(Editor’s Note: Elections for the South Plainfield Board of Education will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 5. This year, five candidates are vying for three open seats; incumbents Deborah “Debbie” Boyle, Tom Cassio and Jim Giannakis and are seeking re-election while Cherie Glover and Bill Seesselberg are vying for a seat as well. TAPinto emailed all five candidates the same questions, the candidates answers will be published one per day this week unedited.
Tom Cassio, a lifelong resident of the borough, is seeking re-election to the South Plainfield Board of Education. His name will appear on the ballot in ‘Line H.’
He currently serves as the vice president of the Board of Education, is chair of the Finance Committee, chair of the Shared Service Committee, and chair of the Motorola Ad Hoc Committee. He also sits on the Building & Grounds Committee, the Curriculum Committee, the Ad Hoc Referendum Committee, Public Relations Committee and is the Traffic Safety Liaison.
On a local front, Cassio has served as safety trustee for the South Plainfield Junior Baseball Club (SPJBC) for the past eleven years. He spearheaded funding efforts to bring SPJBC, its Woman’s Auxiliary and the Borough Council together to replace outdated and unsafe playground at the town’s Kenneth Avenue baseball complex, and co-directed the SPJBC Father’s Day Baseball Tournament for nine years.
Cassio was also a member of South Plainfield High School Baseball Booster Club for 3 years. During that time, with the help of the booster club parents, fundraised and constructed the outdoor baseball batting cage at the high school varsity field. They also fundraised for the purchase and installation of the indoor drop-down batting cage in the high school gym. He has been a recreation baseball manager for the past twelve years; an All-Star Baseball coach for three years, a recreation basketball coach for the past eleven years; and a travel basketball coach for three years. Additionally, he has managed both T-ball and teener ball at the rec level and helped create the PAL’s travel basketball program 6 years ago.
He was also named South Plainfield Elk’s Lodge #2298 Citizen of the Year in 2017.
Cassio is co-owner and president of Twin City Pharmacy & Surgical, a Park Avenue business that employs 60-plus people. He is married to Siobhan, a third-grade teacher in Rahway for 19 years; they have two sons, Matthew, a Freshman at Rutgers School of Engineering, South Plainfield High School, and Daniel, a 5th grader at Grant School.
Why are you running for re-election to the South Plainfield Board of Education?
Because there’s more work to do and I want to help see this through. I first ran for the board 3 years ago because this district was in dire need of board stability. South Plainfield was attempting to take on the most aggressive and expansive district wide renovation in over 60 years. Every school received some sort of much-needed upgrade. The Referendum projects, along with annually budgeted projects, have been completed on schedule and at/or under budget. This district is in a much better place now than where it was 3 years ago. We let our superintendent and administrators do their jobs, and a majority of this current board works together, without hidden agendas, for the betterment of the students, teachers, and borough of South Plainfield.
In your opinion, what is the role of a board of education member?
Board members are their community’s representatives. They are responsible for ensuring the education provided to the students is the best the community can afford. We should be fiscally responsible with taxpayer money and ensure that it is fully maximized.
What do you feel are the top three (3) issues affecting South Plainfield schools?
First and foremost, it is imperative that we are prepared for the influx of hundreds of new students we are expecting from not only the Motorola Residential Development, but the Celebrations Residential Development as well. I was honored to be named the Chair for the Motorola Ad Hoc Committee last fall. This committee, along with the cooperation from the board, is and will continue to take a proactive approach. We cannot just simply sit back and be reactive as new students flood and overcrowd our classrooms. Last fall, we hired a demographer to study the proposed residential projects, thus forecasting a projected number of students, and allowing this district to make plans for the not so distant future.
Second, we are expecting South Plainfield’s school state aid to be reduced by over
1 million dollars over the next 4 years. We must have people in place who have the skill set to negotiate, ask the right questions, and help maximize our resources.
Third, are our special education student expenses. They can talk all they want down in Trenton about increasing school special education funding, but until they do, we are on our own. Special education services are imperative to our students, and our rolls are increasing daily. Our students deserve the best care we can budgetarily provide, and they deserve people on the board who have the ability and understanding of a budget and the compassion of a parent with a child of special needs.
If elected/re-elected to the Board, what is the first thing you would look into?
