Six candidates for three open seats on the Hopatcong School Board face addressing issues that range from tight budgets, reduced state aid and regaining public support for the K-12 district.
Residents have recently complained about the drop in ranking of the Hopatcong schools in the annual New Jersey Monthly list. Hopatcong dropped 89 spots on the list.
They also raised concerns about school programs when 21 students applied to attend Lenape Valley Regional High School in Stanhope, a district designated as a choice school under a revised state program.
Seeking the three, 3-year seats are incumbents Dolores Krowl, board president Clifford Lundin and Joan S. Reilly, and challengers Judith Antonelli, John H. Maine and Quashinna Williams.
The school board chose to hold the election for board members on Nov. 6, following a new state law. The board approved a 2012-13 budget in April. Residents will not be able to vote on the annual school budget during this election.
Krowl, who has served on the board for six years, said the board has been actively addressing the key issues before it, especially the perception that the district is failing its students.
Krowl, a secretary in the Tewksbury school district, said the 2012 budget, which was crafted with a state aid cut of $724,329, resulted in the loss of 29 teaching jobs.
The board’s response was to examine how the district operated and shuffled its principals to different schools as it hired a new high school principal. That move, she said, allows the principals in their new jobs in lower grade schools, to use their knowledge of the demands of upper grades to vertically coordinate curriculum across the district.
“This administrative move is good for the district’ she said.
The 2012 budget cuts hurt, Krowl said. But the response was to focus on tangible improvements that shored up test scores and physical improvements in the district.
The 2012-13 budget contained no teacher job cuts, she said, and the creation of a High School of the Future task force, comprised of educators, residents and volunteers, is a way to solve problems with community support.
This district is heading in a positive direction, she said.
Lundin, an attorney who has been on the school board for more than seven years, said the state budget cuts hurt, but the district has worked hard to spend the budget appropriately.
“We find three different ways to spend a dollar,” Reilly said.
While the state mandated tax levy increase was held under 2 percent, the impact of the cuts were evident throughout the district.
To offset the decrease in aid, Lundin said, the district sought to reduce its electric bill.
The installation of a six-acre solar panel field will cut the district’s electric costs $3 million over the next 15 years, he said. The district is paying 5 cents per kilowatt hour for solar powered electricity that supplies all but the Hudson Maxim School.
Lundin said the savings allowed the district to make some needed repairs and take on some long-delayed purchases like textbooks. The district spent $500,000 on new textbooks to replace some that were 15 to 20 years old, he said.
Lundin said that the district’s reputation has taken some hits recently.
In response to the concerns raised by residents, he said High School of the Future task force that will examine all aspects of the school and seek possible solutions.
“We can do better,” Lundin said. “We want to challenge things.”
Reilly has been a board member since 1996, and has been active as a volunteer on numerous borough boards and services.
She agreed with Krowl and Lundin that the board had serious issues to address, and agreed the members were not failing to act on those issues.
“We have made every effort to rises SAT scores,” she said.
The 2012 budget cuts, and the subsequent loss of 29 teachers, meant that Advanced Placement classes and other electives were cut, a move the district is trying to overcome.
She said the board is not sitting back, but it taking action.
The hiring of a new high school principal led to a shuffle of principals that will strengthen the curriculum district-wide and has provided better continuity as students move from elementary to middle school and then to the high school, she said.
The creation of the task force provides a way to get community involvement as the district plans for the future, Reilly said.
The next big move, she said, is planning to hire a new superintendent. It will be another chance for the board to move the district ahead.
Antonelli, a 27-year educator who currently teaches third grade in the Roxbury school district, said she would challenge the board’s decision making processes and transparency.
Antonelli said she would work to develop programs in the classroom that offered greater motivation for students to excel on standardized tests and in classroom work.
“Students respond to a reward based decision making process,” she said.
Antonelli said the board’s process of discussion and analysis before making decisions could be refreshed. Last spring when the board hired a new high school principal, a dispute over the salary broke out in public. Antonelli said the board should examine the decision that was made before the final discussion took place.
A range of salaries had been presented, she said, and the board should have taken the time to ensure all members fully understood what that meant before a final vote was taken.
Antonelli said she would seek to begin broadcasting school board meetings over such media as YouTube or a local television station. She would create a legislative liaison post on the board whose job would be to meet with local state legislators and bring to them board and district concerns.
She calls for the creation of motivational programs to spark student success and a program to measure accountability throughout the district, especially for board members
As a teacher herself, Antonelli said, she would not vote on any contract that involved teacher salaries and benefits.
Williams, a licensed real estate broker and homemaker, has lived in Hopatcong for eight years .
Her main goals are: Creating a more open door policy between the teachers and the board through a process that creates a better atmosphere for problem solving; generating a more parent-friendly atmosphere at board meetings and functions to reduce tensions and crate a more conducive atmosphere for cooperation; examining programs and processes used in other districts hat can be translated to Hopatcong to better educate students and raise school ranking on statewide lists.
“This is my third attempt for this board,” Williams said. “We as taxpayers and parents can not justify nor explain the drop in our system or the failure to our kids.”
She said it is time that residents vote for change and not the status quo.
Maine did not reply to several requests for information on his candidacy.