CLARK, NJ - TAPinto Clark will profile each of the candidates for the Clark Board of Education this week.  Each candidate has been asked to answer six questions for presentation to TAPinto Clark readers.  Profiles will be published in alphabetical order. This is the third profile in the series offered by Steve Donkersloot.

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1.)  Why are you running for the Board of Education

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I have decided to re-run for a second term for the Clark Board of Education for several reasons.  I want to continue to be an advocate for the students, teachers and schools.  Over the last three years, I have been listening and seeing what is affecting our schools. I am one of the first to address issues that I know of and try to get a resolution.  I want to continue being that advocate.  Another reason is to continue the momentum of the current board.  I have now seen that school districts do not change as quick as a private corporation.  School districts need to have plans in place, finances in order and board approval for almost everything.  As I continue into my second term, I will work along the current board and complete what we have started.  There are more reasons, but one of the most important reasons is that, I care.  I am a parent of three children in the Clark schools.  My children attend both Valley and Kumpf and attended the Clark Pre-k when younger.  Not only as a parent but also as a taxpayer in this town, I care what the schools are doing and how the BOE is evolving with the changes in security, technology and curriculums to drive the district to better than it was in previous years all along with fiscal responsibility.  Thank you for your support and appreciate your vote on November 7th.

2.)  What do you believe to be the major issues facing the BOE and how to you recommend addressing them?

There are many issues that I would consider small to medium but when you put them all together they become major.  The ones I list below are worth highlighting due to the constraints it puts on the district.

  • The parents in the elementary schools know we are close to capacity in some grades.
  • The inability to properly forecast a budget for the education and transportation of children with special needs that live in Clark.
  • The lack of State funding to the district effects our overall budget and commitments that are required to be met.

Three important issues eventually funnel into one major one – Budget.  The BOE is restrained on what can be done WITHOUT putting the burden back onto the taxpayers.  As taxpayers ourselves, we are conscious of what is passed back to the town.  Already planning for the remainder of this year and into the 2018-2019 school year, there has already been discussions on ways of saving, spending, and raising additional funds for the district.  The BOE avoids, at all costs, going above the 2% state cap to keep the tax rate to raise. 

When the BOE was faced with a $2M deficit, there was cuts across the district, but the most important to remember, not one Educational program was cut! The department heads need to be able to manage their budgets accordingly and find different ways of working without affecting the education of our students. All are responsible for maintaining and managing their department budgets!

While it is hard to address the issues, I discussed above without spending money, serious conversations and planning need to take place for the future.  The elementary schools need a relief of space.  I think most of the town would agree that an expansion, with proper planning and funding, should be seriously discussed and considered. Schools need smaller class sizes, media rooms \ libraries and alternative learning spaces.

In the meantime, the BOE has re-purposed some of the space throughout the district and have started to build up our Special Education department.  There is a need to create a safe learning environment to keep our special needs students in district.  As we grow as a district, we can retain more of our own students in district and provide a quality education versus sending them out of town.  As a parent, we want the best for our children, and I am committed as a Board member, to help the Director of Special Services to ensure she has the proper tools, teachers and staff to provide “in district” education to all our students in Clark!

As for State funding, there is not much, if at all, that the BOE can do to solicit funds from the State.  Since state funding does not seem to be increasing in the near future, the BOE members need to be a cohesive team to approve a balanced budget that will not only serve the administration and staff but also the taxpayers of this town!

3.)  How can the community and BOE know they have an effective school program?

There are so many metrics and outside sources that gauge a school system.  The problem with these metrics are, they are ever changing.  For a BOE to change their standards to be considered to a higher standing, would create constant churn.  While the BOE should look at this criteria as a point of guidance, we should be creating our own standards based on what we know about this town and the needs of our students and staff. Getting the students ready for college or post high school opportunities is what should be important.  The BOE and administration need to be aligned with college standards, employment requirements and then we can start to gauge what our students are going to need post high school.  We should look at the K-12 system as each students “Toolbox” and as each student promotes to the next grade, they are filling their box with the “tools” they will need for their next opportunity. 

While the ratings are a good indicator it does not tell the whole story.  For the size of district, Clark Schools have way more available programs (academics and sports) to the students’ vs other neighboring districts.  The BOE takes pride knowing that the school offers more than is always taken. When faced with budget issues, cutting educational programs was NOT an option.  The only reason a course may not have been offered this year is due to low enrollment.  Not offered one semester does not mean it has been removed.  All students are encouraged to read the offered classes and enroll.  Well balanced students ready for post high school opportunities is a standard worth measuring!

