Board of Education hopeful Lucinda Mercer addresses the Millburn school board. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
Emily Jaffe gives her qualifications. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
Milton Resnick appeals to the school board to add him to its ranks. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
Amy Talbert and Debbie Rieder talk about the Millburn Education Association fundraiser. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
Five Millburn School Board Contenders Say Why They Want to Serve; Many Residents Show Support for Budget With 2 Percent Tax Increase; Education Foundation Praised
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 • 6:44am
MILLBURN, NJ--Five of the seven Millburn-Short Hills residents who are seeking to fill the board of education vacancy created by last month’s resignation of Jean Pasternak on Monday told the board and those in a crowded meeting room why they believe they should be chosen to join the school body.
Jane Greenwald said she is proud of the township’s high quality school system that educated her son and daughter and helped them attain advanced degrees that are leading to their success later in life.
The former high school history teacher attained a master’s degree in personnel services, worked in the guidance office at Millburn High School, helped run a work-study program at Bloomfield College, formed her own business--Career and College Advisory--and now is involved in business recruiting.
Greenwald said her background would enable her to bring insight in the job market and recruiting to the district schools in helping students be more successful.
Wharton School graduate Emily Jaffe cited her long-time career in investment matters for Citigroup followed by the founding of her own investment firm.
Jaffe said she took a “hiatus” from business to raise her two daughters and son, but decided she needed to do more with her time and became a volunteer at Hartshorn School and eventually a member of the school district’s strategic planning committee.
The board hopeful added she had worked to “bring innovative ways to help raise capital” into the township schools and wanted to continue those efforts on the school body because, with three elementary school children, she said she had a vested interest in Millburn’s schools.
Long-time township resident Lucinda Mercer serves on the resources subcommittee of the strategic planning committee. A fundraiser for the Summit YMCA and other organizations, Mercer also serves as a case advocate for children, working through the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services.
Mercer said because her children are no longer in the township schools she believes she can be more objective in helping the school system to continue its greatness.
Milton Resnick said the high quality of the Millburn schools led his youngest daughter to become an educator, a second daughter to become an editor on a Wall Street publication and his son to become successful on Wall Street.
Resnick said he had more time for board matters because he both lives and works in the township. He added he believes he can be a peacemaker on a board that often has experienced tumultuous relations.
John Westfall-Kwong, long active in fundraising and community affairs, is an elementary school parent. He called himself an independent thinker, and cited his work as a co-leader on the resources action team involved with the strategic plan.
Westfall-Kwong said his business experience would enable him to make “tough and detached budgetary decisions.”
In contrast to last Wednesday’s board meeting on the introduction of the proposed 2013-2014 school budget, many speakers at Monday’s session supported the 2 percent tax increase backed by the board majority because, they said, it was needed to maintain the high quality of schools in Millburn-Short Hills.
Amy Talbert and Debbie Rieder, co-presidents of the Millburn Education Foundation, said, despite the fact that their group was able to raise $160,000 at its fundraiser last Friday in support of “innovative programs not found in the budget,” their efforts could be “erased” if the school district did not have the support that could be provided by the 2 percent tax increase called for in the budget.
Reacting to the education foundation fundraiser, board president Jeffrey Waters congratulated more than 600 people who attended the event. He also asked audience members involved in committees that helped organize the event to stand and about 25 percent of the audience at Monday’s meeting did so and they were greeted by applause from many in the crowded room.
He also congratulated Rieder, who is leaving her education foundation post, for her efforts over the years.
Waters noted that although it is the board’s obligation to hear all sides of an issue and allow everyone to speak, it is often difficult for parents with small children to attend board meetings. He said many of these people were at the fundraiser on Friday evening.
Going back to the budget, resident Melissa Sealfon said, as a parent, she was very supportive of the 2 percent increase because she felt it would maintain the quality of the township’s schools.
Deerfield School Parent-Teacher Organization co-president Lauren Hollender said she had contacted a number of friends through her personal email listed and received responses in support of the budget with the 2 percent tax increase from more than 50 people within 24 hours this past weekend.
Parent Jody Bockus, who said she has been volunteering in the Millburn schools for the last 17 years, noted those efforts have demonstrated to her numerous areas in which the money to be raised by the proposed 2 percent tax increase needed to be raised.
To those who said they opposed the budget because Millburn residents no longer vote on school spending, Bockus pointed out that township residents do not vote on local or state budgets. She said those who do not like the way school board members handle budgets can vote those members out or campaign themselves for the education body.
However, resident Beth Harrison said those opposed to the 2 percent tax increase were not opposed to increased school quality but wanted, instead, to see the money better allocated and a better accounting of why so much was being shifted from curriculum to buildings and grounds.
Board member Lise Chapman, a member of the board finance committee who spoke out strongly on Wednesday against the proposed increase, said she wanted to know how the school district could decrease overcrowding district-wide by only adding 4.8 teachers in the high school, as supported by the budget.
She said she wanted to know specifically what the board was going to do with $5 million in surplus “it was sitting on."
“I am not against spending money,” Chapman added, “I just want to make sure it is allocated in the best way possible.”
However, when Chapman attempted to poll the board members who supported the increase about the reasons for their votes, Waters said it was not proper for her to query other board members about their motives.
He added if board members had wished to speak about the reasons for their votes they could have volunteered to do so when the votes were taken.
On another matter, after Chapman inquired about actions taken last week after a bus accident involving a township school bus, School Business Administrator Steven DiGeronimo said high school principal William Miron properly went to the scene. He added, due to the weather conditions different buses could not be dispatched to the scene and parents were requested to pick up the students in the bus involved in the accident.
Responding to questions recently raised about Millburn students who were not able to take advanced placement Chinese test due to lack of capacity or computers in Millburn, Superintendent of Schools James Crisfield said the school administrators contacted the test’s administrators, the College Board, and alternate testing dates were arranged, with first priority for Millburn students, secondly for Millburn residents who do not attend township public schools and lastly for students from other districts.
Board member Raymond Wong congratulated the township school officials for responding so efficiently to community concerns.