Regional School Board Candidates Sound Off

Photo courtesy Toms River Regional School District

  OCEAN COUNTY – School funding and parental advocacy topped the list of concerns for candidates seeking to represent their towns on the Toms River Regional Board of Education. There are three positions on the ballot this November.

  For the Toms River spot, incumbent Kathleen Eagan will be challenged by Daynne Glover. Eagan began her first term in 2019. Glover, whose slogan is “For Every Child,” ran once before in 2020. That race was covered in a previous article.

  In Beachwood, incumbent Alex Mizenko is not running for re-election. Melissa Morrison, who ran in 2019, is running under the slogan “For Our Children.” Reuven Hendler is running under the slogan “Better Education.” Lisa Magovern is running under the slogan “Our Children First.”

  Melissa Morrison is a public school educator, small business owner and works in the service industry. If elected, this would be her first experience in public office.

  “For several years, I’ve testified in opposition of State Aid cuts in support of our local school district during the Assembly and Senate Budget Appropriations Hearings. Last May, I advocated for curriculum transparency within public education during the Senate Education Committee at the state house,” she said.

  “Toms River Regional School District’s biggest issues stem from S2 cuts state aid to school districts,” she said. “Our financial crisis directly impacts student learning and achievement. Since 2018, Toms River has lost over $59 million in state funding; $117 million since 2010. Those cuts decimate our district; loss of staff, cuts to programs, lack of resources, large class sizes, cuts to co-curriculars and extra curriculars. I plan on continuing my advocacy for losing S2 districts whether it’s from a spectator seat or from a seat at our Board of Education table. Our children are expected to be successful without support from the State of New Jersey. We can’t preach that we have the best public schools when our state purposely cuts aid, year after year, to over 198 New Jersey school districts. Those cuts not only impact our local school district but our households, local businesses and our communities. State aid cuts are a direct hit to our most precious population, our children. The New Jersey Department of Education needs to be held accountable.

  “The District’s current lawsuit filed with 5 other school districts does just that. It holds the NJDOE accountable for the release of the fair funding formula. We need accountability and transparency in public education and this is where it starts. Educational legislation does not come with funding to fulfill mandated legislation. This is about Every. Single. Child. It’s about giving all students, regardless of zip code, the tools necessary to be well-rounded, educated, resourceful and productive citizens. Where do they learn those characteristics and traits? They learn it through a constitutionally mandated equitable, thorough and efficient education provided by their local school district,” she said.

  When asked what new things she would want to do in the district, she said that they need to enhance what they do best, but also work on their weaknesses.

  “Communication and transparency is key for success,” she said. “The communication and transparency to our communities is sometimes lacking. The District has a responsibility to its stakeholders; to disseminate information and to do it in a timely manner. The District has a website that isn’t always user friendly. The District website is a form of communication to parents/guardians seeking information. Parents/Guardians look to the website for information,  guidance, policies, protocols, calendars, etc. It’s the lifeline from the District to the four servicing communities. There’s always room for improvement with communication and transparency and I’m looking to do just that.”

  Reuven Hendler is a project manager at a civil engineering company. If elected, this would be his first experience in public office.

  “Toms River Regional School District is slated to lose $4,324,313 in state aid for the 2022-2023 school year because of the school funding plan under S2. The state aid cuts were less than the $8 million in funding the district expected to lose,” he said.

  “Thankfully an influx of federal COVID-19 aid helped the district avoid massive staff cuts and attracted new bus drivers with a higher starting salary while we are experiencing a driver shortage. The 2024-2025 school year funding is worrying; the federal COVID-19 funds will be plenished by then, forcing us to cut the essential resources needed to secure a quality education for the district.

  “As your board of education representative, I will lobby and fight the state in court to ensure Toms River Regional receives the funds we need to give our children a better education,” he said.

  When discussing bringing new ideas to the board, he said “Parents are worried about the rising bullying rates and students’ overall mental health. Childhood bullying can cause lifetime psychological damage. It is so common that up to 35% of kids have experienced it. The current state anti-bullying guidelines do not go far enough to prevent bullying and harassment. The district needs to enact additional measures to protect all children.”