4.)  What is the role of the BOE in communicating and being accessible to the public? How will you help foster this role?

The BOE has a vital role in communication.  Recently as of October 16th, the Clark Public schools is now on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/clarkpublicschools  This is a great start to community outreach.  It is vital to the success of the district that our community is well informed about current and future events and happenings.  The district has been utilizing the Honeywell Alert system but that was only available to families who currently have students enrolled from PreK – 12.  Now we are opening the communication channels, while Facebook is a start, we as a BOE would like to create a social presence to get that community involvement back into the district.  The nice thing about a lot of the current technology, it is free for the district to use.  It is a win – win for everyone. Another vital communication channel is the partnership that the district has created with tapinto.net. The staff at https://www.tapinto.net/towns/clark have always been a strong channel to showcase our student’s success and achievements.

Building on the momentum of tap, Facebook and an updated district webpage - http://www.clarkschools.org/, the BOE is already discussing the need for other social channels to make sure we connect with all in the community.  As a member of the Curriculum and Technology committee for the past three years, we constantly engage with our IT partners on what is “next”, from an updated district webpage, to an online student record management system. 

As a father of three daughters, all enrolled in a Clark public school, I am constantly engaging with parents and staff.  While I would like to say, we can implement every suggestion brought forward to the board, we as a collective and unified board need to prioritize what needs to be done first.  I feel as a BOE member, you should be available to the community to hear the issues that are effecting the students and what can possible be done to rectify such situation. I can always be reached via sdonkersloot@clarkpublicschools.org, I can be found around town at numerous school and district events and or via the central office.  Anyone can contact the Central office staff to get a message to any board member.  Please reach out anytime, I would like to hear from you!

5.)  What makes you stand out among the other candidates?

What makes me stand out from the other candidates is a good question.  There are three open seats open this year looking to be filled.  I have been fortunate enough to have served along with one of the other candidates, Laura Caliguire.  Laura and I share many of the same opinions of the district and what is right for it and what is not.  Having the experience, even one term, is great momentum to move forward into a second term.  The dedication and passion of some of the board members is what this district needs.  When I joined the board, it was a learning experience and education on how a district works. Everyone says, “they will do this, or will do that”, it is not that easy to change a district that fast. With the last three years, and the common goals of some current board members, we can move this district in a positive direction.  We need conversation about issues and not just saying “no” to stir things up.  At times, the right answer is “No” but before we get to that point, there needs to be productive, level headed conversations.  Once the full board can talk through an issue, it will allow each to make their own decision based on the facts.  In general, I do not accept “No” unless it is followed up on why and what is a possible option.  The BOE must move with speed to make decisions, there is no time for political agendas or negativity.  So, to answer the question, I would say that I am open minded, not easily persuaded and do not follow status quo.  I make my own decisions based on facts.  I know Laura Caliguire is the same and confident that Bob Brede will have the same way of working. 

6.)  How long have you lived in Clark and how have you been or are you now involved in the community?

My wife, Cathy, and I bought our house in December of 2002. With almost 15 years in this town, we have made it our home with our three children, Kaitlyn, Alyssa and Sara.  My girls are currently in the sixth grade at Kumpf and then fourth and third grades at Valley.   Cathy and I have always been involved in our children and their activities.  Being able to work from home, my hours were flexible enough to start volunteering at Valley Road School.  As an active member of the PTA, I was attending events, meetings, class parties and field trips.  That turned into volunteering as the Valley PTA treasurer for a year.  Even though I moved on from being the treasurer, the time spend at the schools increased over time. With three girls in the school, I found myself spending more time volunteering in the school. There is a good chance you bought a 50/50 from a pocketbook bingo or tricky tray!  Outside of the schools, there is a good chance we have crossed paths on the softball diamond.  I have been either managing or coaching a team over the last five to six years in the Clark Girls Softball league.  There is nothing better than being able to spend more time with your kids in a sport they love so much. As well volunteering for Unico Feasts, getting involved with my daughters Girl Scouts troops, or even the Master of Ceremony of the Girl Scout Pine Wood Derby.  I am always willing to lend a hand when needed.  Chance are, if asked, I will show up and help!

In addition to the volunteering around the town, I have spent the last three years on the Board of Education.  While on the board, I am currently the chairperson the Buildings & Grounds committee, part of the Curriculum & Technology committee and served on the Fine Arts committee.  At the re-organization meeting in January 2016, I was nominated to serve as the Vice President and have done so for the last ten months. Looking forward to 2018, I am committed to the Board of Education and hope to help make a difference in my next term!

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The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer