School Board Candidates Vie Over Budget, COVID

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  TOMS RIVER – One thing that can usually be said about Toms River – they have a lot of candidates. In recent years, there’s never been a shortage of people who are running for office.

  This year, there is a board of education election but no election for mayor or township council.

  There are nine candidates running for three, three-year terms on the board.

  Board of education elections are nonpartisan, in theory anyway. This only means that candidates can not run under party affiliation. Instead, they pick slogans.

  Each candidate was emailed the same questions. Their answers have been lightly edited for things like grammar and flow, but have not been changed in any substantial way.

  Their teams will be presented in the order that they will appear on the ballot.

  Lisa Contessa, Ken Londregan, and Ashley Palmiere are running under the slogan “Toms River 1st.”

  Lisa Contessa is the vice president/senior marketing officer for OceanFirst Bank. If she wins, this would be her first elected office.

Lisa Contessa

  She has held leadership positions on the Board of Community Medical Center’s Foundation and also served on the board of 21 Plus. “I spearheaded a home beautification project for a group home of disabled individuals. Our team of volunteers landscaped the home and built a raised garden for an elderly resident. I was a Boy Scout Merit Badge counselor and a member of the East Dover PTO. I coordinated multiple home building/assistance projects for Habitat for Humanity in conjunction with employees of OceanFirst Bank. I managed volunteers from OceanFirst for many Habitat projects.”

  Ashley Palmiere is the owner and designer at Pretty Things Florals & Décor, director and stylist at Sniptease Salon & Spa, and floral sales manager at Native Floral. If chosen, this will be her first public office.

  “I was a project manager of a local nonprofit. During that time I was able to work closely with the community providing aid and resources to our intakes. I also networked with other nonprofits at the local and national level to help facilitate the needs of our community. I planned many fundraisers, organized volunteers, and worked under pressure with sensitive issues.

Ashley Palmiere

  Contessa and Palmiere shared these answers to these questions:

  Biggest issues facing the district:

  • ALL Children NOT returning to school full time.
  • Massive State funding cuts and lack of revenue. (S-2 Budget)
  • Increasing taxes while our district is in decline.

  What would you want to bring to the district:

  “The Toms River 1st Team is a group of three individuals with a unique set of strengths. We are team players and can work with all of the families, parents, teachers, other school board members in solving the many complex problems this district faces. We would work to open schools now for ALL students 5 days. Everyone agrees the virtual model is not effective. Our kids need socialization, face to face time with their teachers and less screen time, not more. Recognizing that there will be a percentage of children/families that want to stay home and remain virtual we’d certainly support that. Students who would like to return should be able to do so as long as they follow the guidelines of wearing a mask whenever social distancing is not possible. Temperatures can be taken prior to riding the bus, or upon entering school. If a child feels unwell, they would be sent home until they are well enough to return.

  “We would work on generating additional revenue streams for the schools. Starting with booking events at the RWJ Barnabas Center and the bubble at Intermediate East. We would aggressively seek out and book advertisers for all buses as well as utilizing our high school fields for tournaments, etc.

  “We’ll never stop fighting for our fair share of funding from the state. I myself have visited Trenton three times in an effort to get a transparent and complete look at Governor Murphy’s S-2 Budget and a reversal on his decision to subvert our funds to other districts. We’ll never give up the fight for our fair share of state aid.

  “We would vote NO for the elimination of any extracurricular activities, music, the arts or sports. We have the business acumen and expertise to generate revenue, eliminate waste and reduce spending without cutting into these programs.

  “We would conduct a thorough analysis of all professional service contracts and seek to renegotiate for more affordable services.

  Ken Londregan is a vice principal at Carl Sandburg Middle School, Old Bridge Township. If chosen, this would be his first elected office.

  “I am a true believer in giving back to the community through sweat equity,” he said.

 “For the last nine years, I have run a mentoring program for at risk youth. The last six of those years have included a partnership with the YMCA of Old Bridge. During this time, I have volunteered countless hours after school to provide these students with a positive role model, while helping them to develop attainable life goals.

Ken Londregan

 “I have been active in the GI Go Fund helping to raise money for returning veterans. In addition, I participated in a Habitat for Humanity partnership along with the GI Go Fund where we took part in a home building project for a disabled veteran. For the past five years, I have been actively involved in the Macy’s Believe campaign in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

 “I have been appointed to serve on numerous committees in my capacity as a Vice Principal of Carl Sandburg Middle School. Although I have not previously served in public office, I know how to work with members of a committee for the betterment of a school district.”

