HOWELL – Candidates will be vying for three seats on the Township Board of Education during the November 3 general election.
According to the Monmouth County Clerk’s Office website, Board Vice President Albert “Al” Miller, incumbents Dr. Denise M. Lowe, Ira Thor along with challenger Stephen Dobbins are seeking competing for three full-term seats on the board.
Current board member Laurence Gurman is also running unopposed for a two-year unexpired term. In an unusual sequence of events, he lost his seat last year but the winner of that race had to resign before the board’s reorganization meeting in January and he was ultimately appointed to fill one year of the three-year seat.
Along with starting a new school year in a hybrid fashion of live and remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Howell school District has, like other school districts in the state been hit hard by the S-2 State Aid Funding formula.
The district saw a $1.6 million cut last year prior to pandemic. The district sends students to the Freehold Regional High School District which lost $6 million.
Thor said, “this year, more than any year ever before, the issues are very straightforward. The most important issue right now is the safe re-opening of our school district (and our community) while navigating the global COVID-19 pandemic.”
“If this is not done correctly and monitored continuously, it will have near-term devastating health impacts and long-term will permanently derail the education of an entire generation of children. This is very likely the most important issue that has ever faced the Howell Township Board of Education (or any school district in the country). As a member of the Community Interaction Committee, I was directly involved in the planning of the reopening process which sought input from hundreds of members of our community,” Thor added.
He said he was the only Board member to wear a mask while on the dais, demonstrating PPE use. “I have publicly demonstrated to the community how our own children were responsibly wearing PPE. I have led by example and I will continue to be ‘in the trenches’ on this issue.”
Thor said he’d like to monitor over the next three years “what I call the ‘Progression Gap’. With learning upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, our students may ultimately fall grossly behind the academic progress of students from past years, which will have a permanent impact on their educational foundation.”
“I think it is vitally important that we monitor the academic growth of our students now more than ever and provide opportunities for intervention. The second vital issue right now continues to be school funding and its impact on the property taxes of our community. New Jersey’s S-2 bill, in theory, was meant to modernize the state’s school funding formula for the first time in a decade but in practice, it is going to decimate and destroy the budgets of the Howell K-8 School District and the Freehold Regional High School,” Thor noted.
“The solutions to this are legislative advocacy and efficiencies. We will continue to work with our district administration to find ways to modernize our district to realize cost savings and make processes more efficient to save where we can. Additionally, as a member of the Howell Township BOE Legislative Advocacy Committee, we must continue to press our state legislators to restore much of this funding.”
Miller said he was seeking another term on the Board, “to continue my work to support the excellent education the students in our District receive. In my nine years on the Board, our District has come under many challenges such as COVID-19, technology upgrades, state mandates, funding cuts and etc. Many hard decisions were needed during these times and it was my experience on the Board that assisted me in making these decisions.”
“I also want to continue to be a voice for every student, staff member and resident of our District. As Board Members it is extremely important that we seek the input of the people we serve. I will continue to be a voice of the students, staff and residents of our great district,” Miller said.
He is a 15-year resident of the township and has two daughters one of whom is in Howell High School. Miller retired from FDNY Emergency Medical Services which “allows me to bring a Healthy & Safety outlook to the Board especially now during the current pandemic.”
“Both of my daughters went through the Howell School system. They received excellent education by the dedicated hard-working staff we have in our district. While on the Board I attended numerous Professional Development programs allowing me to obtain certification by New Jersey School Boards Association as Certified School Board Member, Master School Board Member and Certified School Board Leader,” Miller added.
He currently serves as president of the Monmouth County School Boards Association. “I was appointed to the New Jersey School Boards Association’s Legislative & Resolutions Committees which allows me to meet with our legislators both in Trenton and Washington DC to bring the concerns of Howell Township directly to our legislators.”
Miller said he believes “one of the greatest challenges facing our district is state aid budget cuts due to S-2. Our district is slated to lose close to $13 million even with the increased expenses due to COVID-19. This cannot be expected to be made up by our taxpayers in Howell. One way I can continue to do this is through advocacy. We also need to continue to look closely at our budget and make those hard decisions to keep our budget affordable for our residents.”
Lowe said she was seeking another term “so that I further the goals and objectives of the Howell Township Strategic Action plan, In February of 2019 the board, conducted a renewal of our 5-year strategic plan.”
