LACEY – With slogans of Commitment with Integrity, Students Priorities First and For the Kids, five candidates are vying for three, three-year-terms on the township Board of Education.
Running on the first slogan is Jack Conaty, and incumbents Linda A. Downing and Edward Scanlon. Melody Pryor is running under the second slogan and Cheryl Beuschel-Armato the last.
Scanlon said he wants “to continue my efforts to provide the best possible educational experience for all of Lacey students. I want to continue to be a part of the development of creative budget solutions that guarantee programs and services are not lost in the face of continued state aid reductions.”
He said he wants to improve transparency. “I would work to continue and expand my efforts to have budget workshops open to the public to ask questions and make suggestions before the budget is finalized.”
Scanlon said, “I also see a growing need for additional emotional and psychological counseling at all levels. We need to increase our efforts in keeping support staff such as paraprofessionals. Students who depend on in-class support develop a bond of trust with their paras and we need to improve our retention levels of these employees.
“I also will continue to fight against out-sourcing services such as custodians and transportation. It is important that we maintain a support staff made up of people we know and trust. These are people have daily contact with our children,” Scanlon added.
The candidate said, “the most pressing issue facing the board is the continued reduction in state aid. The loss of upwards of a million dollars a year has created challenges in keeping all programs and activities functioning for all students.”
He added that “I also see that the lost time due to COVID restrictions has had lasting effect on the emotional wellbeing and education progress of many students. Developing intervention strategies focused on the needs of these children needs continued development.”
He is a former Lacey Township Committeeman and former Mayor. “I have served on numerous boards and am currently on the Zoning Board of Adjustment. As my children were growing up I was active in Lacey Little League, Lacey Soccer and Cub Scout Pack156. I have been an active member of The Lacey Township Municipal Alliance for the past 25 years.”
Conaty has been a volunteer firefighter in Lacey for over 25 years and currently serves as Chief of Lanoka Harbor Volunteer Fire Company.
“Volunteering my time for the betterment of my community was ingrained in me from a very early age. Some of the most important things I’ve learned in all that time is the importance of communication and transparency. You must be able to communicate with your reports, your supervisors and all stakeholders to be able to move forward together.
“In my role as Chief I am also responsible for budgeting for my department at the Township. I am well aware of how difficult it is to prioritize your wants and needs while finding balance with the needs of the taxpayers,” the candidate said.
Concerning the challenges ahead for the school district, Conaty noted “the ridiculous mandates from Trenton are some of the biggest challenges facing the district. Whether it be a one-size-fits-all COVID mandate or new education standards that are out of touch with the desires of so many parents for fear of children being taught topics that are either not age-appropriate or should be left to parents.
“We need to be proactive in petitioning lawmakers to reverse or minimize the impact these mandates have on the district. I care deeply about seeing the district operate at its best. There is a lot of uncertainty in the coming years and I want to be a part of the solution,” Conaty added.
He said, “one of the most pressing issues is the district finances. State funding is unfortunately scheduled to be cut another $2 million next year, on top of the past cuts. This greatly trickles down and affects every department in the district. Ultimately, it affects the students and this can’t happen.”
He said, “we need to find ways to generate revenue for the district to help offset some of the cuts. I have lived in Lacey for nearly my entire life and have had the opportunity to meet a lot of people throughout town. It has also given me the chance to be able to listen to what the members of the community have to say and hear their thoughts.”
Downing is the senior serving Board member. She chose to run again to “continue the work in progress. My role as a board member is not one of ridiculing or demeaning others, but rather to try and make a difference for the children of Lacey Township.”
“First and most importantly, we need to assist with the academic and emotional recovery from the pandemic and expedite the progress to ‘normalcy’ – getting back to where the children should be. Additionally important is to ensure our students come to a safe and secure place each and every day where they have the enthusiasm to learn and grow,” she said.
Downing said, “we need to continue finding proper space areas for special education and to work on inclusion so that all of our special needs students are included in all activities.”
“We were the first to collaborate with Ocean County College to put our Lacey Township High School College Academy program in place where our students can obtain their Associate Degree at Ocean County College at the same time as graduating high school,” she added.
She noted that in June “we had 29 graduates receiving their Associates Degree from Ocean County College before they graduated high school. I would like to see all of our academic programs improve in grades K-12 to ensure that we are one of the most competitive school districts in the county.”
“We have hired Data Coaches in the elementary schools to help guide our teachers in using data to improve instruction. I will be working to get programs such as Reading Recovery back in Lacey schools. This program, though costly, is a great resource to guide our beginning readers to reading success,” the candidate said.
“Our most pressing issue is money – with the state consistently giving us less and less money with additional mandated programs. Over a six-year period, Lacey has substantially received less state funding with the “new School Funding Reform Act” (S-2). Losing $6,530,520 from 2019-2023, Lacey stands to lose an additional $2.6 million for the next two years (2023-2025) for a total loss of aid of over $9.2 million,” Downing said.
She noted, “the Governor is forming a study commission to examine state funding. I want to see us lobby for a representative from our district or our governing body to represent Lacey Township on this commission. Our voices in Lacey need and must be heard.”
Downing said she wants to see an increase in training “for our paraprofessionals and staff working with our educationally, emotionally and physically challenging students to ensure our students grow both emotionally and educationally.”
