Thirteen candidates will vie for three, three-year terms available on the Edison Board of Education

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Maria Wise
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Maria Wise

EDISON – Thirteen candidates will vie for the the three, three-year terms available on the Edison Board of Education for the election in November.

The candidates include incumbent Jing Wei “Jerry” Shi; and newcomers Brett Baker, Padmaja Chinta, Anthony DePasquale, Ernest Kregeloh, Christo Makropoulos, Yash Pandya, Mohin K. Patel, Sparshil Patel, Clifton Prescod, Brian Rivera, Maria Wise and Virginia R. White.

Shi, Patel and White are running on the Edison First slate and Kregeloh is running on the Improving Education Together slate.

Board members Falguni Patel and Beth Moroney are not seeking re-election.

The general election is on Nov. 3.

Brett Baker, 34, has lived in the township for four years. He is married with a 2-year-old son.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration and public policy with honors from Michigan State University. He is employed as a director of campus operations for a middle school and was previously a teacher.

In the community, Baker was a member of the overcrowding task force, a joint task force between the Edison Board of Education (BOE) and the Edison Township Council. He also serves as an elected committee member.

Baker is seeking his first term.

“This is the promise every year to the students and families of my school, I commit to ensuring you have an education that I would want for my child someday,” he said. “My years of experience as a school administrator make me uniquely qualified to be agile and decisive when faced with difficult decisions about the future of our district. I am running for the Edison BOE because I have the skills, knowledge and mindset to serve as a cooperative thought and accountability partner with the district administration, its amazing staff, and the wonderful children and families of Edison.”

If elected, Baker said he would seek to leverage his school leadership experience and relationship building to focus on the policies and procedures within Edison Public Schools to ensure the district is operating in a financially sound way.

“I believe that with careful attention paid to our financial state and our relationship with our local government, we can begin a path towards solving overcrowding within the next three years,” he said, calling the overcrowding in school buildings “a staggering issue.”

Padmaja (Paddy) Chinta, 47, has lived in the township for three years. She is married with two teenagers.

She earned a Master of Laws degree from the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)and a bachelor’s degree in optometry from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in India. She also has earned a Bachelor of Laws degree and an MBA. She has been practicing law for 20 years and runs her own law firm specializing in intellectual property law.

In the community, Chinta said she becomes engaged whenever she sees an issue – speaking with relevant stakeholders, advocating for students at BOE meetings, voicing concerns regarding efficiency in spending and participating in community discussions on concerns such as vaping and overcrowding.

“I have worked to build consensus among residents to address problems as they arose, including taking the lead in preparing a successful petition that helped bring much-needed change in high school placement criteria,” she said.

For the past several years, Chinta has also volunteered as a UPenn alumni interviewer for high school seniors applying to college. She also volunteered at John P. Stevens High School Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO) events, which includes pro bono advocacy for a student in a special education hearing.

Chinta said she is seeking her first term “because I believe I can make a difference.”

“I am very passionate about education and about advocacy,” she said. “This is my way of giving back to my community. I feel students’ education, which should be the top priority of the board, often ends up taking a back seat to issues that have no relevance to education. That is not right. I also feel students’ needs and residents’ input are not given the due consideration that they deserve. That is also not right. So, I am running because when I see something that is not right, I want to do something about it.”

If elected, Chinta said education will be her top priority, including improving the effectiveness of remote learning..

“We need to plug the gaps in the policies and procedures as we learn to live with this pandemic,” she said. Increased opportunities for all students – not just the top 10%, but the bottom 10% as well. Not just in academics but extracurricular activities as well. We need creative solutions to provide immediate relief to current students while a long-term solution to overcrowding is implemented. Improving mental health education and introducing tools to cope with stress, especially with the extra strain coming from the lack of in-person social interactions.”

Anthony DePasquale, 50, has lived in the township for 12 years. He is married with two teenage children. He noted his children have special needs.

He attended the University of Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. He is employed as an audio visual technician/producer.

DePasquale is seeking his first term.

“When my children started school I became very aware that I needed to start getting involved,” he said. “My fight started with the special needs; however, as I became more involved I realized there were many other things that can be improved. I want to be part of that solution. I started attending BOE meetings and was a part of the fight against privatizing paraprofessionals. I supported issues involving teachers, case managers and the special education program.”

