JACKSON – Voters will decide between three candidates seeking two, three-year terms on the Board of Education in the general election this week.
Incumbent Allison Barocas of Victoria Circle won election last fall filling an unexpired term. Former Board member John Spalthoff of Ruby Court was appointed to fill an unexpired term last year and lost in the fall election. Megan Gardella of Peacock Lane ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the board last year.
Spalthoff said, “I’ve spent the past 25 years as a teacher and school administrator. My passion and knowledge are in making school the best possible experience for all students. I pride myself in my dedication to Jackson and the children of Jackson.
“I strongly believe that my background in education, my understanding of how schools operate, my work with BOEs, and having children in the school system currently and for the past 15 years has set me up to be a successful BOE member,” he added.
When asked what he feels is the most pressing issue that the district is currently facing he said, “at the moment that is the cost of non-public transportation and the impact that is having on the overall school budget. This needs to be addressed at the State level through legislation and changes to the funding for this transportation.”
Spalthoff said, “the other most and more important issue facing the school district is the mental health of our students and staff. The past three years have pushed everyone to their breaking points and the district needs to make sure that the mental health of our staff and students is priority number one.
“I’ve seen many things taking place over the past year that shows Jackson’s dedication to the mental health of our staff and students and I look forward to the opportunity to continue to support this important work,” he added.
He said he began his career in 1998 as a 5th grade teacher and continued to teach 4th and 5th grade for seven years. “During that time, I obtained my Master’s Degree in Educational Administration. In 2005, I began my administrative career serving as an Assistant Principal for five years and then the next seven as a principal.
Spalthoff said in 2017, he became a superintendent/principal in Monmouth County “and still have that position. In that capacity, I also serve as the facilities director and special education director. Additionally, I have coached both recreation and travel soccer for Jackson Soccer Club for the past 10 years with the last seven years as the head coach of the current U17 Jackson Power Girls Travel Team.
“I am also a current Board member for the Monmouth Ocean Educational Services Commission and a founding member of the Monmouth County Schools Partnership for Wellness. These vast experiences have and continue to give me a solid background on how best to serve the children of Jackson as a Board of Education member,” he added.
Spalthoff has lived in Jackson with his wife Megan since 2003. “We have three children that have all attended Jackson Schools, with our sophomore twin daughters currently at Jackson Liberty. Our son, Timothy, is a Freshman at Belmont University in Nashville.”
As to challenges ahead for the school district, Spalthoff said, “the biggest challenges I see facing the district are the funding issues created both by S2 (State Aid Funding Formula) and the cost of non-public transportation. Proactively, we need to continue to push Trenton to change or assist with these funding issues.”
Gardella said he has chosen to run for a Board seat again because “I have a stake in the Jackson educational system. I am not only a taxpayer; I am a parent of three school-age children. In my opinion students are the main focus.”
Gardella said the most pressing issue facing the BOE is “slashes in state funding have put pressure on district administration to evaluate ways in which to balance a smaller budget with required spending, all while hoping to maintain the superior programs for which Jackson is touted.
“Schools are one of the backbones of any community, therefore difficult discussions need to be had regarding current and projected student enrollment, population and programming needs for the current demographics, along with a review of building usage and possible redistricting,” she added.
Gardella added, “innovative ideas to increase funding for extracurricular, sports, arts and enrichment programs, such as ways to bring in outside community partnerships to help offset reductions in funds.”
“The challenges ahead will focus on the balance of funds to programs. The state requires that all school districts fund special education services, transportation, along with auxiliary and remedial services for students who attend non-public schools in town.”
She recommended that the school district, “scrutinize the budget and should be preparing the community for tough decisions that could be impacted by funding cuts in order to preserve excellence. I believe the district has been working to obtain a new enrollment study which will aid in staffing needs, building use changes and/or need for redistricting of students.
“As a trained social worker, a former Jackson School District child study team member, a mother and a business owner whose main position is to scrutinize spending and budgeting, I believe I bring a perspective that is well-rounded,” the candidate added.
Gardella is a lifelong resident of Jackson. “I attended Jackson Schools, and was a former district employee for 10 years before resigning to be with my family seven years ago. I have three daughters. One is at each Jackson school level: high school, middle school, and elementary.”
She noted an increase in students requiring English as a Second Language (ESL) services “is an area that will present another challenge to the district. The implementation of programs that will support all families and get them involved in school is imperative. One way to start to get a better handle on the population change would be to review the current registration protocol to ensure swift identification of students requiring ESL services.”
Gardella said now was the time for the school district to think outside the box when funding extracurricular activities and programs. There are available programs from athletic clothing brands that can offset uniform costs to the school district.
“There are many local businesses and/ individuals that want to support the Jackson schools and that the district should look into developing an educational fund. The current board stated to me that a non-profit needs to be created with its own board of executives that grants the funds out and that they were working on it. We are almost a year into considering this idea and I would like to help bring it to fruition,” Gardella added.
Barocas joined the Jackson Board of Education in January. “There is a renewed energy and optimism felt amongst the board. During those first few months there is much to learn about what the board’s role is and how we work with the administration and the community.”
“Now that my sleeves are rolled up and I am fully immersed in different committees and activities throughout our district, I feel I’m just getting started and have so much more to offer,” she added.
Barocas said, “the S2 cuts from the state’s flawed school funding formula and the growing nonpublic student population that are entitled to school transportation services according to state law. These are ongoing opportunities that continue to be looked at and addressed throughout the year.
“Despite the above-mentioned challenges, the budget was balanced, curriculum wasn’t cut, routes were bid on, and the district saved money. Our administration has been working with local legislators and other districts, who are also feeling the cuts from the state, to draft a bill that would help remedy the financial burden on the public-school budgets,” Barocas added.
Regarding her experience to do the job she said, “I have 20 plus years of analyst and negotiation expertise in the pharmaceutical industry. My volunteer activities included coaching Flag Cheer and Peanuts Soccer. I was an HC Johnson PTO board member for two years.”
Barocas said, “I ran the Adopt an 8th Grader 2020 Facebook page during the pandemic to ensure our kids received the same celebrations and recognition as if they were in school that year. (I was) Team Mom for the JMHS Lacrosse team for the past two years.”
“During this past year I have attended many of our athletic events, plays, etc. throughout our district so I can see our Jackson students in the programs they love and the smiles on their faces. This allows me to ask more questions and raise awareness when budgets are discussed and why we must keep these programs within our schools,” the candidate said.
“I am not just a member on a board, I am an active volunteer who is the voice for our community who happens to have a seat at the table. I have lived in Jackson Township for 19 years with my husband Sam. We have two children who are currently in the Jackson School District. Our daughter is a freshman, and our son is a junior both at Jackson Memorial High School,” Barocas said.
She said, “additional S2 cuts that will take from our budget and the growing non-public student population that the current funding formula does not account for. For now, until the school funding formula is fixed, the board along with the administration can look to cut costs efficiently without it directly affecting the education and experience for our students.