My BRRSD candidate blog... or "A soccer Mom's voting cliff notes"

Dear Readers,

Today I watched the Bridgewater Raritan Regional School District Board of Education candidates night video. While I am not formally endorsing anyone (who am I to do that anyway? I'm just a parent) these are my opinions.

I will DEFINITELY vote for:

Cynthia Cullen
, current President of the BOE. Cynthia's presidency on the board is an immediate improvement over the previous president. She makes people feel welcome and respects their right to be heard. The previous president was regularly rude to citizens who voice concerns during public comment portions of BOE meetings. Mrs. Cullenhas two children in the district and works as a professional in local industry. She also has a masters degree. I have met her on several occasions, including during strategic planning. She seems very intelligent. Her intentions are clear: raise educational standards and have accountability to the public. I will vote with her without reservation.

Patrick Breslin. I am THRILLED that Patrick is running! He will be a fantastic BOE member. He is approachable and has proved his commitment to the district as co-chair of the Strategic Planning committee. He is a trained educator - the only candidate that is- and would be an ideal BOE member. His experience running the Strategic Planning program will serve him well, as he is already well versed in the BRRSD's challenges. I am happy to attest to his professionalism and commitment to the district.

I also find it commendable that he is a stay-at-home Dad.

Those are the only two candidates that I can enthusiastically (and informally) endorse!


The other candidates and my reservations:

The best thing I have heard recently about Christine Schneider is "she isn't doing any harm"...

Why am I concerned?

1) SHE CHOOSES TO SEND HER SCHOOL-AGE CHILDREN OUT OF DISTRICT. Why aren't BRRSD schools good enough for her??? She neglected to mention that her kids don't go to brrsd schools during her candidate presentation.

2) IMHO she came off the candidate's night looking like an idiot. Regarding a question regarding strategic focus with shrinking resources she said (my transcription from the video, my apologies if I made any mistakes.):

"I am so proud, being on the board. We have been doing exactly this: we have been maintaining and improving our programs, while being fiscally responsible. We must count on things that are free. We have to count on our high-quality administrators and staff to use their expertise, their intelligence, their creativity and their commitment to our children to provide them with the highest quality in education possible. In terms of priorities and the strategic use of district resources, I think we need to continue to focus to on making sure we are providing students in Bridgewater Raritan with the best quality teachers. We are improving programs, yes. But programs are only as good as the teachers who are implementing them. We do a terrific job with staff development. We need to continue this. We also need to continue our focus on supervision and accountability."

What in the world did she mean by counting on things that are free? Then she mentioned administrators and teachers and training teachers. NONE of this is free! What is free???

3) I wonder about her motivation for being on the BOE. (See point 1). My impression is that she is on the board because it is an asset for her career. The only time I have heard her voice any kind of opinion was at a recent meeting when parents were concerned about threatened cuts to athletics. At that point she emotionally reminded people that her heart is in sports as she heads the rec department. She also thanked "important" sports people by name. I found that inappropriate brown-nosing!

She does not seem to be in the same camp as those of us who are focused foremost on questions of academics in the district. She mentioned the changes in the math program, but I have never heard her give an opinion, nor even ask a question related to math or language arts. She is therefore IMHO not the best candidate for those of us who are primarily concerned with academics questions in the district.

Finally - when she is bragging about improved communication: she refuses to have an e-mail address on the districts BOE members website. WHY WON'T SHE LET THE PUBLIC E-MAIL HER?

Yet as I write this, I guess Christine is the "lesser of the 3 evils" and to water down the chances for the final two candidates I might vote for her.

The last two are both definite NOs.

Richard Guss already had a strike against him IMHO within the first 2 minutes of his candidate nights opening remarks when he had made a grammatical error. If you can't speak with good grammar in a prepared statement presenting yourself to the public, why would anyone trust you to be in charge of LAL for an entire district of kids? He comes off at meetings as unwelcoming to the public and disinterested in public opinion. His priorities on the BOE are apparently to cut the budget - but I have been to several BOE meetings and never heard his opinion on feasible ways to do this (and during his statement he wants to improve the infrastructure, while cutting costs? It doesn't make sense). But these aren't enough for an emphatic no. Part of it is a gut feeling. Why is he on the board? What are his motivations? He also doesn't have kids in the district? As a lawyer - is he looking for a stepping stone into a political career?

He also refuses to allow the public to contact him via e-mail - yet he claims that he wants to improve communication. His plan to improve communication with the public puts the onus on the public. "The public need to come to the meetings". Then don't be sour-faced when we, the public, come to a meeting and address you. Someone mentioned to me recently that he has been seen checking phone messages and texting while members of the public were addressing the board at the podium at BOE meetings.

Stan Serafin - was just plain scary! There is no way I will vote for him! He has an admitted agenda ("to get rid of the left-wing agenda" - yet, he did not define who or what that is - I would be happy to see more of a left wing agenda - can someone show it to me???). Serafin also has no children in the district, nor displayed any serious interest in academics except saying he wants to keep a strong education at a lower cost and focus on Science and Math. (As an aside my daughter said yesterday that she hates science because the kids in her class can't read fluently, so she doesn't get much out of it when the teacher has them read from the textbook aloud in class and just reads quietly to herself. You clearly can't succeed in Science without strength in LAL - ever heard of LAB NOTES?).

I have never seen him attend a BOE meeting. My sources tell me that he is a disgruntled former BRRSD bus driver who was fired by the district. - Seems there is a story behind this rumor that I'll have to hear (he claimed he is a retired business owner and a Republican politician in county politics)! - He seems to have a personal vendetta against the administration. He wants corporations to sponsor BRRSD instead of relying so heavily on taxes, and claims that companies in the area want to do so. I think that substantial corporate sponsorship is unrealistic in the current economic climate.

He seemed to mix up the Superintendent with the Board of Education leadership during his remarks, and promised he will singlehandedly make sweeping changes, like promising that all mail to the BOE will be replied to in a quick fashion (without offering to write it himself) and making sure that minutes will be posted within two days of a meeting (I'm sure whoever has that in their job description can't wait for him to make these demands!). How is he going to force BRRSD staff to do any of that? And if he is planning to do it himself, why didn't he say so "I take great minutes!"

This is long and wordy and may even have factual errors. But as none of the candidates seem to have a website outlying their candidacy and views, and the district hasn't posted the video I just thought I would give what is in my humble opinion (IMHO) the lay of the BRRSD candidates land. When I write this, I have already given the video to someone else to watch and can't replay it again.

May the best woman (Cullen) and man (Breslin) win and if I have to have a 3rd candidate then may she continue to do no harm. If you disagree with me on most other things you've seen on my blog, Cullen and Breslin aren't the candidates for you!

PS - Last year at least 3 of the candidates had a webpage with their concerns listed and an outline of their platform. It was a good idea, had little or no cost and future BRRSD candidates should take note! Then you wouldn't have to read this synopsis of my thoughts - you could read their actual platforms!


UPDATE per 4/21/09: I just found these:
Patrick Breslin's website is: www.breslin4boe.webs.com
Cynthia Cullen's website is: www.cullenboe.webs.com
The other 3 candidates websites are not listed with the Currier News' breakdown of candidates. See: http://www.mycentraljersey.com/article/20090416/EDUCATION/90416026/1025

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