After what seems like an eternity, it’s finally Election Day. Frankly, and many will likely agree with this sentiment: it couldn’t come quickly enough. At long last, the nationally divisive campaign, which has monopolized almost all media coverage and a large chunk of social media interaction, is nearing completion.
Here in Long Branch, as with most of the United States, the race for the White House will likely be the motivating factor for most who trek to the polls. Many will case their vote for the 45th President of the United States without giving any thought to the down-ballot candidates, those embroiled in less glamorous races. However, it is important to remember not all candidates on this year’s ballot are hoping to relocate to Washington, D.C., and some have their sights set much closer to home.
Below the presidential, Congressional, and Freeholder contenders, in the non-partisan box at the bottom right-hand corner of the ballot, are the oft-overlooked hopefuls aspiring to positions on the Long Branch Board of Education. This year, the contenders include Avery W. Grant, Michele Critelli, John D. Zuidema*, Jr., Donald Covin, William Chasey, Jr.*, and Lucille Perez. Of these six ballot qualified contenders, three will be tasked with assuring the children of this city receive the education they deserve. That’s quite the responsibility. Yet, aside from scattered lawn signs and the occasional Facebook endorsement, their campaigns chugged along with little fanfare and scarce press coverage.
In many ways, the candidates for the Board of Education remain an enigma to the majority of voters. That’s a shame, because this election is just as important as any other. The Board will make decisions that impact Long Branch students in the classroom, but also property owners on their tax bills. And so, on the eve of this most historic election, it is time to take a look at the candidates for Long Branch Board of Education:
Avery W. Grant, a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and former mayoral candidate, is an incumbent member of the Board. A regular fixture in the community, Grant has been active in Long Branch and its various political and social causes for decades. Perhaps most notably, he was as an opponent of the use of eminent domain during the city’s controversial redevelopment efforts.
During last week’s candidate debate, Grant highlighted an example of past experience securing funding for the school district: “It’s important that you be very active, in not only the community, but in the state, and as a director of the New Jersey School Board Association, I learned that under President Obama’s revitalization program, money was going to be made available in the next week. I came home from that meeting and called [former Superintendent] Joe Ferraina at about nine o’clock and night and said, ‘Let’s jump on it!’ And he jumped on it, and the result was we got about 1.25 million dollars in federal funding. So what I am saying is you’ve got to move around, don’t pass up anything…you never know what you can do!”
Dr. Michele Critelli, Ed.D, Supervisor of Guidance at Monroe Township High School in Middlesex County, is an incumbent member of the Board of Education. With vast experience in education, she received a Doctor of Education from Rowan University in 2014.
At the candidate debate, she addressed the issue of revenue: “Well, I think one of the things when your looking at funding or additional moneys, one of the areas you can pursue are grants. Here in Long Branch, we’ve had a drastic increase in the number of grants that have been awarded to our district, and as a result, it’s had a major impact on our students and on our staff. So it’s something that will help with student achievement. It will help them socially and emotionally…also, when your looking at funding you have to constantly assess and review what you currently have, what’s working, what isn’t working, where those funds are being spent, and whether or not it’s something we want to continue to do.”
“Coach” Donald Covin, who is an incumbent Board member and the Chairman of the Long Branch Housing Authority, agreed with Dr. Critelli in regards to funding, and said: “We just received over half a million dollars in grant money for after school programs, and I believe if we continue to go after the different grants that are out there, that are significant like this one that is over half a million dollars, we can continue to put programs into place and then assess what we are doing with those programs, and as we assess it, we can continue to go out and get more and more funding.”
Lucille Perez, who served on the Board of Education for eighteen years, lost re-election by a mere three votes last November. Now seeking to reclaim a spot on the Board, she cited an admirable attendance record and equally commendable history of adherence to the Code of Ethics as qualifications. Perez stands out among the candidates for being particularly accessible to voters via Facebook.
When asked what the most pertinent issues facing the school district were, Perez responded: “The easy answer is adequate funding, which is, of course, the most important. But after my years as an involved parent and time on the Board, I truly believe that the hiring and retention of good, qualified teachers is the key to everything. Our teachers must not only be prepared with professional development but they must also feel supported and respected. Dr. Salvatore’s rigorous standards for interviewing and hiring of staff has been very successful and his philosophy of nurturing and supporting all staff is being received very well.”
Note: Long Branch’s voters should also note there is a Board of Education related ballot question, which seeks approval to appropriate $6,940,000 and bond $6,940,000 to refurbish the historic high school building, which isn’t currently utilized.
*John D. Zuidema and William Chasey, Jr. did not participate in last week’s candidate debate.