MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The seven candidates running for three spots on the South Orange Maplewood Board of Education offered differing views on the topic of budgeting at last night's candidates forum. At the heart of their discussion were the overarching questions: What should the PTA financially cover? And what should the district financially cover? The League of Women Voters hosted the October 24 event at the District Office in Maplewood.

Sharon Tanenbaum Kraus was the first to speak. “I think often times the PTA, especially in some of our schools, are relied on too heavily to provide things for our children when really I think that we should take a look at the budget and really figure out where we can find money to support our children.”

On a similar wavelength, Narda Chisholm-Greene said, “I remember last year, meeting with the folks who are part of the PTA and one of the things that came up was air conditioning in the classrooms; that they had to purchase for some classrooms but not every single one had that opportunity to get air conditioning. That shouldn’t be their responsibility.”

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Digging in deeper, Thair Joshua gave an example of how he believes school funding responsibilities should re-distribute, stating, “So with the facilities and integration plan...the goal of socio-economically integrating elementary schools should solve some of the PTAs funding disparity.”

Joshua is co-running with Erin Siders, who added, “I look at the middle schools, where SOMS goes on a trip to Washington, DC and when my son was at Maplewood Middle, it was a trip to Camp Mason overnight. These are things that really should come out of district funding.” The duo acknowledges the PTAs hefty contributions but would not release them of all responsibilities at once because of their effectiveness. Siders continued, “I am for pooling resources when needed to get rid of that inequity, to have an elementary school PTA versus a specific school PTA.” 

While Siders believes that pooling funds can resolve inequity, Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad believes that it creates inequity. Lawson-Muhammad, a two-term incumbent, went on to mention one school received laptops before the other.

Ultimately, she still stands for the PTAs contributions saying, “There is just not enough money to fund our district and we know that year over year costs are going up, and having the support of our PTAs and HSAs is essential. I think making sure that we identify which areas are appropriate for funding and which are not is critical.”

Johanna Wright also brought up the issue, pegging it with rising taxes. Wright exclaimed, “With the taxes that we pay in South Orange and Maplewood, our children should be experiencing an exclusive private school education.” Wright, a two-term incumbent, noted, “We have money, we just don’t know where to put it.”

Carey Smith listed some of what he considers district responsibility, like the arts, purchasing more and newer technologies, facility upkeep, and buying books for the classrooms and libraries. However, he said, it is not that the PTA should contribute less, instead they should more so be what teachers look to for help. He states, “I think the PTAs need to support the teachers more and give teachers more of what they need in the classroom...”

Joshua and Siders discussed the upcoming launch of the integration plan that will bus students across the district to different schools, but noted the public hasn’t received more than surface level information about the integration plan and how that will prove to be financially beneficial and physically/emotionally beneficial for the students.

Tanenbaum Kraus mentioned potentially trying to “find money” in the budget, and Greene mentioned her dissatisfaction with things like the PTA purchasing air conditioners. No candidate offered much insight on how they would execute their visions.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Lawson-Muhammad mentioned the importance of the PTA as a way to keep high local taxes from becoming crippling. Wright, who has been an outspoken and fairly charismatic candidate, stands firmly in her belief that there is enough funding as is, and the issue is more so how it is being used.

Voting will be held Tuesday, November 5th.