Crowded field talks school issues in O.B.
Three incumbents, former board member among those running
BY LAUREN MATTHEW
OLD BRIDGE – Seven candidates will vie for three seats on the township’s Board of Education in the April 18 school election.
The field, all seeking three-year terms, includes a host of longtime board members and three newcomers.
Incumbents include current board President Annette Hopman, Lawrence Redmond, and Ellen McDermott, who has served 11 consecutive terms on the board, while former board member and president Frank Weber is seeking a return to the board.
Other challengers are Matthew A. Sulikowski, David L. Josselyn and Alex Holodak.
Hopman said her greatest motivation for seeking another term is her love of children.
“Without an education, a child has no future,” she said.
Hopman, 54, has lived in Old Bridge for 40 years. She graduated from Madison Township High School and has three children who have also gone through Old Bridge schools. After working in the district as a paraprofessional aide, Hopman decided to run for the board and won her first term six years ago.
She now works as a claims coordinator for University Radiology Group in East Brunswick.
Hopman said her experience would make her an asset to the board. She noted that she has attended all scheduled workshops for board members since she was initially elected.
“I have set goals from the very first time I was elected,” she said.
Those goals included adding elementary school counselors.
“I absolutely saw the need for that,” she said, noting that a $1 million grant allowed the placement of those counselors into schools.
Also, Hopman worked toward adding security officers to the high school staff – which is now in place. She also supported the alternate placement of discipline students, bringing them back into the district at the John Glenn School instead of sending them to other towns.
Hopman said many goals still lie ahead.
“I would like to see a lot more shared services with the municipality,” she noted.
She would also like to see the district partner with local businesses.
“Other districts have been very successful with that,” she said.
A daycare program for district employees is also on the agenda for Hopman. With an influx of younger teachers, she said, the district must try to accommodate the needs of younger children. Hopman hopes to pattern the program after one in effect in Toms River and run by the Board of Education there. The program, she said, would be open to employees of the district and the rest of the community.
She said the best part of the program, though, is that it could give young children a head start.
“They are teaching the core curriculum,” Hopman said.
Hopman noted that she looked at an agenda for an upcoming board meeting and saw that six district employees will be taking time off for maternity care.
“They need to know that their children are going to the best place possible,” she said.
Hopman, other board members and Superintendent of Schools Simon Bosco visited the program in Toms River and were impressed, she noted.
“That is the biggest thing I’d like to see happen in Old Bridge,” she said.
McDermott, 67, began serving her first term on the board in 1972. She has lived in the township since 1954, and her interest in education grew from raising 10 children and stepchildren, she said.
“I’ve actually watched the district grow up,” McDermott noted.
Now that she is a grandmother, that interest still holds.
McDermott said the school district suffers from “rampant nepotism,” something she feels should change.
“I see us going backward the last couple of years,” she said.
Five of the nine board members, she noted, have relatives working in the district. There was a similar situation when she began her board service, she said.
“I don’t believe you can be objective [in that position],” McDermott said.
Also, McDermott said she wants to see district test scores rise. Right now, she said, they’re “deplorable.” Programs should be put in place to improve them, she said, even if it requires budget tightening in other areas.
Before working as a deputy tax assessor for the township, McDermott was employed as a real estate agent. She has a degree from Rutgers University and has just been re-certified for another three years of work for the township. In the 1960s, she was a bus driver for handicapped children in the district.
McDermott said she is a comprehensive high school advocate. The needs of all children in the township, she said, should be addressed by the district.
Redmond, 56, who currently serves as chairman of the township’s Planning Board, said he feels he is a good fit on the Board of Education. He was appointed to the board last year.
“I feel we have things moving forward on the board right now,” he said.
Redmond, a father of four who has two children in the township’s schools, said he enjoys attending school events and working with the board to help the children.
“It’s just been a pleasure working with them,” he said.
Since state aid has been frozen for years, Redmond said it’s time for the board to seek more creative ways of lowering the budget.
“I’d like to see us find a way to get more money into the system,” he said.
Working with local businesses could be a way to do that, he said. Teaming with the township, he noted, is another way – something that he feels has gone very well during his brief time on the board. Redmond, a former township councilman, said he feels that because he has worked so closely with township officials in the past, there is a better understanding of how each entity can help the other.
Though he knows no one is going to be thrilled about the proposed tax increase in the school budget, Redmond said that any reductions would be at the expense of cutting programs for students.
“I’m not going to ask these kids to sacrifice in the classroom,” he said. “I can’t do it. It’s their future, not ours.”
Redmond works as a project technician for the Middlesex County Municipal Utilities Authority, overseeing construction projects. He has lived in Old Bridge since moving there as a child in 1956.
Josselyn, 43, said he became interested in serving because of his two children. He has lived in the township for 18 years and has been attending Board of Education meetings for the past two.
