UNION, NJ – Six candidates vying for three Township of Union Board of Education seats squared off in a debate Monday night in the Union High School library, hosted by the League of Women Voters and moderated by Michele Bobrow,

The six candidates, Gary Abraham, Paul Casey, Misael Guzman, Nancy Minneci, Nellis Regis-Darby and Mary Lynn Williams, were presented questions on topics including tax dollars spending in the school district, modernization of school technology, improving academic performance, educating special needs students, increasing test scores, the issue of school uniforms, and the role of PARCC in the schools.

There were clear lines drawn between the two factions, with Regis-Darby, Guzman and Casey (ballot positions 1, 5 and 6) on one side and Williams, Minneci, and Abraham (ballot positions 2, 3, and 4) on the other.

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On the issue of school spending, Casey said over the last few years the district has begun to be “much better fiscal stewards” of the tax dollars in Union.  “I think it’s really important that that stewardship continue.”   Casey said “we have to be independent thinkers who will make those really good, sound decisions.”

Abraham said the board raised taxes $4.9m over the last couple of years.  “A lot of that money has been spent to create high paying jobs, which have not gone into the classroom.”

Much discussion throughout the debate took place around modernizing classrooms and providing computerized learning.  Casey said the district has to bring in “good strong technology for our children”.  He said this year high school students will have Chrome Books.

“We need to equip our children so they are 21st Century leaders,” said Minneci, “so they can compete in college, the workforce, vocational school, the military.”  She said ‘Team 2,3,4’ is committed to providing Chrome Books to all district students and laptops for all teachers.

Guzman disputed the idea of providing Chrome Books and laptops to the district because for “so long the district has been careless with technology and its advancements.  So it has to be done in phases.” 

On the topic of increasing academic performance, Abraham suggested reinitiating the Saturday Academy, funded within the budget, working with the teacher’s Union to extend the school day for tutoring and pushing the State to fund full day pre-K.  “We need as a Board to push the State of New Jersey to fund full day pre-K so that we can the early childhood education.” 

Casey added that students that aren’t getting the appropriate kind of learning at a young age are “behind when they get to grade 3.”  Casey said the district needs pre-K for all students and needs to develop a relationship with all of the pre-k providers in town to develop early childhood standards, so that their programs are “aligned with the educational goals of the district.”

The moderator asked what is the most important job of a School Board member.  There was general agreement from all candidates that the priority is putting children first and being fiscally responsible.

“I think we’re also responsible for relaying the message that parents are partners in their children’s education, and to accept and embrace Union’s diversity,” added Williams.

Guzman added, “to be better liaison of what happens in our school district and the community at large.”

“I also believe in supporting our Superintendent, whether or not it is his long-term or short-term goals,” added Regis-Darby.

“From a technical perspective, the role of a Board member is policy-making, planning and appraisal,” said Abraham.