Downing is a retired administrator from Toms River Regional Schools. “I was a Principal, Vice Principal, Supervisor of Instruction, in addition to having 25 years of teaching experience (mostly first grade), for a total of 43 years in education. Since then, I have done Interim work in three different districts serving as an Interim Principal, Interim Vice Principal in a middle school, Interim District Math and Science Supervisor, Interim Science Supervisor in three middle schools and Interim Supervisor in the Special Education Department.”
“I also have completed teacher observations in all three districts. I am consistently keeping abreast of current educational issues and programs. I have been honored and humbled to be elected to 10 terms on the Board of Education serving on all committees of the board throughout the years, as well as, President and Vice President for several terms. I also served as President of the Ocean County School Boards Association for three years and Vice President. I have had significant training over my years as a school board member through NJSBA.
Outside of her educational experiences, she volunteers for CASA (Court Appointed Special
Advocates for Foster Children) “where I serve as an advocate for children in foster care.”
“Our board is consistently looking at the budget and exploring ways to reduce costs without jeopardizing the educational programs. We are exploring different options to bring in revenue to the district. Analyzing utility costs are in the forefront due to the fact that our solar panels are coming to the end of their life,” Downing said.
“The Curriculum Committee is working to make our academics as competitive as other K-12 districts. Our goals, “Learner Success” are part of the strategic plan. We plan to continue the emphasis of increasing SAT scores and participation,” Downing said.
“I would also like to see a Parent Advisory Committee formed with six representatives: one from each of our six schools. The purpose of this committee would involve listening to parents with concerns and working closely with the Superintendent to share those concerns. This would be a place for parents to get information and direction in a confidential environment, if they feel uncomfortable speaking to the teacher or school,” Downing added.
Armato said “I was motivated to run for the Board of Education for several reasons. While sitting at a BOE meeting this year, public comments got a bit heated. One of the current BOE members said numerous times to all the members of the community in attendance ‘if you think you can do a better job than put your name on the ballot.’”
She noted that “currently, we have only one parent on the board with school age children. Parents with children in the district are needed so they can be involved in implementing change in policies, curriculum and finance that will have a positive impact on their children as well as current and future Lacey students.”
Armato said her vision is to bring back “a high morale environment with the focus on academic excellence. Teachers have been tasked with teaching to standardized testing, yet we do not have standardized children. One test does not fit all. We need to start teaching fundamentals again.
“School should be exciting and fun for both the students and the teachers. Classrooms should be free from all toxic, radical, political trendy agendas plaguing our schools. Many children feel confused and stressed leading to bullying that is inflicting both mental and physical harm to our students,” she added.
Armato added, “students do not need to think the same way or hold the same beliefs to treat each other with respect and should never be pressured to conform to any belief they do not hold.”
“If elected, I will bring my 30 years of successful business experience in sales, operations, leadership, fitness and wellness, marketing and entrepreneurship to the board of education plus my 27 years of motherhood,” she added. “As a gym owner and a fitness coach I love seeing people with various goals working together and motivating one another toward common goals. I believe no goals are beyond reach and all things are possible when surrounded by motivated, inspiring people committed to excellence in pursuit of reaching new levels of success.”
“From a parent’s point of view one of the most pressing issues I feel the Lacey BOE is currently facing is the friction between the BOE and the public. Some parents feel our values are no longer being respected and our voices are not being heard,” Armato said.
She said, “parents are losing trust in the school district forcing some parents to consider opting out of curriculum, home school or move them to another district.”
Armato added that this was the same with taxpayers, “they want their voices heard. Our community does not voice concerns to annoy the BOE they do so because the matters they bring forth effect their children, grandchildren, etc. and they want answers and action.”
She stressed that “questions from public comment should be answered by the appropriate committee(s) and/or BOE President or Superintendent if not immediately, before or at the next meeting or why have public comment at all? Since there is only one member of the current BOE who has school age children you would think parent input would be more welcomed and appreciated so the BOE knows the pulse of the children’s needs.”
Pryor said she chose to run this year “because there is a growing lack of compatibility between the Board of Education and the community. My concern over the lack of candidates drove me forward to join in the election. Democracy requires multiple candidates in all elections to maintain the integrity and benefit of our precious democratic process.
“Curriculum is a critical issue facing the Board. The Board must keep a level of moral decorum and listen to the community, students and families concerns when discussing curriculum. A basic example of curriculum erosion is the disregard of cursive handwriting. Civics and specific periods in history have disappeared from textbooks,” Pryor added.
She said, “graduating students are not prepared to enter early adulthood. Most cannot manage a bank account. I applaud those students who took the initiative to learn how to correctly count change when handling money in a culture of calculators and credit cards.”
The candidate noted, “somehow, we have accepted a change in vernacular. No longer do we hear ‘you are welcome’ instead we hear ‘no problem.’ Problem? I was unaware I had a problem when saying ‘thank you.’”
“The Board of Education must acknowledge that education is steering away from the fundamentals. Equal education cannot be obtained solely with electronic teaching. Excessive external communication can diminish students’ ability to be cognitively prepared for their future,” she said.
Pryor added that if elected, “my education and past employment experience would infuse new energy into the Lacey Board of Education. My goal is to work with the Board to develop new ideas and solutions to set a positive, moral direction for present and future academia.”
“I would be accessible to listen and learn the concerns of all residents of Lacey Township. Together, with the Board, we must develop innovative solutions to the crisis at hand,” Pryor said in conclusion.