Barnegat Leader

Two Incumbents, Six Challengers in Barnegat School Election

Oct 20, 2017

Eight candidates are vying for three seats on the Barnegat Township Board of Education on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Looking to win second three-year terms are board Vice President Robert Geddes and Maria Pereira. Also in the running are Robert J. Sawicki, H.E. “Tripp” Rogers III, Richard Quelch, Patti Deem Robbins, Doreen Continanza and Jaime Feola. Incumbent Gary Brown declined re-election.

A 48-year-old enterprise business analyst, Geddes is running with Pereira as a team.

“I think the board has been going in the right direction,” said Geddes, who heads the finance committee. “We’ve continued to add advanced placement courses at the high school. The football field will have a new concession stand open by Homecoming Day (Oct. 27). We’ve been able to make these changes while still being fiscally responsible. We can cut costs by pursuing shared services with the township and make sure when going out to bid that we get the best value in choosing a vendor.”

Geddes said he first became interested in running for the board after attending strategic planning meetings as a concerned parent.

“I strongly believe in transparency and I think the board is doing its best to keep the public informed,” he said. “I know that some may disagree with that, but it seems that people like to talk when there are problems, but not as much when it comes to ideas to try to resolve the problems.”

Pereira, 56, is co-owner of a family business, C-Food Express. The holder of a state teacher certification, she has worked as a substitute teacher in Barnegat.

“We’ve made enhancement to the academic programs on the elementary school, middle school and the high school level,” said Pereira, who heads the education committee. “An example at the high school would be courses in photography and robotics. We also have introduced an ROTC program, and two years ago started a medical careers program in partnership with Barnabas Health Systems.”

Pereira also said the district needs to improve on its standardized test scoring.

She hopes the board moves quickly on hiring a new district superintendent. Two months ago, the board announced it would not renew the contract of Karen Wood, whose contract expires at the end of June.

“It’s possible that she might want to leave before next June, so we don’t want to get caught unprepared,” Pereira said.

Rogers, Robbins and Continanza are also running as a team, as are Quelch and Sawicki. The 58-year-old Rogers is a sales consultant at Best Buy in Stafford Township and is a local radio personality. Robbins, 47, is a Realtor for Weichert Realtors in Ship Bottom, while the 60-year-old Continanza is an administrative assistant to the assistant schools superintendent in the Manalapan district.

“This election is very important because the next board is a going to be the one to decide on who will be the next superintendent,” said Rogers.

The three would like to see the regular monthly meetings held at revolving sites instead of at the high school.

“They hold the meetings in the library and it just doesn’t really serve well as a meeting place like an auditorium would,” he said.

“If you held meetings at different schools, the public might get a better idea of all the events taking place at the schools, or find out about students or teachers being honored for an achievement,” said Robbins. “That’s all part of being more transparent in dealing with the public.”

Rogers said overall, the district “seems to be doing a good job with what it has.”

“But I think they micromanage too much,” he said. “They should let the educators do their jobs as educators and be more supportive of their administrators, teachers and staff.”

“About 80 percent of the budget is salaries and health insurance,” said Continanza. “It doesn’t leave the board with much room to work with, so we hope that the money they have can be used wisely and that our school taxes will be stable.”

Robbins said that when families are looking to move to a town, schools are “often the number one concern.”

“I want us to have a school system we can all be proud of,” she said, “the type of district that can attract people to Barnegat because it is a nice place to live.”

“With my job, I’m familiar with the way school districts operate,” said Continanza. “You need to have the school board and the staff and administration be on the same page. Without that, you’re going to run into problems. It’s not like we feel the board is doing a bad job, but we see some areas where things can be done better.”

Quelch, 43, is owner of Duck Cove Marina in Long Beach Township. Sawicki, 45, is a paid fireman in Edison Township. Quelch’s wife, Christya Quelch, unsuccessfully ran for a board seat last year and Sawicki’s wife, Kelly Sawicki, is a former board member.

The two candidates said they became friends through their volunteer work as recreation department coaches.

“We’ve talked a lot about the schools and found out that we have very similar concerns,” said Quelch. “All I’m interested in doing is trying to help with my children’s education and the other kids in the community.”

Quelch said that being on the board will initially be a learning experience.

“I can’t say anything of what I’ll do yet, but I don’t think this board is transparent enough,” he said. “It needs to be more open in its dealings with the public. It just seems sometimes that the public doesn’t have much say when it comes to board decisions.”

His running mate agrees.

“It doesn’t seem that we get to know anything happening behind the scenes,” said Sawicki. “The public needs to be made aware of what’s going on, especially at the board meetings.”

Sawicki said the district needs to continue to keep up with technological upgrades to prepare students for the future.

“We need to make sure all the educational needs are met, whether students are in gifted and talented programs or special education,” he said. “Let’s make our schools something to talk about.”

An instructor at Extreme Gymnastics in West Creek, the 34-year-old Feola said she in running “because I want to give everyday people a voice.”

“All too often elected positions become more about politics than people,” she said. “This was evident when our superintendent’s contract was not renewed, despite overwhelming public support to do so. Our children need a voice that will put them first, and I can be that voice. I am not a politician,  never was and never will be. I am a mom who will advocate for sound policies that are in the best interest of our children and community.”

Feola said she wants to see a more transparent board of education, to “gain the trust of the community, parents, and children.”

“I want our parents and community to not be afraid to ask questions regarding decisions being made at board meetings,” Feola said. “I also want to see whomever is chosen as the next superintendent comes here for our children and community, not just a job. With Mrs. Wood, we see her at events. Staff, children and parents know who she is. This is the way schools need to be run. We, as parents, have to have confidence and trust with our elected officials.”







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