  Lisa Magovern was hired as a public elementary school teacher approximately 21 years ago. “I taught 1st grade, 2nd grade and 3rd grade. After having my third child, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and decided to take some time off. I am very fortunate to be hired back for the 2022/2023 school year in the same district and building I started my career in many years ago. I am so happy being back to working with the students again.”

  If elected, this would be her first experience in public office. She has been involved with civic groups such as: “former Girl Scout Asst. Leader, Cub Scout Asst. Leader, Boy Scout Committee Chairperson, Softball Coach, Hockey Team Manager, PTO Corresponding Secretary, PTO 1st Vice President, Island Beach Civic Association children’s activities chairperson/Coordinator, TR District SEPAG liaison and TR District Super Safety Committee liaison.”

  “The biggest issues facing our district stems from S2 cuts. The defunding of our schools will cause teacher/support staff/other staff cuts. We will face larger class sizes, over worked staff, loss of activities/clubs and this will continue on making negative impacts on our students’ education. Our school community has worked together writing letters to state leaders, making in person trips to the State House and making our voices heard. It makes me proud of our school community because no one person can do this alone. As a District Community, we must continue to have our voices heard. Our Administration and TRBOE must find a way through our elected officials and leaders in our State Education System to fix the ‘Fair Funding Formula.’ The money that goes to lawyers can offset many costs in our district. Other districts that have not been defunded are being rewarded for lower graduation rates and (we) are being punished for higher graduation rates,” she said.

  “I know we use grants and our PTOs work so hard to supplement needs and luxuries to their schools. This is such a big issue, it will require us coming together to save our schools. I would like to see us focus on more grants and asking our PTOs to help keep our programs, school trips, clubs and activities alive,” she said.

  “I have been thinking about the defunding of our schools so much, but over the years I’ve thought about some things I would like to see done in our district. Although some of these things may seem small, I think bringing our towns and other parts of our communities together would make us stronger. I would like to see our schools be more uniform in what they incorporate into each school day. Some schools do this, but I would like to see all of our schools have a fire safety program involving our many local fire departments. Fire safety is a very important program to offer students. Our police departments are a vital part of our communities and can touch on so many topics for our children through a D.A.R.E program. They can present on topics of Halloween Safety, Bike Safety, Mental Health and other safety topics,” she said.

  “Although it may cost money we don’t have right now, I’ve been very interested in the RFID System (Radio Frequency Identification). This system adds to student safety. It can tell bus drivers what students they have on their bus, if a student doesn’t belong on their bus or did a student got off on the wrong bus stop. It can pinpoint students coming into the school building and if students are leaving the school building. It allows parents/schools to track their children/students’ locations,” she added.

  The Pine Beach representative for the Toms River Board of Education is currently Kevin Kidney. He is running again and will be challenged by Arley Kuehl, who is running under the slogan “Kuehl for School.” Kuehl declined from participating in this article. Jessica Jablonski, who was running under the slogan “Education is Key,” withdrew from the race.

  Kevin Kidney is an 8th grade Social Studies teacher in Brick Township. He has been a teacher since 2004. He is running for his second term to represent the borough.

  “The largest issue facing Toms River is absolutely S2,” he said. “It is completely unfair to taxpayers of not just Toms River Regional Schools, but many others throughout the state. It is unfortunate that the formula for S2 is being hidden from the public. Sadly, this is stuck in the court system at this time and there is little else that can be done other than to wait and see. That being said, I have full confidence in our administration to prepare our district for the worst outcome so that we can come out of this dire situation with our students protected from the worst of it. It is my hope that we can work together as a board and administration to protect our students, faculty, and staff from the worst financial repercussions of this unfair legislation.

  “I hope that Toms River Schools can continue on its path of growth in a variety of arenas. We have seen incredible growth in our technology department, new classes being offered in high school, incredible progress with our building referendum, and development of social/emotional programs to help not just students, but families in our district,” he said.

  “My past term has shown me that the most effective thing I can do as a school board member is to listen to as many constituents as possible and communicate that feedback to administration and the board as a whole. Listening and reflecting is 99% of my job as a school board member,” he said.