  Biggest issues facing the district:

  “The biggest issues our school district is facing is the massive reduction of state aid. Toms River residents cannot afford higher property taxes, and I believe my experience as a Vice Principal gives me the knowledge necessary to identify and cut the fat, without hurting our kids. To address this, we need to conduct an operational audit to eliminate waste. It is necessary to look for ways to increase positive revenue streams throughout the district. This includes the possibility of using our school busses and buildings for educationally appropriate advertising. It is important to generate additional revenue from the RWJ Barnabas Center, the Intermediate East bubble, and our sports fields. I cannot stress enough the importance of identifying and eliminating fiscal waste, but not sports and programs for our kids.”

  What would you want to bring to the district:

  “We would work tirelessly with all district stakeholders to get the students that want to be back in the building into physical classrooms as soon, and as frequently as safely possible.

  “We would conduct a thorough analysis of all professional service contracts and re-negotiate for best pricing.

  “We would work on generating positive revenue streams for the schools, lessening the tax burden on our residents. As I mentioned above, this can be accomplished through looking at using our busses and buildings to generate advertising revenue, as well as, actively booking events at the RWJ Barnabas Center and the bubble at Intermediate East. We would work to bring in income utilizing our schools’ fields for tournaments, meets, and events.

  “We would vote NO for the elimination of any extracurricular activities, music, the arts or sports. Our students need these programs to stay actively involved, and academically focused. We believe there are ways to generate revenue, eliminate waste and reduce spending without cutting into these programs.

  Michele Williams, Rachel Remelgado, and Daynne Glover are running under the “Children First” slogan.

  Michele Williams retired as Principal of St. Joseph Grade School. She was elected to the Board of Education in 2017.

  She also serves as a board member of the Central Ocean Rotary of Toms River, Ocean’s Harbor House, and Communities that Care (CTC) of the RWJBarnabas Institute of Prevention & Recovery.

Michele Williams

  Biggest issues facing the district:

  “The biggest issues facing our district are COVID-19, the educational delays as a result of loss of school time for our children, and the financial losses due to New Jersey Senate Bill 2.

  “The pandemic has resulted in virtual learning for most of the students in our district. From the beginning, I have supported the immediate return to the classroom for Special Education and all early learners. I believe my voice was instrumental in the October return for Kindergarten and Grade 1.

  “I will continue to strongly encourage our district administrators to be creative in addressing all the obstacles to this end. Having said all this, we cannot cut corners when it comes to the safety of our children and all Toms River District employees. We all want our children back in school, but it must be done safely following all State mandates and CDC guidelines.

  “Due to the loss of in-class instructional time, I am most concerned with the educational delays that are currently happening and which will continue throughout this school year. As a voice of our community, I am adamant that the administration be clear as to the specific procedures and strategies to mitigate the educational harm facing our children.

  “I hope to propose a policy along with my fellow board members for the formulation of a Comprehensive Education Recovery Plan. This plan is to be created by the administration and implemented by our educators. The

plan should include enhanced educational resources, baseline assessments and the necessary staff to see the plan through. This remediation is essential to educational recovery and possible to achieve. I share everyone’s desire to get back to normal, but we need a plan.

  “With S-2, if nothing changes, by the year 2025 we will have lost $100 million in State funding. The cuts thus far have devastated our district and, if they continue, will decimate it completely. This cannot happen. Our District

should remain committed to the legal pursuit to obtain the State’s “secret funding formula.” Besides the legal challenge, all leaders of our community, civic, business, and elected must unite with us behind this cause. Our schools define who we are as a community. Defunding our schools means the State is defunding our community. It is as simple as that. We must fight back.”

  What would you want to bring to the district:

  “There are two school positions that I believe are absolutely necessary for a school to function at its very best: a certified school counselor and a Learning Disability Teacher Consultant (LDTC). As a former principal, I have seen the value of both. They are resources for the children, the teachers, the parents. In this time of great uncertainty, a school counselor in all of our schools would be invaluable, and as we begin to address the educational delays, especially in the elementary and intermediate levels, what an asset the LDTC would be to every classroom teacher. I have personally seen the impacts of having these support systems in schools, and it is extraordinary. We need to continue to invest in the wellbeing of our students and staff.”

  Rachel Remelgado has a Masters Degree in Psychiatric Rehabilitation and specialized in mental health/addiction services and program management. If chosen, this will be her first elected office.

  “I have volunteered my time to different organizations over the years. My family has been very involved in the Boy Scouts. I have spent countless hours participating in fundraiser events, various community organized activities, carpooling and cheering for our community of kids as an involved theater and cheer mom.”

Rachel Remelgado

  Biggest issues facing the district:

  “The biggest issue facing the Toms River School District is our financial crisis. Our schools are being defunded by the state. We need people who are educated on the topic and willing to stay the course for as long as needed. I fully support the lawsuit our district has against the state to restore our funding. We need to rally together, not tear each other down. Our kids deserve a high quality education including essential extra-curriculars like sports, music and theater. Strong schools create strong communities!”

