Toms River School Board Candidates Talk Budget, Politics

File Photo

*Editor’s Note: Photos of George Lobman, Anthony Melisi and Lynn O’Toole were NOT provided to Jersey Shore Online*

TOMS RIVER – School funding, partisan politics, and the pandemic were on the minds of school board candidates seeking to represent the township on the Board of Education.

  There are seven candidates running for two seats on the Board. School elections are supposedly nonpartisan, so you won’t see an R or D after anyone’s name. Candidates are allowed to have a short phrase after their name instead.

  Incumbent Joseph Nardini and Antonio Ellis are running under the slogan “Leadership Experience Values.” Lynn O’Toole and George Lobman’s slogan is “Voice For Change.” Incumbent Jennifer Howe’s slogan is “Students Strength Service.” Anthony Melisi’s slogan is “Accountability for Kids.” Rachel Remelgado’s slogan is “For the Kids.”

  O’Toole and Melisi did not respond to attempts to contact them for this article.

  All of the candidates were given the same questions to answer. They are presented here, lightly edited for such things as grammar and punctuation. They are presented here in the order that they appear on the county clerk’s list.

Joseph Nardini

  “I’m Joe Nardini, and I’m running for a seat on the Toms River Board of Education with Antonio Ellis, an experienced leader, who is motivated to keep this district the best it can be. We’re not going to stop working to support this district because we believe maximizing the success of Toms River Schools has a direct impact on our students’ futures, our staff morale, our property values, and commerce in our town.”

  Nardini is a state licensed electrical contractor, and owner of Gilligan & Nardini Electrical Contracting; and has worked in building and construction for more than 56 years. He is a partner in Bacchus Winemaking School and Coda Rosa Vineyard. Previously, he was a partner in Gold’s Gym and Crisini’s restaurant, both in Toms River. 

  He is an incumbent and currently serves as the Board president.

  “In my time on the Board, I’ve worked to secure a $17.8 million Energy Savings Improvement Program to retrofit the district’s lighting, boilers, and energy control, to be energy and cost efficient; in turn saving the district over a million dollars a year with a zero dollar tax impact on our community.  I’ve also worked to inform the community and pass the much needed ongoing referendum that will provide the district with the funds to make the many necessary repairs and upgrades to our buildings, including air conditioning and air quality filtration systems in every building. I championed the work being completed with a PLA, Project Labor Agreement in order to support local contractors. I’m proud to say that every penny of the referendum can be tracked on the Toms River Schools website! Transparency and accountability are incredibly important,” he said.

Joseph Nardini (Campaign Photo)

  In addition to volunteering on the Toms River Construction Board of Appeals, in 2009, he was a cofounder of the Toms River-Lacey Unico Chapter and remained an active member for the duration of the group’s charter. 

  “One of the biggest issues facing our district is the hiring of a permanent superintendent,” he said. “We currently have a majority of eligible board members who have the ability to fulfill their duty to come together in the best interest of the district and hire a superintendent.

  “The bus driver shortage is not exclusive to Toms River, but remains a problem for our district. It is important to me to continue offering training and sign-on bonuses to recruit new bus drivers. Running the transportation department without enough drivers affects school session times, sports transportation, and special programs. In short, it affects our kids,” he said. “I will support our administration in developing and keeping incentives for fully staffing our transportation department.

  “The continual loss in state funding, and especially the ever-changing mandates, are causing frustration and contention. This year the state is pulling back another $8.1 million from our district. Toms River Schools already has the strictest of budgets and it’s disheartening to continually ask the staff to do more with less. Again, it affects the kids and it certainly affects the staff. To that respect, we need to support our staff entirely as we continue to fight Trenton for fair funding for all,” he said.

  “I personally believe the government should respect a parent’s choice when it comes to the health and wellbeing of their own child. The recent mask, vaccine, and curriculum changes are destroying the unity of our district’s families. We need our state representatives to help us, we need them to know we are not going to give up until parents and teachers are allowed to make their own health decisions. We are not helpless in this fight, and we would be stronger if we worked together in a dignified and unified manner. 

Parents should never have to worry about their children at school. It’s very upsetting to see these things happening to our district and to watch the community become divided and displeased. We need to come together and keep focused on the things we can do. I have been to Trenton, written letters, made countless phone calls, and had many in-person meetings on behalf of this district since I’m on this Board,” he said.

  “I believe having a strong trades program is essential in providing options for success for our students. Skilled workers and tradesmen are the backbone of the world and this district’s students deserve the opportunity to explore and learn those careers. However, at this time, there are no local teaching programs that offer teacher certification in “shop” classes. I know we can think outside the box here and find a way to develop a shop or trades program in Toms River. Maybe that means reaching out to colleges in neighboring states to draw certified teachers here to Toms River. Maybe that means working with interested current staff to obtain these special certifications? It may be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. I’m up for the challenge, because it matters,” he said.

