BRIDGEWATER, NJ - With the elections drawing near, the Council of Schools held a Candidates Night on Wednesday to allow the Board of Education candidates to discuss issues they feel are most important to the district.
A total of five people are running for two open spots on the board of education, representing Bridgewater. They are incumbent Evan Lerner, and challengers Ali Ali, Christopher Larson, Barry Walker and Lisa Weinstock.
Incumbent Ann Marie Mead is running unopposed to represent Raritan on the Board of Education. She was unable to attend the Candidates Night.
Candidates were asked about issues of importance they feel are facing the district, with several citing full day kindergarten as being of primary importance.
"If competing districts are doing it, we need to," Larson said, citing that remaining competitive is important for the district.
"Let's get the job done," Ali added. "And every five years, we should reevaluate it."
Also of concern to the candidates is finances, and maintaining them each year.
"We have reduced our increases (in the budget) every year," Lerner said.
Walker said he is concerned about being open with the residents.
"Our culture needs to be one of openness and accountability," he said. "We must welcome everyone's comments. I bring interpersonal skills (to the table)."
Weinstock said she wants to ensure that the students have the best educational experience, particularly as the district and state is transitioning to the new PARCC exam.
"We should be actively working to improve our ranking, and ensure the best learning opportunities," she said. "Changes have to be made for things to be effectively implemented."
The candidates were also asked about how well the district communicates.
Lerner said communication is very important, and the district is moving forward, including holding an upcoming board of education meeting at the senior center to get the seniors more engaged.
"The community is very important, and we have to continue to engage the community," he said.
Walker said that among his ideas for improving communication is to stream the actual board of education meetings live on the website, rather than just having the audio posted.
Weinstock said she believes it would be important to standardize the website to make it easier to follow, while also sending emails to residents periodically about upcoming events at the schools.
To show more of what is happening in the schools, Ali recommended starting a YouTube channel.
"That allows residents to look us in the eyes," he said. "There should be automatic emails to parents when new videos are uploaded."
And Larson said he recommends more responsiveness from board members when parents email with questions or concerns.
In terms of concentrating efforts for improving the district, Walker said the stakeholders need to work together.
"We need to be sensible and realistic with the budget," he said. "We have to improve our STEM offerings."
Weinstock said it is important to have cooperation between the board, administration, staff and parents, and Ali said trust between board members and others is most important.
"Then decisions will be made in the best interests of the students," Ali said.
Larson said it is important to exceed state targets and ensure the students are well-rounded.
"We need the same programs as competing school," he said. "And we have to make sure costs are contained."
Lerner said it is important to maintain the breadth of programs the district already has.
"And we have to continue to support our administration and teachers," he said. "We need to let the administration do what they need to do, and the teachers teach."
Candidates Night will air on BRTV for several weeks until the election. It will be on Verizon Fios (channel 28) and Cablevision (channel 15) every day beginning Oct. 21 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., until Nov. 4.
Elections are Nov. 4.