  What would you want to bring to the district:

  “The current public health and financial crises have put our district in very challenging positions. Many decisions have been made that created big changes for our families. Lack of effective communication leaves people in the dark or seeking out information from unreliable and inaccurate sources. This leads to poorly informed and stressed out parents and teachers, which then negatively affects our children. I want to see our district improve the way it involves and updates the community of relevant news. My team has laid out a detailed plan to improve communication between the school district and the public. One point of the plan is to establish community liaisons to work with the business community, parents, seniors, alumni and other stakeholders.”

  Daynne Glover is a Policy and Outreach Associate with Advocates for Children of New Jersey. If chosen, this would be her first elected office.

  “I have a 15-year career in the field of early childhood development, working to improve the quality and accessibility of child care and preschool programs. I believe this is an important perspective to have on the Toms River Regional School Board. I have experience working as a preschool teacher, with a non-profit children’s services organization that provided direct social services to families and their children, and now as a member of the early learning team for Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

Daynne Glover

  “Throughout my career I have worked with local, state and federal policymakers on issues affecting children and their families. I am collaborative, but also committed to proper oversight and accountability. I have implemented services at the local level as defined by state government and have assisted managing multi-million dollar contracts

  “I am active in our community and have coached my daughter’s softball team for three seasons and her basketball team for one season. I look forward to more opportunities to support Toms River’s youth.”

  Biggest issues facing the district:

  “State funding cuts and the COVID-19 pandemic are the two most pressing issues that face our school district.

  “The state school funding formula has already cut $70 million in state aid from our school budget and the S-2 legislation will result in further cuts to our state aid. This loss of funding impacts our children, teachers, staff and ultimately the taxpayers of Toms River. The school board needs a comprehensive, collaborative strategy to advocate for the restoration of this funding, which includes partnering with the school administration, local and county government, parents, teachers, businesses, and community-based organizations. We need to speak as one voice to the Governor and State Legislature, to demand the fair funding of our schools and I will ultimately support the district’s lawsuit against the state. I will continue to advocate for our schools, our children and our community.

  “Second, we must face the challenges of safely reopening our schools and the impact of the pandemic on education. We need to meet the Department of Education guidelines as soon as possible and accelerate the process to safely reopen all schools. I will make sure the district does a better job communicating with the community to keep everyone informed during this time and in the future.

  “Lastly, I value public education and Toms River Regional Schools because of the robust extracurricular activities and athletics available to students. While I was a student in the Toms River Schools, I participated in the marching band and track team. This helped set the foundation for my successes in post-secondary education, and my career and as a productive citizen. Current and future students need the same opportunities. We must develop safeguards for these programs by identifying grants and partnerships to preserve the necessary funding for programming, staff, coaches and materials.”

  What would you want to bring to the district:

  “I believe in a learning environment that is responsive to the needs of all children throughout their development. The curriculum at all levels should be grounded in social-emotional learning and is responsive to the diverse needs of students. Social and emotional learning provides a foundation for safe and positive learning, and enhances students’ ability to succeed in school, careers and life. Supports and services for students, teachers, staff and families should be available and can be offered through collaborative partnerships with community organizations.”

  Christopher Raimann, Bridget Maillard, and Robert Onofrietti, Jr. are running under the “Moving TR Forward” slogan.

  Christopher Raimann is presently employed with the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office as a supervisor in charge of the 9-1-1 Center. He was on the Board of Education from 2016-2018.

  “I am a graduate of Monsignor Donovan High, Rutgers, and a graduate of the Ocean County Police Academy. I have lived in Toms River all my life,” he said.

  “While on the board I oversaw the Super Safe committee and contributed to the Class III Officers working in all of our schools. Additionally I was on the board while we pushed for the 147 million dollar referendum.

Christopher Raimann

  “Presently I am a volunteer for A Need Wed Feed along with giving back to another excellent organization, Just Believe. In Toms River we have a real homeless problem which does impact our schools and the children. Almost 30 percent of our children are eligible for reduced cost in breakfast and lunch every day. We have to do a better job of helping those in need. Lastly I am a parishioner at Saint Joseph’s Church. I usher on Saturday nights.”

  Biggest issues facing the district:

  “The biggest issue our district faces is the S-2 funding which continues to take away opportunities for our children in and out of the classroom. The cuts which have accumulated over 30 million dollars has led to staffing cuts in teaching, bus drivers, cafeteria personnel, paras, and other important positions like attendance officers and secretaries. Clearly the Governor along with Mr. Sweeney do not have an interest in fair funding, especially towards the likes of Toms River, Brick, Jackson and Freehold to name a few. To combat these challenges we need to look at alternative options such as marketing what we have. The RJW Arena, the John Bennett Bubble, and the three new turf fields need to be used as revenue sources. Locally Donovan Catholic has its turf field being used at least 5 days a week by private organizations.

