My name is Robert Cianciulli and I am running for re-election for the Berkeley Heights Board of Education by mail-in ballot by this Election Day, Tuesday, November 3rd. Previously, I served on the School Board from 2017-2019. This week, I am publishing some questions that were posed to me a while back, together with my up-to-date responses.
Why am I running for the Board of Education?
I am running for re-election to continue to work for common sense budgeting that balances the practical limitations of the taxpayer with the important long-term goals of our schools. I also believe strongly in our Board focusing more on early education and on students in all grades who need help learning. As a parent, I have seen that each step up from kindergarten through the upper grades is a steep one. When a district focuses on the early grade levels, it not only helps younger students be more successful, but it also reduces the District’s need to expend additional resources later to catch that student up. I am also running in order to be a necessary part of improving the contract negotiation process between the Board and the teacher’s union.
What unique skills or experience will I bring to the Board?
As the only Board of Education candidate this year with experience on the Board, I have debated the budget, building projects, the teacher's contract, and security within our Schools both publicly and privately with our other School Board Members and have the best insight into how the Board and its members work. I have served on the School Board’s Facilities Committee and also as the Board’s legal liaison concerning education legislation being proposed and debated in Trenton. Professionally, I practice law for a Fortune 300 corporation headquartered here in New Jersey. This has given me valuable experience in drafting policies and procedures, chairing committees, and resolving a wide range of issues that arise at any given time. I do this as part of a large, collaborative, and diverse team.
What are my thoughts about how to improve future contract negotiations between the School Board and the teacher’s union?
First, the approach that the School Board takes with the teacher’s union needs to evolve. I have been negotiating contracts for over 25 years. One simple thing that I learned very early was that negotiating with a party whom I will never encounter again is approached in a very different way than negotiating with a party with whom I will continue to have an ongoing relationship. The School Board is actually partnering with the teachers and so the Board must be conscious of this when entering negotiations. This awareness needs to exist not just at the beginning of negotiations, but throughout the process. This includes listening to the community’s feedback and comments to the Board members at School Board meetings even if they are not always flattering. Lastly, it is crucial that we improve transparency within the School Board itself. Currently, no School Board member is permitted to contact our Board counsel directly nor is the Board’s attorney included in School Board meetings. This is concerning since the natural result is that each voting School Board member has different information at the time of voting on any particular issue. If cost were the issue, the budget could easily provide for a cap. As it stands now, the Board president is the only voting Board member who may speak to the Board attorney and in most cases, that conversation is never relayed to the rest of the Board as a whole. If elected, I would lobby for greater transparency within the Board itself. This is imperative if our District is to be successful, not just in connection with the negotiation of the teacher’s contract, but in every case where the Board members are casting a vote. Lastly, In the future, I believe it is realistic for both sides to work together to agree on a shorter timeframe for mediation.
What has been my position on the implementation of full-day kindergarten in our District through the years?
Our District is very focused on our high school and its rankings and test scores. I have always felt that success in our high school does not simply start in 9th grade. This is one of the reasons that I have supported full day kindergarten consistently for the several years, even when no other School Board member would state their opinion on the issue of full day kindergarten at public board meetings. Berkeley Heights is among only a tiny minority of New Jersey school districts that had not made full day kindergarten a reality. As a result of my time serving on the Board’s Facilities Committee, I discovered that much of the spending for the implementation of full day kindergarten is actually just one time costs for the necessary school building renovations.
What is my feeling on having Class III Officers in our high school and middle school?
For the District to employ retired law enforcement officers who are tasked with providing school security makes sense. It fulfills the practical need that every District has for school security together with the goal that each officer comes to that position experienced and also continues to receive the best and most professional training. However, I realize that some parents prefer that the District not hire Class III Officers so there needs to be some balance. I support changes to the program in order to increase family involvement and for improved data reporting, but I would not end the program. The issue of school security, in this case retired police officers, is inherently controversial. Sometimes a School Board member needs to step up to make the tough calls regardless of whether they are going to be uniformly popular and I am up to that challenge. During my time on the Board, I have also always welcomed parent feedback and I promise you that will never change.
Please remember to vote by mail-in ballot for Robert Cianciulli by Election Day, Tuesday, November 3rd.
Berkeley Heights Board of Education Candidate