Josselyn said he first started going to meetings because of his son, who is part of the township’s special education program. He said board members told him he might be a good candidate for the board. He submitted an application to fill the position that was eventually given to Redmond after the resignation of Al DiRocco. He has been an active part of five board committees, he said – something he counts as a major asset.
“You’ve got people running for the board that never go to meetings,” Josselyn noted.
He splits his time between volunteer work with the Cheesequake First Aid Squad and the township’s CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). Josselyn said he also does “handyman work.”
Josselyn said he would like to see issues at Cheesequake Elementary School addressed. That school, he noted, and all other district elementary schools are in need of climate control. The heating system at Cheesequake, he said, is a problem.
“One side [of the school] is sweating,” Josselyn said.
Josselyn would also like to see the school budget lowered, and have adequate soil and contamination testing done at the Nike Missile Base, which the district has used as its transportation hub. A retired National Guardsman, he said there are different ways to test the soil, some more thorough than others, and safety should be a primary concern.
Weber, 61, is no stranger to the Old Bridge Board of Education. A township resident since 1974, he served seven years on the board and was president from 2000 to 2002. Weber was board president when the district’s recently completed construction referendum was formulated and passed.
“One of the big things that I was involved with was in long-range planning,” he said.
But the promise of the referendum, Weber contends, has not been fully realized. It was supposed to result in smaller class sizes, he said, but that has not happened. The district, he said, does not have the money to hire the necessary staff to reduce class sizes.
“I think that’s, quite frankly, a disgrace,” he said.
The board, Weber said, had years to figure out how to make class sizes smaller, but nothing was done.
“They all knew when the shovel went into the ground,” he said.
According to the district’s state-issued report card, class sizes at the high school and middle schools are 40 percent higher than the state average, Weber noted.
Weber would like to see test scores improve, and also wants changes made to the high school schedule. Right now, he said, the school operates on a nine-class-period day. But the result is that students have less time in necessary activities and classes, he said. Returning to an eight-period day, as Old Bridge had in the past, would improve on that, he said. That schedule would also free up teachers, allowing for potentially smaller classes and more attention to planning.
Weber would like to see an anti-nepotism rule go into effect for the board. As he has stated in the past, he is strongly against the fact that five of the nine board members (Hopman, Redmond, Gail Kubicke, Frank Piccillo and Fred Colabella) have relatives working in the district. This, he said, creates situations in which they either cannot vote on certain issues or where they are forced to vote because they have a majority.
“The conflicts have not gone away,” Weber said. “I’m not quite sure that this board understands that.”
Weber works as an account executive for an insurance company, and has four children and four grandchildren.
Sulikowski, 59, said he takes a different approach to his run for the board. After working as a teacher for 36 years – 33 of them in Old Bridge – Sulikowski, now retired, would like to see changes to the education model itself.
“Our school systems, they haven’t really got the time for the kids,” he said.
There is too much of an emphasis on the core curriculum, he said, resulting in students’ particular skills or interests being “pushed out.” More work should be done, he said, to individualize education for each pupil. Test scores should be reviewed with parents as a matter of course, he said – not just because a pupil is having difficulty in class.
“I want to change the education system,” he said.
Sulikowski maintains that if a child is working in a subject that he or she enjoys, the discipline and test score problems will disappear.
“We have to customize and concentrate on the student,” he said.
Right now, Sulikowski said, students get a “cookie-cutter education,” and that worries him.
He is hoping that he can have an impact on that issue.
“I’m an educator,” Sulikowski said. “I got so much out of the town. I want to put some back in.”
Sulikowski has lived in the area for 40 years and in Old Bridge for 10. He has two grown children, one of whom is a teacher in Monroe Township, and he is also a grandfather. He holds a degree in industrial technology from Newark State Teachers College and also has a photography degree. He works as a wedding photographer.
Holodak, 18, said his perspective as a former student will offer a fresh view to the board.
He has lived in Old Bridge his entire life and is currently an honors student at Brookdale Community College, Lincroft section of Middletown, with plans to transfer to Rutgers University.
“I wanted to serve the community, basically,” Holodak said.
He noted that he has been reading about local issues that affect the board and has had a look at the tentative budget.
“It seems that it’s going to call for [tax] hikes,” Holodak said.
But, he said, there are no new programs for students. Tax increases with no benefits for the district’s pupils will “scare people away,” he said.
“I don’t think people should be taxed out of Old Bridge,” Holodak said. “I don’t think that’s right.”
Another issue for Holodak is the security at the schools. Though security officers and equipment have been approved and placed in the district, Holodak said more can be done. Old Bridge High School was very safe while Holodak was there, he said, but a school can never be too safe.
Holodak said he believes that the current board members have done a great job. But, he said, he is close to what is taking place in the district’s schools, since he has just been through them.
“I’ve been exposed to what they’ve decided,” Holodak said.0