LETTER: Mazzocchi and Bennett Are Clear, Independent Voices on Issues


3 of 9 seats on the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Ed are up for a vote. Election Day is November 7.

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The South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education election takes place on Tuesday, November 7, 2023. Three of nine seats are up for election. Three candidates filed to run by the July deadline and appear on the ballot: Shayna Sackett-Gable, Liz Callahan and Will Meyer. Two candidates, Jeff Bennett and Anthony Mazzocchi, announced a write-in campaign on October 7. Village Green is posting letters of support for all candidates: Deadline for submission was October 31 at 5 p.m. Read our guidelines here. Read all our election coverage here

Hi, I’m Daniel Wright. I’ve lived in Maplewood for almost fourteen years and have daughters attending Maplewood Middle School and Columbia High School.

Our school district faces lots of issues and controversy going into this Board of Education election, some even making headlines–whether to renew the superintendent’s contract, major bussing problems, teacher frustration, special education understaffing, implementing the Fergus recommendations, poorly maintained infrastructure, deleveling, and even Halloween.

I’ve found Tony Mazzocchi and Jeff Bennett to have provided the clearest, independent voices on these issues, inspiring me to support their campaign and to write their names on the ballot on November 7.

Much has been said on all of the issues above, so I thought I would focus this Op Ed on another big topic–the budget. I’ve heard both slates of candidates acknowledge that our budget is extremely tight and will limit what we can do. But with their impressive experience and track record, I am confident that Bennett and Mazzocchi are best equipped to use taxpayer money most efficiently to maximize student outcomes, minimize teacher attrition, and keep the town affordable.

Finances are far from either candidates’ favorite topic–they would much rather talk about programs and policies that will more directly impact and improve our childrens’ lives. But from their previous experience as Board of Ed members, they are acutely aware of how budgets impact aspirations.

Here are some examples of why I think Bennett and Mazzocchi are the best candidates for Board of Education on yet another topic:

  • I’ve observed Jeff’s passion and curiosity over the years as he became one of the leading experts in NJ state aid distribution, sharing his discoveries on social media along the way. His efforts resulted in over $1.6 million in additional annual state aid to the district. Has any individual had as much positive impact on our school budget as Jeff? Not in my fourteen years here. And he wants to fight for an additional $3.2 million/yr!

  • If you lived here in 2016 and followed the school district, you might remember when our superintendent warned that we were on a “fiscal cliff.” As a board member, Tony served on the Financial, Facilities & Technology Committee and helped get the district back on track.

  • Tony develops and implements multi-million dollar budgets as Director of the John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University and Executive Director of Kinhaven Music School in Vermont.

  • Tony and Jeff are committed to making the Intentional Integration Initiative (III) successful and many in the community are in awe of Jeff’s new research focus to make the bussing program both more efficient and more humane.

  • Jeff is also the only candidate I’ve heard speak of our decreased enrollment as an opportunity. Can we use empty classrooms to keep more special needs students in the district? To provide space for more aftercare and earlycare? Or to provide more pre-K programs? These are solutions that could both save the district money and make kids and families lives better. Their slate is the only one asking these questions.

Everyone in this school district wants equity. We want every student to have the resources they need to fulfill their potential. For the district to achieve that, our board needs out-of-the-box thinkers who are aware of the resources we have, can find uses for those which are underutilized, and can find new resources despite the tax cap. I hope you agree that write-in candidates Jeff Bennett and Tony Mazzocchi are the best choice for the district on yet another topic. I encourage you to write their names on the ballot! Two-N’s, Two-T’s, Two-Z’s and Two-C’s!

Daniel Wright

Maplewood, NJ

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