Antonio Ellis

  Ellis is currently a police lieutenant in Manchester Township, where he’s worked since 2000. He is also a part-time non-credit instructor at Rutgers Center for Government Services. Additionally, he instructs as an Academic Specialist for Kean University. He has a Master’s Degree in Administrative Science from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

  “Although I have never served previously in elected public office, I have served the public as a police officer for over 23 years. During that career I have risen through the ranks to a leadership position within my agency. I have worked as a team member and now as a leader for that team. During my tenure, I have developed and implemented highly successful strategic plans for both short term and long term goals and objectives. I have personally established inventory purchasing control systems that gained the accountability for thousands of dollars of equipment. I have secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding for special projects. I have also performed many speaking events in both civilian and law enforcement settings. I have received training in grant writing, purchasing, policymaking, internal affairs, safety and security. I oversee multiple disciplines and projects within my agency and I am no stranger to working hard to achieve an agency’s goals and objectives. I have also served as an executive board member of our local Police Benevolent Association. In addition I was the former treasurer and also past president of the Ocean County Police Traffic Safety Officers Association which is professional organization for law-enforcement officers in Ocean County.”

  He was also part of the Cedar Grove Elementary School Safety Committee.

Antonio Ellis (Campaign Photo)

  “I believe the single most pressing issue facing our district is the health and well-being of our students and staff. With the ever increasing shrinking budget cuts from (the state), we must learn to do more with less and try and reduce wasteful spending while maintaining a highly effective education experience for the students. If elected I would work with the board to seek nonconventional means and maximize the learning experiences for children free of any political influence. My goal would be to work together with all stakeholders, parents, private organizations, other public entities, and local businesses to utilize every avenue available to maximize the educational experience for children. I would seek to approve policy and give the district the ability to continue to hire and maintain highly qualified educators and staff in this district,” he said.

  “I am also a strong proponent of parental choice. I believe parents should have the ultimate say when it comes to the health and safety of their children. Although the school is responsible for their well-being during the school day, parents are still their legal guardians and as such should make the choices for them free of intimidation, punishment, and any type of mandates,” he said. “I am not running on an anti-mask or anti-vax platform, I just believe that it should be left to the parents to decide, not a politician. On a personal note, I am a COVID survivor who back in March 2020 was one of the first in Ocean County to contract the virus. After being admitted to the hospital, I spent weeks on a ventilator and was medically sedated in a coma for over 30 days. After spending a total of 94 days in the hospital and subsequent rehab, I fought hard to not only to survive, but to return to my family and my career. Not wasting the second chance I’ve been given, I want to continue to fight for your children like I fought for my life.

  “Although we have a great district, I definitely think that there are so many programs that could be created, mimicked or started or restarted to benefit the many needs of the students and staff. To start with I would like to see a program instituted that would CPR-certify all teachers and staff. I believe we would need to have an internet safety program developed in partnership with local law-enforcement to help the students deal with cyber bullying and predators on social media and gaming sites. I would like to create peer/mentor support groups for both the emotional and social stressors of our students in this current climate. Being the father of a special needs son I would like to see the inclusive model that is currently only in a couple of the schools in the district be extended to all elementary and middle schools and eventually brought to the high school as well. This model mainstreams special needs children into the general education classes. Along with the increasing the inclusive model, having sensory rooms constructed in each of the schools for those special needs children. I would also like to see a driver safety program such as Kean’s Share the Keys and a drug interdiction program such as #notevenonce or Great put into the curriculum for students to deal with opioid and other drug issues. Lastly, I would like to see a resiliency program created to help teachers and staff deal with the emotional and physical stresses that they have they have all experienced in the recent months in order to keep them healthy and working at their peak performance for the children.”

George Lobman

  Lobman has been in the engineering/construction field for over 50 years in many leadership positions.

  “I have sat on the Dover Township Planning Board as the Vice Chair for many years before the town became Toms River. I sat on the Planning Board Master Plan committee, Water Commission and was the First Chairman of the Landlord Tenant Advisory Board. I was the representing member for the Ocean County Planning Board and Master Plan,” he said. His tenure on these boards were in the 1980s and 1990s.

  “In the past many years my five children have all attended and graduated from Toms River pre-school thru high school and have developed into outstanding mature citizens. One engineer, one lawyer, one government construction official, one stay at home mom and one college student in North Carolina who remains on the Dean’s List since freshmen year,” he said. “That was accomplished thru hard work and an excellent foundation of basic through higher educational efforts and a good homebased foundation. The system supported the learning efforts and had a value for education and ethics. I fear the lack of funds are negatively affecting the basis of learning and the current system will not be sufficient for my three grandchildren currently attending Toms River schools.”

