EDISON – Nine candidates – two incumbents, a former board member and six newcomers – will vie for the three, three-year terms open on the Edison Board of Education in the upcoming election.
The general election is on Nov. 2.
The candidates include incumbents Elizabeth Conway, who is seeking her second term, and Biral Patel, who is seeking his first elected term.
Former board member Ralph Errico, who stepped down on Dec. 31, 2020, is seeking a comeback.
They are joined by newcomers Padmaja (Paddy) Chinta, Gabriel Haller, Vimal A. Parikh, Brian Rivera, Douglas Schneider and David Tingle.
Board member Shivi Prasad-Madhukar is not seeking re-election.
Padmaja (Paddy) Chinta, who has lived in Edison for four-plus years, is married with two teenage children.
Chinta earned a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) and a degree in optometry from All India Institute of Medical Sciences. She was named valedictorian of her class. She is employed as an intellectual property attorney.
In the community, Chinta serves as a volunteer for the John P. Stevens High School Parent Teacher Student Organization; actively engages in school related issues including leading the petition to bring change to high school placement criteria; serves as a UPenn alumni interviewer for high schoolers applying to college; and volunteers for PennPAC, which provides free consultation to non-profit organizations.
She also serves as an active volunteer in the Federal Bar Association where she chairs the national Patent Law Committee and serves as the chief diversity officer for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) chapter.
Chinta is seeking her first term.
“I believe I can make a difference because I am passionate about education and passionate about advocacy,” she said. “I believe community service is a noble cause and it is my way of serving my town. 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. I feel students’ needs and residents’ input are not given the due consideration that they deserve. So I am running, because when I see something that’s not right, I want to do something about it.”
Chinta said there are several areas to address in the Edison Public Schools’ system, but the common thread across all of them is “a lack of proactive approach and lack of collaboration among the stakeholders – members of the Board of Education (BOE), township and community.
“I believe that is the key to addressing all issues, whether persistent ones such as overcrowding, or recent ones brought on by the pandemic such as safe return to schools without learning loss,” she said. “We need to bridge the learning loss from a year of remote learning and also ensure there is no ongoing learning loss due to necessary quarantines and safety protocols that are the new routine now.”
Elizabeth M. Conway has lived in Edison for more than 35 years. She is married with three children, who have all gone through the Edison Public Schools.
Conway earned a bachelor’s degree in special education with a minor in psychology. She also earned a master’s degree in urban education specializing in math and reading for a thorough and efficient education for all students from Jersey City State College.
After college, she worked in New York City as an administrative assistant at multiple high rise buildings. She received a Building Owners and Managers certificate while working at the buildings. After eight years, she left the work force to raise her children.
Once Conway’s children were in school full time, she applied for a teaching position in Edison and taught for 16 years as a special education teacher at various grade levels and multiple schools. She retired in June 2016.
While raising her children, Conway got involved in many community activities. She served as a Girl Scout leader and a soccer, softball, and basketball coach, volunteered her time as part of the executive boards of the town’s youth leagues, served as treasurer and then president of James Madison Primary School’s PTA, and served as president of the Edison Township Parent Teacher Advisory Council.
Presently, she serves as the chairperson of the PTA/PTO Scholarship Committee, which gives a scholarship to two students from Edison High School and J.P. Stevens High School.
Conway spent more than 25 years attending BOE meetings and giving her input “whenever I feel my opinion would be beneficial” when her children were growing up. She said her varied backgrounds gave her incentive to run for a board seat first unsuccessfully in 2017 and then successfully in 2018.
She is seeking a second term.
“I feel my opinions and knowledge will give the board another viewpoint as to how best to guide the district into the future,” she said. “The goal of the district has always been ‘Nothing Less than Excellence’ and I would like to help make sure that continues.”
Ralph Errico, 62, has lived in Edison for 30 years. He is married with three children, all graduates of the Edison Public Schools.
Errico earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from New Jersey City University. He is employed as an educator.
In the community, Errico has previously served on the BOE for eight years, served as a volunteer for youth sports, and has served on the Edison Township Zoning Board of Adjustment.
Errico is running for re-election “to ensure the students, parents, staff and taxpayers get the quality education and services they pay for.”
If re-elected, Errico said he would like to focus on overcrowding, full-day kindergarten and transparency.
Brian Rivera, 44, is running on the Building Brighter Futures ticket. He is a lifelong resident and is married with two young children ages 5 and 8.
Rivera earned a bachelor’s degree in history and minor in Puerto Rican Caribbean studies from Rutgers University and a master’s degree in urban education – administration and supervision – from New Jersey City University. He is employed as a school administrator.
In the community, Rivera said much of his involvement has primarily revolved around sports.
“One of the most rewarding experiences that I have had was coaching children for Edison boys baseball and Metuchen Pop Warner football,” he said. “As a coach, it feels good to know that I was part of something that makes a difference in children’s lives.”
Rivera and his wife participate in the Washington Elementary School PTO and he was recently appointed to the Edison Township Human Relations Commission. He also has tried to be consistent in attending BOE meetings for the past two years in efforts to hold officials accountable.
“This is key to improving the quality of education in Edison Public Schools,” he said. “We must do our part in vocalizing the needs of our students in Edison to continuously improve our education system.”
Rivera is seeking his first term.
“As a father, an educator for 22 years and lifelong advocate for kids, I know
that education is the greatest tool we can offer our children,” he said. “I decided to run for BOE because of several concerns occurring in Edison Public Schools including the functionality of the board. Great school board members have a clear vision for their district. They work together to set the vision and goals and measure the success of the district and superintendent against the goals while keeping the public informed of our district’s progress and challenges. The BOE needs to welcome our residents and empower our school community to be involved by soliciting their input and engaging their participation in the problem-solving discussions. A culture needs to be created that is more of a partnership where power and responsibility are shared – something I do not see on this current board.”
During these challenging times, getting the schools back open safely is a key issue, Rivera said.
“COVID-19 created a huge disruption to learning,” he said. “Priority for this upcoming year should be to have students and staff return to a safe and positive learning environment so our children can continue to grow academically and emotionally. We need to address any learning loss or gaps that some of our students may have encountered due to COVID-19. A plan needs to be developed by our district to assess students and narrow that gap, so we can get our students back on track to learning. We also must address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic trauma, which may have caused disruption in the lives of some of our students leading to an increase in mental health concerns. We must continue to support the social, emotional, and mental well-being of our students, staff, and parents. To assist in this area, school-based supports need to be in place.”
Vimal A. Parikh, 48, is running on the United Edison Together ticket. He has lived in Edison for 21 years and has a son who is a senior in high school, and a daughter who is in eighth grade.
Parikh earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from MS University in India and a degree in business administration in accounting from Middlesex County College. He is employed as a senior claims analyst in the healthcare industry.
Parikh is seeking his first term.
“I am running for the BOE because I believe in the importance of ensuring that every child receives a quality education in order to be successful,” he said. “I want to listen to the concerns of our kids and parents; and make sure that I hear their perspectives, but make the decisions that put our resources in the right place.”
If elected, Parikh said one of the areas he would like to concentrate on is improving the bus service for the district.
Biral Patel is running on the Building Brighter Futures ticket.
Patel earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree, both in computer science, and has earned more than 30 professional certifications. He is employed as an information technology professional for a global Fortune 500 technology organization.
In the community, Patel has actively served and volunteered in community service organizations for more than a decade from school PTOs and clothing drives for the needy to assisting residents and children during the COVID-19 pandemic by procuring necessary medication, groceries and cooked meals.
He has participated in food drives for several local, county and state pantries. He also participated in drives for PPE and other items for local and county hospitals at the beginning of the pandemic.
In addition, Patel volunteered for the New Jersey Department of Health’s COVID-19 Awareness Campaign across the state. He organized a volunteer group to help seek vaccination appointments for 1,400 Edison residents.
As a member of a large global non-profit organization, Patel participated, led and managed several charitable activities such as a walkathon, blood drives, health fairs, disaster relief efforts and community events.
“My passion for volunteering has led to several recognitions such as Presidents’ Gold and Silver Award,” he said. “More recently, I received recognition from Edison Township Mayor [Thomas Lankey] and Council for [the] COVID-19 vaccination drive. Additionally, in 2020, Middlesex County recognized me for contributing to COVID-19 relief efforts. If elected, I will bring this passion to serve the community to the Edison BOE. I will work hard to ensure our Edison children and schools shine brighter than ever.”
Patel is seeking his first elected seat. He was appointed by the BOE in January to fill the seat of Ralph Errico, who stepped down on Dec. 31, 2020.
“While I was always interested in serving on this board, my resolve has only strengthened in the past few months,” he said. “I have seen many issues that remain unaddressed. I have seen lack of respect for residents who want to voice their concerns at our public meetings. I have seen lack of transparency. I have seen several important programs for our children being missed out. Residents must have a voice and issues like lack of busing is unacceptable. The list goes on.”
All good solutions require collaboration, Patel said.
“I want to change the focus of the board and make it a more collaborative institution,” he said. “I want to build a strong, mutually respectful relationship between BOE and all stakeholders, collaborate with administration, students, educators, staff members and parents to ensure transparency and a thriving environment, something that I started right after becoming a BOE member.”
Patel said he wants to ensure participation of all residents and working with the administration to resolve all outstanding issues promptly and ensure the school district is successful in transportation, enrollment, food services, academic opportunities and special education.
“I will prioritize mental health of our children and ensure help and proactive education programs for drug use and mental health of our children,” he said. “I take the concern of overcrowding very seriously and feel that BOE has failed our residents by not having a viable plan despite high taxes. I will ensure that our money is well spent and we are able to eliminate all wastage and unnecessary expenditure so that we can make our town more affordable to live in and retirees do not feel the need to move out. We need to bring back full-day kindergarten as well. Also, we need to ensure health and safety of all our students, educators and staff members. They put faith in us and we need to have their back.”
Based on his experience and knowledge, Patel said he is “well equipped to oversee the provision of appropriate tools for educators, to help our students become the best and the the brightest in our state and improve our falling school rankings.”
“I will be a solid and steadfast voice for students, residents and taxpayers of Edison Township,” he said.
Doug Schneider, 42, is running on the Building Brighter Futures ticket. He is a lifelong resident of Edison and is married with three children, ages 12, 12 and 11, who attend Edison Public Schools.
Schneider earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Penn State University. He is the owner of Hospitality Group in New Brunswick.
Having grown up in Edison, Schneider has been involved in community activities his entire life. He served as an Eagle Scout with Troop 12 and served as a drum major in the Edison High School Marching Band.
In the community, Schneider has served as a youth sports coach for his sons; is currently active with public health and community volunteerism and fundraising focusing on ovarian cancer research; serves as chairman of the New Brunswick City Center of Board of Directors; and participated in pandemic-related community services, which helped provide more than 40,000 meals to first responders and people in need as well as host vaccine clinics.
Schneider is seeking his first term.
“I am deeply proud of my Edison roots and continue to proudly raise my family here,” he said “The students of Edison Township deserve strong, competent, non-partisan leadership. The board needs to focus on conserving taxpayer money while maximizing student achievement at the highest academic levels while also including the most reluctant learners. I am blessed to have established businesses and now it’s time to give back to the district that helped shape me. My skill set as a manager of a large organization, intimate knowledge of the school district, as well as my community efforts will be a perfect fit on the Edison BOE.”
For the students to achieve their maximum potential, it is vital to have both short- and long-term infrastructure plans to solve overcrowding and pandemic-related facility issues, Schneider said.
“Having a multi-phased approach to all capital improvement projects is key,” he said. “We need solutions now and those solutions must still fit in with our longer term goals. Having the proper infrastructure will allow for less crowding, a more healthy environment and the allowance for students to learn. We would be able to offer more AP (Advanced Placement) classes and honors curriculum while still focusing on our reluctant learners. I am confident all of these goals can be achieved without causing a tax burden to the residents of Edison.”
David Tingle, 42, is running on the United Edison Together ticket. He is a lifelong resident of Edison and is married to Megan with two children, a daughter, 14, and son, 12.
Tingle earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Community College of the Air Force. He attended New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police Front Line Supervisor program at Stockton University, attended Senior Enlisted Joint Professional Military Education (PME) and Senior Enlisted Joint PME II, both correspondence courses, from National Defense University, attended a Non-Commissioned Officer Prep Course, Non-Commissioned Officer Academy and Senior Non-Commissioned Officer Academy, all correspondence courses, from Air University.
He is currently a sergeant with the Edison Police Department and has served with the department for 18 years. He also serves as a senior master sergeant with the United States Air Force Reserves and has served for 26 years.
In the community, Tingle has served as coach for Edison Jets Football, Edison Boys Baseball, and Edison Township Basketball, he serves as commander for American Legion Father and Son Post 435, serves as a life member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3117 in Edison, serves as an active member of Edison Elks Lodge 2487 and serves as sergeant-at-arms and District 41 elected committeeman for the Edison Democratic Organization.
Tingle is seeking his first term.
“I am a sergeant with the Edison Police Department and a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force Reserves,” he said. “My wife and I have two school age kids who are very involved in youth sports. Drug abuse, addiction, mental health issues and other safety issues are reaching very concerning levels including in children in Edison. As a police officer for the last 18 years, I have seen it firsthand. I am running for BOE to offer ideas and solutions based on my extensive experience to address some of these issues. I want to work together with all stakeholders to promote school safety policies and youth sports and other extracurricular activities that can help prevent our children from dangerous paths. Since graduating in 1996 from Edison High School, I am concerned with the trajectory they are on and it would be an honor to work to improve the schools that educated me since I was a child.”
If elected, Tingle said he will work with his running mate Vimal [Parikh] to create a plan that has short- and long-term overcrowding solutions while also pushing for a zero percent tax increase in 2022 and improving the declining quality of some of the services in the schools, which affect students, parents and teachers.
Candidate Gabriel Haller did not respond before press time.
Polls open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 2.