If re-elected, there is not ONE thing to look into. We must continue to move forward and get things accomplished. Academically, our high school was recently rated in the top 100 high schools in NJ and top 14% in the country. We can’t sit back on that rating. We need to continue to strive for more. We must continue to provide our teachers and students the resources to be successful. Just this year we budgeted and implemented a one-to-one initiative supplying all 5-12 grade students with chrome books.
The Referendum projects to date have been completed on time and/or under budget. Next summer, while classes are not in session, we will have completed the last of the projects, the new windows at Riley, Franklin, Kennedy and Grant school. We are in the midst of renovating ALL softball, baseball and elementary school fields. We have teacher contract negotiations forthcoming, and although I cannot participate due to a family employee conflict, we have board members and a teacher’s union in place who have the teachers and taxpayers’ best interest in mind. I know they will get the new contract done.
What are some of your accomplishments as a member of the Board (incumbents)?
- First and foremost, I think I was able to help stabilize this board. I do not have time for games and am willing to listen to opinions of other board members. The majority of the board now is able to work together to accomplish our goals.
- I helped to pioneer our school vaping policy 2 years ago way before other school districts caught on to the pandemic. Now other school call us to see what policies we put in place.
- As Shared Services Liaison, was able to help negotiate adding 2 additional SRO’s to the schools saving the school district over $100,000.
- As Shared Services Liaison, collaborated with borough officials to have dozens of county and borough crosswalks re-painted in 2018 at no cost to the district.
- As Shared Services Liaison, collaborated with borough officials to have Cromwell Place (in front of Grant School) re-paved and striped for bus lanes at no cost to the district.
- As chair of the Motorola Ad Hoc Committee, we put together a demographic study projecting incoming students and will continue to be proactive in our preparation for hundreds of more students.
- In 2017, as a member of the Finance Committee, we chose to have our insurance broker contract bid out saving the district roughly $175,000 annually. Our predecessors were satisfied with paying over $300,000 annually in fees in a 10-year span, we weren’t.
- Identified a safety concern and was able to negotiate with both county and borough officials to put in motion plans for a Hybrid Crosswalk on Maple ave across from PAL and park entrance. Project goes out to bid in March 2020 at no cost to the borough.
- As a member of the Building and Grounds Committee, I contacted a recycling company who was willing to dispose of the 400+ old classroom tube TVs' FREE of charge, thus saving the district over $40,000 in disposal fees.
- In 2018, as a member of the Policy Committee, we implemented an outstanding lunch fee policy thus reducing our outstanding fees by $11,000.
- As Traffic Safety Liaison, collaborated with borough to put speed humps on Morris Avenue near Riley School.
- As chair of the Finance Committee, our committee budgeted and is in the process of purchasing brining equipment to help reduce overtime labor and calcium chloride expenditures.
What do you like best about South Plainfield Schools?
We have a dedicated staff who care about our students. They are not a transient staff who uses South Plainfield as a stepping stone. Our children deserve our best effort in providing a safe, academically enriched curriculum, while providing them the resources to succeed not only in school, but in life. I think we’ve made great strides over the past 3-4 years and look forward to continuing the upward trend.
Why should residents elect/re-elect you to the South Plainfield Board of Education? What makes you the candidate of choice?
We’ve come so far during my 3 years on the board, but we have more to do. I’d like to be a part of it. We’re facing more state budget cuts, an influx of new student population, and increased special education costs. I strongly believe my skill set, being president of a multi-million dollar family owned and operated company, having a wife who is a school teacher, and a 5th grade child who receives special education services, exposes me to all three major issues facing our district. Meaning no disrespect, but no other candidate can say that.
Is there anything else you would like voters to know?
Back in 2016, when you first elected me, your concerns were that past taxpayer funding was misused and money earmarked for projects seemingly disappeared. I told you back then, that I have no time for games and that we need to run this district like a corporation. We needed to let our paid employees, meaning the superintendent, administrators and teachers, do their jobs. I feel we have made great strides in that aspect but there's always room for improvement. You trusted me back then, and I hope you are satisfied with the results. I would be honored to get re-elected and continue the great strides we’ve made.
What line are you on the ballot?
Thomas M. Cassio (Line H)