  “I have heard so much about decisions based on COVID, Teachers Unions and online learning to know that this current process needs to be monitored and adjusted to place most of the work at teaching our children once again while curbing outside influences of political rhetorical social engineering,” he said. “My current interest is to see why so little time and energy seems to be placed on reading, writing history, math and so much effort is directed at revisionist views and teaching.

Jennifer Howe

  Howe works as a seasonal bartender and server at the Sawmill in Seaside Park. “I have been there on and off for 15 years. I do not ‘work’ during the school year, but I am a full time mom of 5 school-aged children, ages 8, 10, 12, 14, and 15, and my oldest son is a junior at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. I am also a student at Kean University.”

  The incumbent board member is completing her third year on the board.

  “I am a member of the Seaside Park PTA. Although this school has been closed for several years, some of the students in the town attend Toms River Schools. The elementary students attend Washington Street Elementary School which is where my youngest children attend. I am the liaison between the two districts. The PTA is small but we run amazing events all year. I am also involved with a Food Distribution called “Pop the Trunk” through Fulfill every Friday, for the past 80 weeks at the Presbyterian Church of Toms River. A group of volunteers including myself have been giving food to the less fortunate in not only Toms River but surrounding communities. I am so proud to be a part of something like this. I would encourage anyone to come down and volunteer one day. We start at 8 a.m. and finish up about 1 p.m. Also, if anyone is suffering from food insecurity or knows someone who is, we would love to help. I run numerous races each year that support local charities, I love running and I love giving back. I am also on the board of the Toms River Education Foundation. Founded by Toms River Councilman Terrance Turnbach, the foundation was established to raise money for the students of Toms River in the areas of athletics, the arts, music, and all extracurricular activities. The Foundation so far has been able to purchase new football uniforms and replace and repair kilns for the art department,” she said.

Jennifer Howe (Campaign Photo)

  “The biggest issue facing our school district right now is our budget. Toms River has been suffering from S-2, which is the school funding formula. Every year we are losing millions of dollars and I worry how this is affecting our children’s education and the impact it has had on our staff. I have been in close contact with lawmakers in Trenton and will continue to fight for our fair share. Our district has to keep cutting programs and staff each school year. It is my mission to work with the government in Trenton to restore our funding. I am hoping to get reelected so that I can also hire a new superintendent. I am not a board member who is conflicted to vote for this position and have already put many hours into the hiring process.

  “Our district needs a new superintendent who loves our town and schools. The morale needs to be restored and the confidence in the district that was once strong and unwavering needs to be reestablished.  Although our interims have been nothing short of amazing, I believe the district and community are ready for a permanent superintendent to lead us through the pandemic and create stability,” she said.

Rachel Remelgado

  Remelgado has a Master’s degree in Psychiatric Rehabilitation and has a background in program management for mental health and addiction services.

  “For the past three years I have been an advocate for fair funding in our public schools,” she said. “I have testified two consecutive years at the State budget hearings. I have spoken with legislators and local leaders to bring awareness of the devastating effects the funding cuts Toms River Regional and one-third of the NJ school districts have been struggling to survive.

  “Since funding affects every area of how things operate, I believe that the state aid cuts are the primary problem for our district. We are currently operating $38 million under adequacy. Classroom sizes are exploding and over 200 positions have been eliminated to date with more funding cuts scheduled for the next four years.

  “A very vital missing piece of how we will survive this crisis is the lack of a permanent superintendent,” she said. “For over a year, our current BOE has failed to do the most important job they are tasked to do. We need that position filled by someone who will oversee and guide our district to operate with fiscal responsibility and direction that prioritizes a high quality education. As a non-conflicted board member, I would be vigilant to make that happen.”

Rachel Remelgado (Campaign Photo)

  “The pandemic has created havoc on our children’s educational, social and emotional development. Some were able to adjust without skipping a beat, but so many others were left behind. Many parents are feeling frustrated and helpless,” she said.

  “Our district needs to reevaluate goals and missions to address these needs and foster partnerships and effective communication with parents to find ways to best serve the needs of our students. Our community has lost faith and confidence in our school board. There are factors that are not in their control while other issues are created by deliberate choices that put outside agendas before the needs of our children. This is unacceptable. The students of Toms River Regional deserve a school board that will put them and their education first!”

  “I enjoyed being an active volunteer at my two children’s activities over the years. Some of my most rewarding experiences have been being a cheer, theater and scout mom. Those experiences created some of my most cherished memories and bonding with my children, other families and our community. I will work to protect and preserve those opportunities and other programming for younger families and future generations,” she said.

  “I want to see a new and efficient Communication Plan created. So many parents say they are left in the dark and blindsided about what is happening in their children’s school. All buildings should be operating with the same plan to create reliability and consistency, especially in the current environment when it seems that policy and procedure change so often. I would also work to implement a district wide college and career planning initiative so all students have the same competitive edge for opportunities after high school.