NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - The six candidates running for three seats on the Board of Education were asked by TAPinto New Brunswick to fill out a questionnaire about their work experience, school and position on some of the issues concerning the board.

The three challengers, Gary Cruz, Brandon A. España and Jerry B. Mercado, who will appear together on the election ballot under the slogan "Parent Zebras Team," a reference to the coalition of parents and alumni of the school district, whose mascot has been the Zebras for decades, responded.

The three incumbents, Patricia Sadowski, Jennifer Shukaitis and vice president Benito Ortiz, were provided with similar questionnaires through spokesman Kurt Praschak. They did not respond.

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Jennifer Sevilla, who is running unopposed for an unexpired two-year seat, was not included.

Here are the responses from Cruz, Mercado and España

Name: Jerry B. Mercado
Age: 49
Work/professional experience: I've worked in the healthcare industry with United Health Group for over 16 years.
Education: I graduated from the Rutgers University College of Engineering, where I minored in psychology.

Why are you running for a position on the board of education? I am a parent that is concerned with how low our public schools rank, and how hard it can be for parents to get their child the help they need. I believe I learned a lot fighting for my three kids here in New Brunswick, and I feel that I can help our school district improve if I am given the chance to fight for every student and parent in our city.

What area would you focus on immediately if (when) you are voted onto the board? I believe the most important component of the triangular relationship between parent, student, and teacher is parent involvement. If we can increase the level of parent participation, we can make everyone’s job easier and we will see an increase in academic performance.  This is why I will work to ensure there are more translation opportunities available at parent-teacher conferences and parent-teacher organization meetings. 



The state recently ranked the schools with numeric values, 0 being the worst and 100 the best. What did those numerical rankings tell you about New Brunswick’s schools? The ratings show that some schools in New Brunswick do better than others and there is a need for best practices to be shared and established district-wide. We can also look at similar school districts throughout New Jersey and the nation and learn about their most successful programs and practices.

There’s a tentative school budget due for a vote. How do you feel about this budget that will raise taxes? This proposed increase in taxes for our schools is an investment in our future.  Our students deserve every resource available to them, but we also deserve board members that are responsible with the taxpayer's funds. I commit to improve transparency about our school spending and make sure that all district dollars are used appropriately and to their maximum potential.

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Name: Brandon A. España
Age: 21
Work/Professional experience: I work as an English tutor at Rutgers University and SAT English instructor for high school students in New Brunswick
Education: I'm graduating from Rutgers University this spring, and have been admitted to a planning and public policy master's degree program at the Bloustein School here in New Brunswick.
 

Why are you running for a position on the board of education? I am running for the Board of Education because I want to help the city I grew up in however I can. I see a need for new leadership that stands with the residents of New Brunswick and is willing to work more closely with the community. This is what I seek to do if elected.

What area would you focus on immediately if (when) you are voted onto the board? I would like to immediately take action to begin broadcasting the Board of Education meetings so that they are available for everyone to see. New Brunswick has a channel that is not being used and broadcasting the meetings would be a great way to utilize this resource. Another area I would like to focus on would be moving the location of the board meetings to a more central place in New Brunswick, one that would be easily accessible to more people.
 
The state recently ranked the schools with numeric values, 0 being the worst and 100 the best. What did those numerical rankings tell you about New Brunswick’s schools?  These numbers tell us that New Brunswick schools still have a lot more improvements that need to be made in order to ensure the best possible future for our students. One way that the performance and rankings of our school system could be improved would by looking at best practices in other places like Elizabeth, which faces similar challenges to New Brunswick, but it is nevertheless home to one of the top 25 best high schools in New Jersey, according to NJ Monthly magazine.

There’s a tentative school budget due for a vote. How do you feel about this budget that will raise taxes? I fully support the proposed budget and will be voting "yes" on it. Although the budget would cause a small increase in taxes, ensuring a more comfortable learning environment for our students is crucial. This new budget is a good start for the improvements our district needs but must continue looking for different ways in which our schools can be renovated and new schools built in order to provide healthy and comfortable learning spaces.

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Name: Gary Cruz
Age: 20
Work/Professional experience: I'm an Information Supervisor for RU-Info, and a Help Desk Consultant at Rutgers University's Office of Information Technology Help Desk.
Education: I graduated from New Brunswick High School and I'm currently enrolled in Rutgers University.

Why are you running for a position on the board of education? I am running for the Board of Education of New Brunswick to improve the quality of the education that our children receive in New Brunswick's public schools. Having grown up here and graduated from NBHS three years ago, I am still fresh out of the public school system and able to bring a new perspective to a board that makes lots of decisions that affect the students.

What area would you focus on immediately if (when) you are voted onto the board? Right away, I think we will want the maximum level of community input so that we can make sound and informed decisions regarding policies that affect the parents and students, so we will encourage people to attend the public Board of Education meetings, share their experiences, and speak their minds.  We can also improve the connection between the board and the public by recording our meetings, broadcasting our meetings, and also potentially moving the meetings to a place more accessible to the population that our public schools serve.

The state recently ranked the schools with numeric values, 0 being the worst and 100 the best. What did those numerical rankings tell you about New Brunswick’s schools? The students and parents of New Brunswick deserve better.  With all the great things our city has going for us, we need to make sure that our public schools are also world-class institutions.  We must invest in the youth and ensure they have all the tools they need to succeed in today's rapidly changing world before we get left behind.
 
There’s a tentative school budget due for a vote. How do you feel about this budget that will raise taxes? 
The New Brunswick school system needs to grow to accommodate more students and we will all benefit from this modest increase in the budget.  I support the "Yes" vote and encourage others to support our schools when they support the Parent Zebras Team at the polls on Tuesday.