On October 3, the South Orange Maplewood Cares About Schools Facebook group hosted the first of numerous forums for candidates running for South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education.
Election day is November 6.
Five of 11 declared candidates were present for the start — Narda Chisholm-Greene, Marian Cutler, Mike Laskowski, Bruno Navarro and Christopher Trzaska — with Javier Farfan joining later. Candidate Felisha George was unable to attend due to illness and candidates Annemarie Maini and Shannon Cuttle had previous obligations. (Updated: Cuttle reports that they were attending the New Jersey School Board Association Candidates Briefing. Cuttle’s campaign said that Cuttle “looks forward to participating in all of the other scheduled debates as well as speaking with the public at many scheduled campaign events and candidate office hours.”)
Village Green also confirmed that Avery Julien and James Wilkes have dropped out of the race. Wilkes told Village Green that he has dropped out because he was unable to obtain clearance from his employer to run.
The format of the forum had each candidate receiving a question randomly chosen from those submitted. The candidate then had three minutes to answer. Other candidates then were allowed one minute for rebuttal. The forum finished with a lighting round.
Questions focused on:
- Gifted curriculum
- Sugar in School Lunches
- Evaluating the progress of special education students with norm-referenced tests
- Why are you running? (This begins at 31:45 in the video and is a very helpful segment for background on the candidates.)
- How do you prioritize: Overcrowding, Crumbling Infrastructure, Need for Integration, Spending on Out-of-District Placements (at 43:50)
- What current members of the BOE do you align your views with? (1:03:00)
- Question on handling of Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad traffic stop incident (1:11:00)
- Who, if anyone, is managing your campaign? (1:20:00)
- (More questions followed and Village Green is updating as we continue to listen to the video.)
There did not seem to be major differences between the candidates regarding gifted curriculum and school lunches.
All agreed that schools were crumbling, but not all agreed on the proposed $131m Facilities & Integran Plan bond. Laskowski wanted to find “other ways to do that.” Navarro said it needed to happen: “The longer you wait the more money it will cost.” Trzaska said he was “definitely in favor of the capital plan” calling it “patently obvious.” Farfan also said he supported the capital investment and didn’t want to “kick it out” to future years, but wanted to make sure “we get the right superintendent.” Chisholm-Greene said that infrastructure needed to be taken care of “right away,” but said she agreed with Laskowski in that “all the money didn’t need to be spent” and that safety and security should be a priority. Cutler said she supported the $93M to “shore up” infrastructure.
On integration all agreed that it needed to happen but not on how. Laskowski did not agree on the proposed 5&6th and 7&8th grade configurations. On the elementary school level, he proposed more configurations like the Marshall-Jefferson pairing. Navarro said he liked the plan of re-districting “giving everyone a stake” in all the schools. Trzaska said he saw the need for moving 5th grade out of the elementary schools to free up space, but said he could not “opine” on the integration plan as it had not been released yet. Farfan said he did support integration but wanted to “make sure we are doing it right — it goes back to leadership.” Chisholm-Greene said she wanted to look at Montclair for guidance on how to handle integration — by creating magnet schools and perhaps revisiting and supporting the Seth Boyden model. Cutler said she fully supported integration but not the middle school reconfiguration, saying that the increased number of transitions would negatively impact the achievement gap.
All the candidates agreed upon better communications and transparency from the district on multiple issues.