DePasquale said his concerns for the 2020-21 school year surround remote learning, safety of the students and staff, high quality education, taxes and controlling the budget, the use of technology, ensuring students and teachers are well equipped with technology and training and overcrowding.

“The Edison School District is in the business of educating students,” he said. ” ‘Nothing less than Excellence’ is what we are promised. We must demand that ‘excellence’ for our students. We are the stockholders of the district. Our dividends will pay big for the students and the future of the community. The principals, supervisors and teachers are the experts in education, they have the methods and knowledge in providing a successful education. Parents need to always stay connected and ask the question ‘Why?’ ”

DePasquale said there are two concerns in regards to taxes – the rising tax rates and the waste.

“Every BOE member must look at all the details of the budget and ask the question ‘Why?’ ” he said. “Why do we need this money for that particular line item? Are we using a certain vendor because of connections or do they actually offer the best price and service? We all want value for the money we are spending on education.”

As remote learning continues, DePasquale said the administration needs to look at the overall effectiveness of how academics are being taught.

“The teachers are the experts and can use creativity in teaching to educate the students,” he said. “There must be a robust network of technicians that will support the technical issues that teachers and students will encounter. Teachers and students must be provided with the needed technology that can support the online virtual platform.”

Ernest Kregeloh, 52, is a lifelong resident of the township. He is married with a 16-year-old daughter.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a master’s degree from Monmouth University. He has been a teacher for 22 years.

In the community, Kregeloh has coached youth sports for 31 years in girls soccer, boys baseball and basketball. He served as a board member at the Midtown Little League and director of T-Ball.

Kregeloh is seeking his first term.

“I want the opportunity to give back to my hometown of Edison,” he said. “Having grown up here in a single parent household with a mom who worked so hard to provide for my brother and myself; I know what an important role schools play in the development of children. Becoming a member of the Edison BOE gives me the opportunity to give back to my town by doing what’s best for the Edison community.”

If elected, Kregeloh said his focus would be on fiscal responsibility.

“With one out of every 10 Edison residents out of work, now more than ever we need to make sure that our property tax dollars are used efficiently,” he said. “During these times of record unemployment, we owe it to the residents of Edison to create school budgets that provide a Blue Ribbon education without leaving the taxpayers in the red.”

Christo Makropoulos, 32, is a lifelong resident of the township. He is a graduate of Edison High School.

He currently is employed as a news correspondent/investigative journalist for New Jersey Corruption Watch. Previously he worked as a carpenter, painter, building trades, machinist and former production manager at a tool manufacturing facility.

In the community, Makropoulos said he attends council, BOE, planning/zoning board and library board meetings in Edison as well as meetings throughout Middlesex County and state including for the Board of Chosen Freeholders, New Jersey Department of Education and the Middlesex County Improvement Authority. He said he attends the meetings “to have a better understanding of the issues facing my community while also recording the events live in real time for better government accountability and transparency [and] provide greater access to information for those who physically can’t attend these meetings.”

He marched with the parents and students of New Brunswick to defend Lincoln Annex School. He is an advocate for human/Civil Rights, animal rights, military veterans, special needs, homeless, women’s rights, senior citizens, children and he is against child exploitation/human trafficking.

Makropoulos is seeking his first term.

“The reason I am running for a seat on the BOE is to put the children first while holding the BOE accountable to the taxpayers, parents, children they serve by ending the corruption and cut wasteful spending while managing the budget,” he said. “I will be a great asset to the BOE. When people follow the status quo they don’t understand the value of a representative that will make issues public and challenge the status quo. Everything is timing. Now is the time to clean the corruption that has existed for generations. I am the perfect transitional candidate to execute the job.”

If elected, Makropoulos said his focus will be to tackle opioid abuse, vaping and mental health along with addressing the new issues pertaining to the coronavirus.

He said he would address the parents concerns and complaints, provide greater access to drug prevention programs and mental health professionals, advocate for special needs programming, end public school to prison/overdose pipeline, enhance community communication and involvement within the BOE, build a stronger partnership between the council and BOE to be more efficient and restore fiscal responsibility, and fight for county and state funding for Edison BOE to solve the overcrowding issue.

