The League of Women Voters and the South Orange-Maplewood Presidents’ Council hosted a Board of Education Candidates Forum on October 10 at South Orange Middle School.
Candidates Elizabeth Baker, Robin Johnson Baker, Shannon Cuttle, Avery Julien, Anthony Mazzocchi, Sheila Shidnia (who was able to join the forum for the third question onward) and Donna Smith were in attendance. Candidate Felisha George was not present.
Candidates answered two questions that had been submitted to them prior to the forum and then answered questions gleaned from the audience. The questions have been marked with time stamps for readers’ use in finding the answers on the video posted below.
Eight candidates are vying for three positions on the 9-person South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education.
The prepared questions were:
3:35 Last year, several schools in our district faced difficult cultural issues such as swastikas in bathrooms and a slave auction in a classroom. Assuming even the best run school districts have tough situations like these. What should the school board’s response to the community and the district be?
14:08 Last year, the district was allowed to increase its tax levy beyond the state cap. The board eventually advocated a budget that raised taxes by 3.56% but also saved some educational programs and teaching positions that had been in danger of being chopped. Given the choice between raising taxes beyond the cap and restoring education programs and/or teaching positions, which would you choose and why?
Questions from the floor were:
25:07 The district’s elementary schools are operating at capacity and in the near future the district will need additional classrooms to meet the need. What is your plan to address overcrowding and segregation in the elementary schools?
39:45 Do you have any ideas for lunch menus? (This seeming throw-away question elicited thoughtful responses on health, environment and chicken coops.)
48:05 Do you see yourself primarily as a representative of the community or a representative of the school system?
58:50 (This question was specifically for Avery Julien; however, all candidates answered it): What do you think of police mentoring in our schools? (The candidates discussed School Resource Officers — or SROs, D.A.R.E. and after-school programs, as well as the events of July 5, 2016. All candidates responded.)
1:09:30 Tell us how you plan on fixing the digital divide in this district especially how it relates to libraries?
1:22:29 What are three skill sets that yo have that will make a positive impact on the board and the district?
1:35:18 What do you think is the best thing is about the district?