(Editor’s Note: Elections for the South Plainfield Board of Education will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 8. This year, six candidates are vying for three open seats; incumbents Steve Bohn and Deborah Boyle are seeking re-election while incumbent Carol Byrne is not seeking another term. Former members Ernie 'Jim' Giannakis and Pio Pennisi along with newcomers Thomas Cassio and Jennifer Curtis are vying for a seat as well. TAPinto will be publishing profiles on each candidate; they will run in alphabetical order.)
SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Pio Pennisi, a resident for over 50 years, is seeking to regain a seat on the South Plainfield Board of Education. His name will appear on the ballot in ‘Line 5.’
Pennisi was a member of the board of education for three consecutive terms from 1990 to 2010 and was appointed to fill unexpired vacated seats in both 2011 and 2012. During his tenure, he also served as president for four years (1995-1996, 2003-2005, and 2008-2009). Pennisi most recently ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the board of education in 2014.
Pennisi has over 35 years of education experience. He held numerous positions throughout his career in the Dunellen School District, serving as a teacher, assistant principal, athletic director, supervisor of technology and middle school and high school principal before taking on the position of superintendent from 2006 through his retirement in 2014. Over the past two years, he has served as an interim superintendent, working in Netcong from 2014-2015 before returning to Dunellen from 2015 to 2016.
Pennisi is a former member of the Dunellen Rotary Club and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletics Association (NJSIAA), having served on its Controversy and Appeals committees. He also was a coach for South Plainfield’s Baseball and Soccer clubs and is currently a member of the Dunellen Lion’s Club.
TAPinto South Plainfield recently interviewed all six South Plainfield Board of Education candidates; they were all asked the same questions:
TAPinto South Plainfield (TAPinto): Why are running for a seat on the South Plainfield Board of Education?
Pio Pennisi (PP): I am really concerned about the turnover rate and the lack of continuity due to board members who have been interfering for years. In the past, solid, stable people have come in strong but, in time, were worn down and eventually leave. That has affected the schools and has gotten more and more out of hand. Also, there are multiple ethics violations by members of the current board and there are members who overstep their bounds. It has to stop.
TAPinto: In your opinion, what is the role of a board of education member?
PP: The job of a board member is to set policy based on the needs of the town; we are policy builders. The perception is that the board runs the district and that isn’t the case and we need to change that. The only person the board hires is the superintendent and, once hired, the job of the board is it to give that person the opportunity to sink or swim without interference. We get to evaluate them and decide but we don't get to dictate what they do.
TAPInto: What do you feel are the top issues affecting South Plainfield schools?
PP: We need stability and need to ensure that the leadership in place stays. We need to ensure that the superintendent and the people in central office are given every opportunity to do their job and have every opportunity to succeed. Also, I feel the facilities need to be addressed and we need to look into why it appears they have not been maintained over the years.
TAPinto: What is your position on the bond referendum that will be presented for a public vote in spring 2017?
PP: There are major projects included that are obviously necessary and belong in the referendum - such as the athletic fields, the bleachers and the electrical work – and it is important that our facilities are improved. But there are other small items included that should have been or could be planned for year-after-year and funded through capital reserve. I support referendums when there is definitely a need but I do not know enough about this one to say I support the whole thing right now.
TAPinto: If elected to the board, what is the first thing you would look into?
PP: The facilities are an important part. Also, the right board leadership needs to be in place. I think it is important that we work together to let the leaders lead. Special services must also be looked into; parents are being advocates for their kids and their concerns needs to be addressed.
TAPinto: What do you like best about South Plainfield Schools?
PP: The fact that we are moving forward despite everything that happened with our central office is a testament to great staff and teachers who are holding our district together. This is a great town and a great district that offers everything students need in the arts, education, athletics, and more. We have good teachers and staff who have been holding up their end.
TAPinto: Why should residents elect you to the South Plainfield Board of Education?
PP: I served many years as a board member, went through the Grant School referendum, and was involved in the hiring of a very successful superintendent [Dr. Rosato] - who was here for a very long time. I feel it is important that we not dictate what our administration does and provide them every the opportunity to flourish. I bring experience from being a board member and experience having been an educator for 37 years. I feel it is important that everyone gets a good education and that the town has a great school district. I have no stake or agenda other than wanting a great school system.
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