how to analyze data, analyze returns on financial investments, ask questions about our operations, financial performance, student progress and district performance. … With the right insight and relevant data, I believe we will continue to improve our schools.”

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.