Yash Pandya, 25, has lived in the township for 20 years. He earned a bachelor’s degree in supply chain from Rutgers Business School. He is employed in the pharmaceutical industry, is an entrepreneur and a community leader.

Pandya is a graduate of the Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies High School and an alumni of Lindeneau Elementary School and Herbert Hoover Middle School.

In the community, Pandya has hosted and participated in multiple community food drives, distributed COVID-19 healthcare essential items to all community members, hosted a community COVID-19 testing site, served senior citizens, and built a community youth team to engage in community and social service.

He has participated in Edison Midtown Little League, Edison Boys Baseball, Edison Jets, Edison Police Academy, Edison Township Youth Basketball and was a high school varsity soccer player.

Pandya is seeking his first term.

“Being a recent graduate of the Edison school district, I’ve had the firsthand experience of being in the seats of our current students,” he said. “My professional and entrepreneur journey has provided me with many learning opportunities that I would like to leverage part of our Edison BOE. I believe that investing in our children now means a vibrant future for the community as it is important to ensure every child receives the knowledge, skills, tools and resources with the proper allocation of taxpayers’ money. As a result, this will help our amazing students be better prepared for the future and the real world. A voice of the students, by the students, and for the students.”

If elected, Pandya said he would like to concentrate on a student-centric education that provides students an academic and recreational path to success from elementary to high school and even after.

“This topic would primarily be focused upon students’ safety, mental health and special education,” he said. “In addition, I would like to promote an effective way of learning, combination of remote, hybrid and in-class. This will enable the Edison BOE to tactically and strategically focus upon our main objective, the growth and development of our students, but also be more efficient with the appropriate budgeting and spending of taxpayers’ money.”

Mohin Patel has lived in the township for 14 years. He is married with two children, who attend John P. Stevens High School and Woodrow Wilson Middle School.

Patel earned a degree in finance from Rutgers University. For the past five years, he has owned and operated a software and technology consulting firm based in Edison. He also has over a decade of experience leading large-scale Agile transformation efforts to optimize business processes and increase efficiency and managed an energy firm where he managed the energy portfolios for commercial, industrial and municipal entities.

In the community, Patel has organized a mental health seminar for school children to discuss the stress they are feeling during the global pandemic and helped organize personal protective equipment and food donations for first responders during the global pandemic.

For over a decade, he has organized summer sports and educational youth camps. He has taught a course on financial responsibility for high school students, led several yoga classes for children and helped coach his son’s soccer team. He has also held leadership positions in multiple local charitable organizations.

Patel is seeking his first term.

Jing Wei “Jerry” Shi has lived in the township for 28 years. He and his wife have two children: a daughter, who is a recent graduate from West Point Military Academy and is serving in the U.S. Army, and a son, a graduate of Harvard University.

Shi earned a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering, master’s degree in computer science and an MBA from Rochester Institute of Technology. He is currently employed as a project manager for clinical operations at a major pharmaceutical company. Some of the clinical areas he works on include oncology, cardiology, respiratory, women’s health and vaccines.

Shi is completing his second term.

“During my term on the Edison BOE, I quickly realized that taxpayers are being burdened with wasteful spending,” he said. “I led the charge on vendor reforms and the board was able to save millions of dollars by cutting down a bloated budget. We were able to save over $8 million from renegotiating contracts and requesting vendors to reduce their fees while providing the same or better services such as health insurance. I also initiated an operational audit that uncovered wasteful spending.”

Shi said the savings did not impact the quality of education for students and was reinvested into the classroom – the purchase of better textbooks, addition of new programs including enhanced elementary school gifted classes, middle school computer classes and volleyball, high school dance, and cricket.

“Looking to protect our own taxpayers, I have asked for increased investigations of out of district students who are unlawfully attending our schools,” he said. “To this end, we are now in the process of implementing an online annual residency verification system. We are also incorporating new technology. This includes piloting an online school bus tracking system for parents through GPS technology. I also advocated for online registration to help parents register new students and as a result, for the first time in years, there was no long lines waiting outside the Enrollment Center.”

Further, Shi successfully advocated for reduced computer screen time for younger students and promoted increased instructional teaching.