The goals for the action plan include Learner Success, District Operations, Physical, Social and Emotional Wellness, PersonnelTalent Team and Community Interaction. “The strength of our board work is in the committee structure which involves citizen members which is unique in New Jersey. I have chaired the Education committee for four of those years, Labor and Professional Learning.”
She said her goal if re-elected, would be to continue to provide technical assistance and oversight of the new five-year strategic plan in my role as a board member.”
“I would continue working through the committee process using my areas of expertise to work with my fellow board members and the district administration in the implementation of our focus on equity and equality for all,” Lowe said.
Lowe is an educator who has worked in schools for over 42 years. “I have served as a teacher, Associate, NYS State Education Department, assistant principal at the elementary and high school, elementary principal, assistant superintendent and retired as superintendent in 2013.”
“I established my consulting business, All Children Can Learn, LLC, where I am the managing director and provides instructional and leadership coaching in several states in our country since the business was formed in 2014. I have lived in Howell Township for 11 years, my son attended and graduated from Memorial Middle School from 2009-2011,” the candidate said.
Lowe added, “I bring my passion and commitment to Howell Township – a wonderful community where the school district is high performing and provides high quality instruction and program. During my six years on the board I have chaired the Education committee for four years, chaired our Labor committee and worked in tandem with my fellow board members, district officials and teacher leadership; to negotiate the last contract with substantial cost saving for the school district in health benefits and providing additional time for teachers and support staff in professional learning.
“Our Board has maintained master board certification as a board for 20 years. This committee helps us to maintain the high standard of excellence. The greatest issue facing our school currently is declining state funds due to the pandemic and our district re-opening plan,” Lowe said.
“We have developed an exemplary school reopening plan that involved parents, staff and community members. I also feel strongly that we need to evaluate the post COVID-19 practices that worked during remote learning as many students thrived in the digital platform, she said.
“We have always maintained and been efficient and cost effective in our spending over the years in all areas of school operations. It is always about ever improving quality,” Lowe added.
Dobbins is a 14-year resident of the township and a Howell High School graduate with degrees from Brookdale Community College and Rutgers University. “I am running because I believe I can help bring fresh ideas and experience to our board. I do not have children. I want to make sure our students are best prepared for a technology lead future that is fast approaching and I am also running for the children I will have that will go through our school system.”
“I want to help work through one of the most difficult periods of our lives, giving all I can to make sure our schools stay at the level of excellence they are,” for when he eventually starts a family, he added.
“Over the last almost seven months I have been in the trenches with our small businesses, predominantly gyms and restaurants, helping owners navigate through much unknown. I did this by always being as prepared as possible and knowing all technologies available to us. When
a shutdown was necessary we seamlessly transitioned to an online platform, without losing a beat.”
“We learned to be flexible, constantly improved and adapted, were consistently communicative and in all I was given a treasure-trove of how-to’s and what-to-do’s in the process,” he added.
Dobbins said he wants to see, “the next generation of students use our Howell Schools as a launchpad for success no matter the obstacles like I have. I own a local Marketing and Advertising company called Stormin’ Arts Productions. I take great pride that it is a company based in our town. I work with small businesses, creating content that best tells their story.”
“My experience in technology and having to be a smartly flexible organizer throughout COVID. I grew up in a very similar world to how our students are. I don’t remember a time without cell phones, I was in middle school when social media was born, I have built a business out of combining customer service and technology, and adapting to whatever new app or update or service that comes out is welcoming,” Dobbins added.
Dobbins said, “I understand how at times technology can be frustrating and, quite honestly, how frighteningly difficult it can be. Which is why I believe I can be a fresh fit for our board and bring this new, more closely understood to our students perspective to help make our board even better.”
He said the greatest issue facing the school district is confidence. “We need to face this by being more confident in our plans, in our ability to come together to have reasonable conversation and to understand the facts of the matter. I will be a present, available and transparent leader
for our community.”
“We need to be confident as a town, as one community, that we can successfully execute our plan for as long as we need to. Because our students need us. We need to be confident parents for them, confident teachers, confident staff workers and bus drivers, confident neighbors and business owners, we need to be a confident Howell for our students. As a Board member this will be a top priority for me,” Dobbins said.