Stafford, Southern Regional School Board Hopefuls Have Until July 30 to File for Candidacy

Jul 11, 2018

During the Nov. 6 general election, a number of seats on the Southern Regional and Stafford Township boards of education will be ripe for the taking. But voters will be able to select only from the list of candidates who have met the deadline to file petitions at the Office of the Ocean County Clerk.

Those who want to be on the ballot for a potential school board seat had better get cracking. The deadline is a brief 19 days away, on July 30, at 4 p.m.

Within the Southern district, which consists of the middle and high schools, four seats will be up for grabs – those of Stafford representatives Keith Weidenhof, Scott Waters and board President Steven Berkheiser, as well as the one occupied by Long Beach Island representative Scott Zoladz.

In the Stafford district, which consists of the town’s five elementary schools, a trio of three-year terms will become available as the current terms for board President Mike Hemenway, Tammy Nicolini and Beth Sicoli come to an end.

Of course, getting onto the ballot is just a first step into a larger and very important role, according to former Stafford board member Wendy Cotter, who offered some insight on what to expect when seeking a school board post.

“Running is the easy part. All the people you know will come out and support you, and hopefully you have enough votes to get elected to the board,” said Cotter, who served the Stafford district for seven years, culminating her stint last December. “But once you’re on the board, that’s when things get serious, and it takes a lot of time and effort to be as effective as possible.”

The first bit of advice Cotter provided for first-timers seeking a board position is to realize they’re not going to know everything upon arrival. There’s a learning curve and a lot to get caught up on.

“You have to respect the processes that had occurred before you got there,” she said. “Some things probably have been in discussion for months, and a whole bunch of things were already going on for years before you arrived. You’re not going to go in there and know every detail of everything happening within the district, so you need some time to learn what you don’t know, and it can be overwhelming at the outset.”

Another aspect of being on the board is that everybody has to work together with many varying personalities, she said.

“A board member only has power when part of the group sitting on the dais,” she said. “If you’re going in with an agenda, or without an open mind that what you might want may not be what everybody else votes for, you’re going to be disappointed. You’re working together with the others on the board for the common good of the district, not for one particular segment of the society or not for one specific group of students.”

One more important aspect of which to be mindful is that the board doesn’t micro-manage anything or anybody within the district, she said.

“There are a lot of moving parts within the district, and the board is not really involved in the day-to-day operations. Certain things have to get done for the school district to operate, and the board is there to set policy and regulations and approve contracts that, ultimately, will benefit the students and staff. But as a board member, it’s not your job to micro-manage.”

And a warning: Be prepared for some criticism on occasion and develop a thick skin before the election.

“On the board, you represent the community as a whole – not just the parents and kids of the district, not just the teachers and not just the taxpayers,” she said. “You represent everybody, and sometimes making decisions that are going to affect everybody is hard and not always popular. It’s not as black and white as many people think it is.”

Still, being a school board member can be a rewarding experience.

“If you get onto the school board, take some pride in knowing you’re making a difference in the community in some small way,” Cotter said. “I have no regrets about my time on the board. You learn a lot while you’re there. And it certainly can be a fulfilling thing to know you’re doing what you can to help the district move in a positive direction.”

For information on how to file a petition for candidacy with the Ocean County Clerk, call 732-929-2153.

— David Biggy

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