“Upon our requests, the district has re-inspected and removed some of the online programs purchased, but very rarely used by teachers,” he said. “We have also made infrastructure improvements to our schools. This includes extensions to Woodrow Wilson Middle School and FDR (preschool). We also inaugurated a new turf baseball field for Edison High School, at no cost to taxpayers.”

Virginia White is a lifelong resident of the township. Her husband is a retired lieutenant with the Edison Police Department and her two sons graduated from the Edison Public Schools and are schoolteachers in the township.

White is a graduate of Edison High School. For 26 years, she worked as an administrative assistant at the Edison BOE, which gave her a unique insight into the operations of the school district.

“I routinely worked with parents to direct and guide them in the resolution of specific problems with bussing and special education needs,” she said. “It was my pleasure to welcome the public and assist with diversified needs, scheduling concerns and other day-to-day challenges as part of my job responsibilities. My other responsibilities included worker’s compensation for district employees, authorized identification for security systems for district buildings and organized the usage of Education Center rooms. I also assisted in the establishment of district enrollment procedures when the Enrollment Center was first created.”

In the community, White has been a member of Guardian Angels/Transfiguration of the Lord Parish for nearly 55 years. She previously served as the president of VFW Auxiliary Post 3117. She also served as fundraising chairwoman for the Edison Police Wives organization. While her children attended public schools, she served as a Parent Teacher Organization mother, team mom for the Edison Boys Baseball League and a member of the Edison High School 5th Quarter Club.

“Edison has always been my home,” she said. “My family moved to Edison in 1910 and public service is a value that my parents instilled in me and my siblings early on. My brother Joe bravely served our nation during the Vietnam War when he was killed in action in 1969.”

White is seeking her first term.

Shi, Patel and White collectively said they “would like to put the word ‘public’ back into Edison Public Schools.

“We need a more open, accessible and resident friendly district that communicates with the public in a timely manner,” they said. “We will create an online parent help desk system to track your requests and hold administrators accountable. Your voice will be heard and your questions will be answered.”

If elected, Shi, Patel and White said they will hold the administration accountable and eliminate irresponsible and wasteful spending.

“Our pledge is a zero percent budget increase in 2021 without cutting resources for schools, students and staff,” they said. “We must make sure that teaching is efficient and engaging. We will train our staff and students by giving them the tools to have the most effective remote learning experience possible. Remote learning does not mean reduced learning. We will not let your children fall behind academically. Administrators must allocate more patrolling resources and enforce strict disciplinary action for students abusing illicit substances. We will not let the kids fight this alone.”

Maria Wise, 41, has lived in the township for 36 years. She is married with four children, ages 22, 21, 20 and 11.

Wise is a graduate of the Edison School District and earned a degree in business from DeVry University. She is a chief financial officer and president of operations of a trucking company and she also is employed as a consultant.

In the community, Wise is a former two-term committeewoman in District 31 and previously served as a member of the Edison Overcrowding Task Force. She volunteered as a religious formation teacher at St. Matthew the Apostle Church and a cheerleading coach for the Edison Jets. She has been an advocate for domestic violence victims and a guest speaker for R.A.W. (Respecting All Women). She is one of the original five petitioners against the proposed Suez deal preventing the privatization of the Edison water system and a current member of Kiwanis where she is working to create a servant leadership program for middle school students.

Wise is seeking her first term.

“I want to help,” she said. “I believe in our school system, but I also know we need to do better. Our students, teachers, faculty and staff need/deserve all the support as we can give them, especially during these trying times. I also understand the financial responsibility needed on the BOE. I was a student here in Edison and currently have a child still in our school district so for me the betterment of our schools is personal. I want to be able to help all of the students get the best possible education Edison can provide them.”

If elected, Wise said one of the most important issues for her is overcrowding, especially during the pandemic.

“This is a topic I have been trying to work with the board in addressing since at least 2017 while on the Overcrowding Task Force,” she said. “While we need to ensure the students, teachers, faculty and staff are able to social distance properly in our already crowded schools, this will not be easy. The board needs to work collectively with the town boards and the state in order to come up with creative solutions in order to tackle this not so easy task.”

Candidates Sparshil Patel, Clifton Prescod and Brian Rivera did not respond by press time.