  “This is not to say we should give up the fight in Trenton, however we have to have a plan moving forward that includes much more than driving to Trenton.

  “Another issue which is not going away is the COVID-19 pandemic. The health crisis has impacted how our children learn and how our educators teach. The ability to keep our children engaged is critical more than ever. The social aspect and emotional parts also need to be addressed so that no child is left behind. Additionally all of the employees in the district need to be a part of the ongoing conversation on how and when we get back to school safely. I am a firm believer that the people that should have the final say should be the parents, teachers, and students.

  “Lastly we need to locate a qualified and a Toms River minded person to be the next superintendent. More than ever we need a voice for all of us who really gets what a special place Toms River is and be committed to putting in long hours and even weekends sometimes to make sure things go well. The next leader of this school district needs to understand the past, the present, and the future of our schools.

  What would you want to bring to the district:

  “I think the role of the Toms River School Board needs to improve its relationship with all the stakeholders, listening to the concerns and taking responsibility for anything that needs improving. The level of respect and civility needs to return. The Toms River Board of Education needs to answer to the people, not the superintendent or the board attorney.

  “Not long ago people used to move to Toms River because of its excellent schools. I believe if elected again we can get back our tradition, pride, and morale in and out of the classroom. I will not let this community down.”

  Bridget Maillard handles client services for EPA Financial Services Corp. If chosen, this will be her first elected office.

  “I have helped with non-profit organizations. I have also helped with many recreational sports clubs around town that my children have been involved with, TSO flag football and TRBA to name a few, and I have done quite a bit of volunteering for the Toms River Schools as it relates to my three boys. Most recently, I was responsible for bringing back the Intermediate East Wrestling snack stand to help raise money for the team to offset costs. That was a zero out of pocket start up because I was able to stock the stand with 100% donations from the community. I am also currently part of the Toms River HS East Football Parent Club. I feel it is important to mention I began my journey two years ago with my parent-led petition about the lack of state aid for Toms River Schools. Through efforts of social media, print, and radio I was able to obtain over 16,000 signatures. I regularly attend board of education meetings and offer ideas or question areas of concern.

Bridget Maillard

  “The Toms River School District needs to turn their attention to the future. We need to utilize even more paperless options when possible, look into grants from the state for solar energy to power our schools, and as buses need replacement look into electric options.”

 Robert Onofrietti, Jr. is a mortgage broker and has been running his own business for seven years. He previously served on the Board of Education, spending one year as its president.

  “I volunteer with many different organizations such as the Girls Scouts of America, Relay for Life – where I am an event leader, Soles for Souls to name a few.

Robert Onofrietti, Jr.

  “I would immediately want to increase the transparency from the BOE to the staff and the parents. With all that is going on now, the communication has been broken and the messages tend to change on a daily basis, leaving us all in a bind to catch up. We need to project confidence and respect to the community that we serve, and in my opinion, we are not doing that. This will go a long way in helping rebuild the public trust in the BOE and repair the broken morale in our buildings.”

  Maillard and Onofrietti answered these questions together:

  Biggest issues facing the district:

  “One of the highest areas of concern for the Toms River School District is budget. Obviously cuts to state aid have made their impact on our district however, my team and I strongly believe that we have enough money to be able to run the district properly. What we have to examine is how we spend our dollars and what line items increase every year and why. It also stands to be pointed out that along with the state aid cuts under the bill know as S-2 the district is forced to raise school taxes 2% every year, that does not mean however that we have to spend that 2%, it can be put into reserves. The Moving TR Forward team if elected would like to take advantage of the Toms River townships offer to do an audit of our schools at no charge. We can then evaluate areas of over and under allocation and put your tax dollars to smarter use.

  “The COVID -19 pandemic has also had a major impact on our district. From how we educate our children, to how the staff performs their job, to how parents handle having or not having children learning from home, things always seem to be evolving. Sending our students and staff back to school quickly and safely is of the utmost importance. The way the district has gone about this has been the most unorganized way imaginable. They have announced they would proceed one way, only days later to change their minds. The superintendent has contradicted the board of education through statements he has made and even missed a major Board of Education meeting. This all points to lack of leadership. In order to begin moving forward in the right direction we need strong leaders, like myself and our team, to not only set policy but make sure once a decision is made it can be executed without hesitation.”

  What would you want to bring to the district:

  “With the departure of superintendent David Healy a replacement will have to be chosen. It is important for the board to take their time in choosing the next leader, a leader that has the best interest of Toms River in mind. If elected, I along with my team would engage the feedback of stakeholders in this process. From staff, to taxpayer, to student the needs of the people should be met. A new superintendent’s vision must include ways to generate revenue for the district, have a strong focus on new and exciting ways for the student to learn, and bring our district into the 21st century with things like renewable energy.