MADISON, NJ - The three candidates seeking two Madison school board seats this year convened Wednesday night in the high school library for a question and answer session that produced a lively discussion, but no real disagreement.
One thing is sure. No matter who is successful on Nov. 5, the board will have two new members as incumbents Leslie Lajewski and Johanna Habib are not seeking reelection,
The three candidates are John Regan, an educator; David Steketee, a technology specialist; and Stephen Tindall, who is retired from the bio-pharmaceutical industry.
Interestingly, there were no direct questions at the League of Women Voters-run forum about property taxes, which perennially is one of the biggest issues in New Jersey. About 25 people attended on what was a very, rainy night.
But there were questions about student well-being, which engendered a discussion about the school schedule, student stress and homework.
All generally agreed that the start of the school day should be pushed back to at least 8 a.m. With many school districts in the state commencing classes prior to 8 a.m., this is becoming a big issue. Advocates for change say teenagers especially are not "programmed" to function well if they get up at dawn.
As for homework, all agreed that students seem to get too much of it, even in the summer.
Tindall reached back to his own school days to say his only summer assignment was to collect bugs.
Steketee said homework is a problem during the school year as well, saying that an overload of homework can cause stress for many students. .
Regan generally agreed, but he also said reducing homework could ultimately hurt school rankings or impact those taking Advanced Placement classes.
There were also questions about the "physical plant." As one of the more older developed towns in Morris County, Madison has some of the county's oldest school buildings.
Steketee said the district's annual bill for maintenance and building upkeep is about $1.3 million, which he suggested was not enough.
Regan said perhaps the greatest need is to make some of the schools - most notably the high school - more secure in an era of escalating school threats and violence.
Tindall offered the boldest idea. Referring to the high school, he said, "Tear it down and start again."
The candidates also were asked about "transparency," which often becomes an issue with any public body.
"Anything that can be public should be public," Steketee said. He said the district is getting better in this regard, noting that three years ago, it took him a month and a half to get some basic information.
Regan said simply, "The board needs to do a better job communicating.":
Tindall took credit for improving district transparency, saying he was the one to convince the board to make the bill list and other pertinent data public at every meeting.
Of the three candidates, Steketee is the only one with a public persona outside the realm of education. He recently was the plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the Morris County freeholders' practice of awarding grants to churches. Citing the separation of church and state, the New Jersey Supreme Court ultimately agreed with Steketee's position. The freeholders appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to take the case.