Funding Key Topic In Brick School Board Race

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  BRICK – Residents will have the opportunity to vote for two Board of Education members out of the five candidates who are running for the positions during the November general election.

  Each candidate was asked the following questions: Why are you running for the Board of Education? Do you have children who attend the public schools in town? Do you have any relatives who work for the district? What is your age, educational background and work experience? And what do you think is the district’s most pressing issue?

  Here are their answers in alphabetical order by last name.

  Micah Bender, 37, said he is running for the seat because he believes in public education, he believes in the students, the teachers and the community.

  “We are facing very difficult times right now, and I believe that with my education and career experiences that I am the right person for the job to help make Brick Township Public Schools the best possible school system it can be,” he wrote.

Micah Bender

  “There are people on board who do not send their children to Brick Public Schools. How can someone believe in Brick Schools, if their own children do not attend them?” Bender asked.

  “I want to serve all our students, all stakeholders, all district personnel, all community members. We are all partners in this and it’s about time that all our voices are heard. It’s time that all ideas are considered. We need to be more transparent. We need to be more communicative to the community,” he said.

  Bender has two elementary school-aged children in the district and has no relatives who work for the schools. He has a Bachelors in finance degree from the University of Maryland and a Master’s degree from the University of Ohio.

  He works as an Education Program Specialist in the office of Career Readiness for the NJ Department of Education. He is the Personal Financial Literacy Coordinator for the state and works with secondary schools with CTE Funding. Before that, Bender was a high school math and business education teacher and football and wrestling coach for 14 years.

  “The most pressing issue facing our school district is funding. I intend to look very closely at our budget to find ways of saving money that doesn’t include raising taxes, cutting jobs. We are facing very difficult times right now and I believe that with my education and career experiences that I am the right person to help make Brick Township the best possible school system it can be,” he said.

  Bender is running under the banner, “Transparency and Community.”

  Michael A. Blandina, 56, said he has been involved in the community since his sixth grade class at Lake Riviera Middle School took on a community project to restore the Gravelly Graveyard off Princeton Avenue.

  “Since then, I was a volunteer at the Brick Hospital Fair, have served as a member of the Mayor’s Council of Teenage Drug and Alcohol Abuse, a member of the Municipal Alliance Committee and past member of the Brick Township Lions Club,” he wrote.

Michael A. Blandina

  “Currently I serve as a member of the Brick Township Municipal Utilities Authority. Additionally, I have served on the Ocean County Saint Patrick’s Day Parade Committee for 30 years and the Ocean County Columbus Day Parade Committee for 29 years, the last 27 years as Chairman. So running for the Brick Township Board of Education seems to be the right and next thing for me, to serve my community and especially the children of the school system,” Blandina said.

  He does not have any children in the school system and none of his relatives work for the school district. Blandina said he grew up as a “Brick Township Boy,” having attended township schools and graduating from Brick Township High School in 1982 – the first year Brick Township had two graduation classes, he said.

  “I am retired from the State of New Jersey and currently own a party planning and events business. In addition to graduating from the Brick Township School system I am a graduate of Ocean County College,” he said.

  Blandina said he is running for the position because he is concerned about the cut in state aid and wants to work with others to fight for the district.

  “I also believe we need to continue to improve our facilities and provide the tools to the teachers, so that they can do the job they want to do. I also realize we must do this job while keeping the taxpayer’s ability to pay in mind,” Blandina said.

  He is running under the banner, “Brick First.”

  Jessica Clayton, 41, is the only incumbent running for re-election. She said she wants to continue fighting for state funding for the district.

  “Our district is currently operating well below what the state considers to be an adequate budget and yet they give us no path to secure the funding we need. They must do justice for all the districts in the state running below adequacy and give all children the education they deserve,” she wrote.

  “Studies have proven that children need a foundation of knowledge to become better readers. I would like to see schedules in elementary schools include 30 minutes of both science and social studies every day so that children can become not only better scientists and historians but also better readers,” Clayton said.

Jessica Clayton

  She said that as an early child educator, she sees everyday how play teaches children to improve their mathematics, scientific, social, emotional, linguistic and physical skills.

  “Play gives children the opportunity to hone the skills learned in direct instruction as both mentors and learners in their interactions with their peers. I hope the schools continue to adopt workshop-style instructional practices that allot classroom time to utilizing play as a support for learning,” she said.

  Clayton does not have any children who attend the public schools and she does not have any relatives who are employed in the district.

  She said she is a family child care provider and a professional development leader with a passion for outdoor education and play.

  Clayton has a bachelor’s degree in history and English from Rutgers University and completed a preschool through third grade graduate certification program at Montclair State University.

  “The single most pressing issue facing our school district is our loss of state funding through S2. I am currently taking a course to improve my organizing skills. I hope to use these skills to help to galvanize support and pressure the state to take action to get our students the funding they need,” Clayton said.

  She is running under the banner, “Fighting for Funding.”

  The Brick Times reached out to candidate Melissa Lozada multiple times, but she declined to participate in this profile story. She is running under the banner, “Time for Change.”

  Melissa Parker, 44, said she is running for the school board because she has four children who attend district schools at the elementary and high school levels.

  “I want to make sure decisions being made that directly affect them are in their best interest, and in the best interest of the entire Brick community,” she wrote.

  “As an active national, state and school PTA member, I will continue to advocate for them. I am currently a stay at home mom. I worked for a law firm for 12 years until my second child was born,” she said.

Melissa Parker

  Parker has an associate’s degree in early childhood education and was a rotating preschool teacher at Wall Methodist child care last year. She does not have any family who are employees of the district, but she said she has “countless friends that are teachers, paras, food service employees, etc. Their roles are extremely important to our children’s success.”

  She said the most important issue facing the district is the state funding cuts brought on by the S-2 bill, and the effect that will have on a post-COVID education.

  “I will continue to advocate for the release and reconfiguration of the S-2 formula and the restoration of funding. I’ve submitted testimony to the State Budget Committees and attended rallies. Brick Schools are already funded and operate below adequacy levels. These cuts not only affect the students but the entire community and will have a negative impact on property values and increase taxes to try and fill the gap.

  “COVID has already changed the landscape of education for our students. Continued budget cuts will only make a fair and equitable education harder to obtain for our children. I will continue to fight for our fair share of State funding,” Parker said.

  She is running under the banner, “Transparency and Community.”