TOMS RIVER – Six candidates are hoping to be chosen to be on the Toms River Board of Education, and spoke of the cut in state aid, the opioid epidemic, and needing more communication between stakeholders in the district.
There are two, three-year terms on the ballot. Joseph Nardini and Danielle Lebright are running under the slogan “Working Together.” Robert Onofrietti, Jr. and Erica Cirillo are running under the slogan “Children, Community First.” Christopher Raimann and Jennifer Howe are running under the slogan “Transparency, Tradition, Truth.” Nardini and Raimann are current board members and at one time ran together.
Each candidate was emailed the same set of questions. Their answers are being presented here, edited for narrative flow.
Robert Onofrietti, Jr. was on the Board of Education from 2015 to 2017, serving as its president in 2016. He owns a mortgage company in Toms River, Shore Home Loans.
He volunteers for the American Cancer Society and Girl Scouts. He is an event coordinator and team leader for the Relay for Life.
“The biggest issue facing the town is how we are going to deal with the continued loss of state aid and how it will affect the children as well as our taxes,” he said. “I am not in favor of cutting one program for children, athletics, arts or clubs. They are essential to our students and their future. I firmly believe with better budgeting and more communication with the town of Toms River, the district can sustain and properly fund its budget while not continuing to attack the taxpayers. There are too many questionable items we continue to budget for and with a proper audit of all job functions, this can be achieved.”
Expanding on the idea of communication, he said the district does not communicate with the town or its citizens. “I would create new ways of bringing the school board to the people, not just expecting them to come see us the third Wednesday of each month. In my previous term on the board, I tried numerous times but was shot down and outvoted on this item…..This time, I will NOT take no for an answer.
“In addition, the school board and Town Council need to have a better working relationship, which as of now, does not exist. I would broker meetings so that all key stakeholders are on the same page with all issues that affect the town,” he said.
Erica Cirillo is a nurse with HealthSouth. She sits on several boards within the town that work with children, some with special needs. She is new to campaigning.
“I have never ran for any position, but have the best interest of the children and community in mind,” she said. “My work and commitment within our schools speaks for themselves. I have been advocating for all children as well as our special needs children for years now.”
She agreed with her running mate that there is a lack of communication as well as budgeting.
“We don’t prepare for crisis. We have known for some time that a cut was coming. Cutting teachers, jobs, or sports is not an option,” she said. “We have no communication with our town, the lack of communication hurts our children and community.
“We have to focus on fixing our schools, communication with parents, and make sure we don’t raise taxes that are warranted. Times have changed and our community can’t afford tax hikes. The biggest issue we have is not involving the community, we just try to get things done, but never think of the big picture,” she said.
Danielle Lebright is a retired court reporter deeply involved with her family. Danielle has served as president of her daughter’s elementary school PTO for nine years. She is a volunteer for Caregivers of Ocean County, and serves as a member of the Special Needs Committee and the Veterans Committee of the Toms River Elks Lodge 1875.
Joseph Nardini has been a state licensed electrical contractor for 45 years. He worked in building and construction for more than 50 years. He served on the board of education for three years, and has been vice president for the past year. He is a co-founding member of the Toms River and Lacey Unico. “His civic contributions are not tied to any one specific group, he helps anyone in need, be it a church, a child or a town,” said a joint statement from the pair.
“The image of the school district is reflective of the quality of our district’s infrastructure,” the statement read. “The atmosphere we provide to our students promotes a better learning environment. Diminishing this has a direct impact of the property values in our town and the likelihood of people wanting to live here. Danielle and Joe are committed to working with district administration and state officials to restore fair funding to Toms River Regional Schools,” they said.
“Danielle and Joe are not politicians,” they said. “(They) would like to help foster a strong relationship between the town council and the school system in an effort to bolster our position as a unified community.”
Christopher Raimann is in his first three-year term on the school board. At the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office, he works as the supervisor in charge of communications. He was a graduate of the Ocean County Police Academy Class No. 72.
He has spent four years with the board of the Toms River Little League, and is a parishioner and volunteer with Saint Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church.
The district is facing long-term cuts to state aid that could result in cuts to sports and staff, he said.
“We have to assure our children and teachers have what they need in and out of the classroom. Sports are very important to so many of us,” he said. Like clubs and music programs, they keep children moving in the right direction.
“Toms River Schools should enter into mutual aid agreement with the town and county for maintenance to include garbage collection, plowing, paving, and building matters without cutting any more positions,” he said.
Jennifer Howe is a full time mother of six, and a college student at Kean University working on her Bachelor’s in history. When she is able to, she is a server at the Sawmill Cafe. Formerly, she was a restaurant manager at the Outback Steakhouse and a travel agent. She previously worked in corporate travel in Cleveland, Ohio for Metro Health Hospital and IMG, a sports management company. She has served on the PTA.
“I think the biggest issues facing our town right now are drugs and the recent budget cuts our schools are facing,” she said. “Statistics and numbers do not lie when it comes to the drug problem we are facing. I think we need more communication between our kids and law enforcement, but in a positive way. We need mentoring for children who are most at risk for becoming involved in drugs and a look at our local medical facilities and how they administer pain medication. Survivors and recovering addicts who can speak candidly in schools and law enforcement gives kids opportunities to have open conversation about it.”