HOWELL – While there are no municipal races this year, four candidates are vying for three seats on the school district’s Board of Education in the Nov. 5 general election.
Those seeking a three-year term to the school board include challenger Joseph Tate and incumbents Mark A. Bonjavanni, Cristy Mangano, and Laurence Gurman.
Bonjavanni, 65, currently serves as Board of Education president and lives on Salem Hill Road. He has lived at that address for around 35 years. His current profession is a Real Estate salesman. “I have worked many different careers, the longest of which was a liability claims representative in the auto/homeowner insurance industry,” Bonjavanni said.
“My experience with the Board is a long one. For three years, I attended almost every meeting, as an active citizen, watching and commenting when I felt appropriate. I served on several committees as a citizen member. I first came onto the Board in 2000, served until 2005 when I was offered a position at the New Jersey School Board.
“I did stay involved with the Howell Board though, often attending meetings,” Bonjavanni said.
After leaving NJSBA, he was again elected to the Board. Bonjavanni said “there are several crucial issues facing not just the Howell Township Board, but boards across the state. The State funding formula is one of the largest issues. It is crucial that we work together and wisely to be fiscally responsible.” The candidate noted the district’s recent addition of solar panels as an example. He said “this enabled us to put air conditioning in all classes district wide, at no impact to the taxpayer.
“Our current Board has a very active Advocacy Committee, and a few of us have met several times with local Assembly and State legislators to discuss funding, the recent large cuts, and how these and other issues impact the schools, students and parents,” the candidate added.
Bonjavanni said his reasons for seeking another term included his being able to “bring experience and knowledge to the Board. I know what our issues are, and I have experience working with my fellow members and with administration.”
Fellow incumbent Laurence Gurman, 76, lives on South Westfield Road. He taught European history at what was then Monmouth College and for 41 years afterward worked for the Office of Legislative Services.
“My work consisted of serving in a non-partisan capacity involving the analysis of policy issues, drafting legislation, and assisting legislators as bills proceeded through the legislative process,” Gurman said.
For nine years, from 1987 to 1996, he served on the Township Board of Education. He served as Board vice-president for one year and was a member, at times, of the Education Committee, Finance Committee, Policy Committee, Community Relations Committee and Nutrition Committee. “For a number of those years, I chaired the education, finance and policy committees,” Gurman said.
Gurman has been involved with the Howell Township Education Foundation since it was established in 2005. The non-profit organization devotes the proceeds of its fundraising activities, including the monies raised by supporters of the annual Race to Educate, to teachers and other staff members who receive grants for developing and implementing innovative programs.
In 2015, the Howell Chamber of Commerce chose Gurman as Howell Township Citizen of the Year. He served as chairman of the HTEF prior to returning to the school board in 2017.
“During the last three years, I have been a member of various committees, at times, including the Education Committee, Community Interaction Committee, Legislative Advocacy Committee, and Policy Committee. Currently, I chair the Policy Committee and Legislative Advocacy Committee,” Gurman said.
Gurman said he looks forward to “continuing to have an opportunity to participate in the analysis and resolution of issues with the other members of the School Board, the Superintendent of Schools, and senior administrators, faculty and staff in a collaborative manner.”
Cristy Mangano, 41, is a registered nurse who lives on Snow Chief Court. She has served on the Board of Education for the last three years.
“I have had a lot of experience even before I was elected to the board. I served as a citizen member on committees which made me want to get more involved so that is why I ran for the board position. I think with my experience working on this board will be a big help if I were to be re-elected.”
When asked what she felt was pressing concern facing the Board, Mangano said “We are facing a lot of state aid cuts which will make us have to work harder to make sure our students get what they need as well as being fiscally responsible for all of our taxpayers.
“The reason I am running for re-election is because I feel I have so much more to offer and would like to continue the work that we have been working on since I was elected. I feel I can be a voice for our community as that is what I have done and will continue to do,” she said.
Mangano said “I have experience before joining the board as a citizens member just starting to learn the way the district operates to now being a board member. I also am a mother of five children and work full time as a registered nurse which gives me the opportunity to be a good advocate for our district. I hope to see our district improve with helping our young children learn how to cope with all the different stressors that our children face today.
“I would like to be part of the Monmouth County Schools Partnership for Wellness and Mental Health. I think in the world we live in today, we really have to look at not only the educational aspect of our students but our students well-being,” the candidate said.
“We are lucky to have our Superintendent leading the way with this and this is something I would really love to continue working on if I were to be re-elected. I am very dedicated and passionate about our students and district and will continue to advocate to the best of my ability,” Mangano said.
Joseph Tate, 37, of Christopher Drive is a small business owner and entrepreneur. He owns an online retail company and an art licensing agency.
“I’ve been a small business owner and entrepreneur for over 15 years, I know how to run a business, budget, work with employees, set policies that operate throughout the company, and, how to innovate to ensure we’re getting the best return for the money we are spending,” Tate said.
Tate added that he is the “spouse of a teacher in the regional high school district. I’m also a parent of two young kids just starting their time in the Howell School system.
Tate noted that one of the most pressing issues to face the Board of Education is transportation. “How our kids are getting to school, and their safety, is probably the most important issue facing our board right now. With the recent move to change the way busing is done, many issues have arisen. We need to ensure every bus stop is in a safe location for the students waiting for that bus. We also need to ensure the safety of those children getting on and off the bus. Putting cameras on the buses to catch anyone trying to drive around the bus when it has its stop sign out would be a way to ensure we can catch those putting out children in danger.”
Tate said he is running because “I see room for improvement in our schools. In several factors such as, transportation, spending and budgeting, safety, and focusing on technology. All these issues must be addressed to ensure the top-notch education that Howell residents deserve. I feel I can bring something new to the table instead of the same old things that have been done in the past.”
Tate said, “I’d like to see a bigger focus on technology and ensure we’re giving our children the tools they need to succeeded in the future. I’d like to ensure that we are making the wisest use of the funds we have been entrusted with.”