SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The annual South Plainfield Board of Education Meet the Candidates Night took place Thursday in the high school auditorium. At this time, the six candidates vying for three open seats on the board had the opportunity to present their platforms and answer questions posed by attendees.
This year, incumbents Debbie Boyle (Line 4) and Steve Bohn (Line 2) are seeking to hold onto their seats while Tom Cassio (Line 3), Jennifer Curtis (Line 6), Ernie ‘Jim’ Giannakis (Line 1), and Pio Pennisi (Line 5) are looking to garner a spot; both Giannakis and Pennisi have previously held seats on the board. Election of board members is at-large and terms are three years.
Throughout the evening, all six candidates fielded a handful of questions pertaining to the bond referendum, including but not limited to, position on the proposal and opinion on its current contents. Other topics of discussion focused on administrative stability – or lack thereof over recent years; meeting attendance; special services issues; building and other infrastructure concerns; district finances; goals if elected/re-elected; and thoughts on what it means to be a board member. Additionally, the candidates were asked to present their views on board term limits and questioned about conflicts of interest.
Thursday’s Meet the Candidates Night, in its entirety, can be viewed
Election of board of education members takes place with the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 8. Brief bios on each candidate are as follows:
Steven Bohn (Line 2) is a 23-year resident and retired sheriff’s officer with the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Department. He was first elected to the board in 1995 and served three consecutive terms. He garnered a seat again in 2008 and lost his bid for re-election a second term. In 2013, he garnered a seat once again and is currently seeking a second consecutive term.
“South Plainfield is a great community to live in and raise a family in. Our school system offers a variety of programs for students and we need to continue to address issues as a whole,” said Bohn, adding that being on the board is a team effort with the board of education, staff, community and students. “Being on the board of education is not an individual action but a team action,” he said. “We need to work as a team with open, positive communication.”
As a member of the board, Bohn said his goal is to work together as a team. “Being a board member, you are one of nine people. You don't have to like one another or agree, but you still have to work together,” he said, adding that if re-elected, he will work to continue setting police, bring common sense and listen to the needs of parents, students and teachers. “That is the reason we are here,” Bohn said.
Deborah ‘Debbie’ Boyle
Debbie Boyle (Line 4), a resident since 1997, is seeking re-election to her fourth term. She is also president of both the Middlesex County School Boards Association and South Plainfield Middle School PTSO as well as a member of the Middle School Safety Team and both the South Plainfield High School Hall of Fame Committee and the Leadership Team. Boyle also chairs the borough’s Public Celebrations and Shared Services committees, is co-chair of the Mayor’s Wellness Committee, a member of both the Cultural Arts Commission and the Environmental Commission/Green Team, the financial secretary for the South Plainfield Business Association; and a member of the Suburban Women’s Club.
As a member of the board, Boyle said she is passionate about attending school events to witness, firsthand, the district’s ‘multi-talented students in music, arts, sports and academics.’ She feels the school system, like a table with four legs, needs the board of education, administration, teaching staff and students to work together to succeed.
“It’s not just about ‘I’ – it’s about being a team member. We need to keep the table balanced, continuing to be very supportive of our teachers and staff and our central office and be there for when they reach out for our recommendations,” Boyle said, adding that residents should re-elect her to the board of education because she is a voice and an advocate. “I like to be a voice because I think it is important to speak up and speak out,” she said.
Thomas Cassio (Line 3) is a lifelong resident and co-owner of Twin City Pharmacy & Surgical. He is safety trustee for the South Plainfield Junior Baseball Club (SPJBC), a member of South Plainfield High School Baseball Booster Club, and a recreation baseball manager as well as an All Star Baseball coach, recreation basketball coach, and travel basketball coach. He has also managed rec T-ball and teener ball.
“I am running for the board of education because I feel that I am at a point in my life where I can contribute more to our community,” said Cassio, noting that as a business owner, his knowledge and understanding of ‘budgets and payroll management and maintaining infrastructure while factoring in deprecation’ would be ‘valuable’ to the district
According to Cassio, if elected, he will help ‘monitor how the district is run, not run the district’ and will ‘bring stability and open the lines communication.’ “I feel my business background and my service on the baseball board has enabled me to learn to listen and value others opinions and still achieve common goals,” he said. “I am non-partisan and have respect for diverse points of view and will approach each decision with an open mind, making strategic choices for the well-being of the district and, most importantly, for the education of our children.”
Jennifer Curtis (Line 6), a resident since 2001 and a paralegal for 25 years year, is involved with the Riley School PTO and last year served as an adult mentor for South Plainfield High School’s (SPHS) Tiger Tech Robotics Team.
“I am running for the board of education because I believe that change and new ideas as necessary for progress. Without change, we are doomed to repeat past mistakes,” said Curtis in her opening remarks. “We must positively move forward with [Dr. Lishak] and I feel there is so much work to be done by the board of ed at this time.”
Curtis said she is seeking election to the board for ‘all the right reasons,’ including ensuring that all children of the South Plainfield School District receive ‘a great education.’ "If elected, I vow to fix the difficult issues facing the district and to make it better," Curtis said.
Ernie ‘Jim’ Giannakis
Ernie ‘Jim’ Giannakis (Line 1), a resident for over 30 years, is a food service director for Piscataway Public Schools and a South Plainfield Ponytail Softball Coach. He was a member of the board of education for three consecutive terms (2005-2015) and, last November, lost his bid for re-election to a fourth, consecutive term.
If elected, Giannakis said he would ‘drive the process’ to attain Blue Ribbon status for all South Plainfield Schools, take a ‘harder look’ at the district’s special services department, preschool program, and facilities, and work to better control enrollment of students who do not belong in the district. “These are top line priorities and I would work hard to provide all the necessary resources to ensure success,” Giannakis said.
Residents, said Giannakis, should elect him to the board of education because he sees it as a ‘truly important commitment’ and is seeking to ‘bring and maintain much needed transparency and unity.’ “As board members, we help the guide the future of our students. They deserve the best education and experience we can provide…we need to go the extra mile for all of them and we can only do that if we understand and actually hear what people have to say…” said Giannakis.
Pio Pennisi (Line 5), a resident for 55 years and a retired superintendent who served much of his 35-year career in the Dunellen School District. Pennisi was a member of the board of education for three consecutive terms (1990-2010) and also filled unexpired vacated seats in both 2011 and 2012. He ran, unsuccessfully, for a seat on the board in 2014.
Pennisi feels his years of experience as a superintendent and board member would be an asset to the district. “As a former board member and superintendent I have unique experience in understanding the importance of a strong relationship between a board, central office administration, staff, and community,” Pennisi said in his opening remarks.
Pennisi said his goal, if elected, is to have a ‘cohesive, collaborative board that respects everyone’s opinion and understands their role as a policy maker.’ “We strong leadership like we currently have in the new superintendent and support from the board I know that this district will move forward and provide all of its students with more opportunities… “ he said. “The only way for this to happen is if everyone knows their roles and makes this a place where great educators want to come and stay. I know I have the experience and desire to do just that.”
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