Barnegat Leader

Eight Seek Three Seats in Barnegat School Board Race

By Eric Englund | Oct 18, 2019

Barnegat — Eight candidates are on the ballot in the Barnegat Board of Education election on Nov. 5. Two incumbents hope to retain their seats. Board President Scott Sarno and Peter Toth are joined by a newcomer, Wayne Eslinger, on a slate called “Keeping Barnegat Great.” Sarno will be seeking his third three-year term, while Toth is running for his second.

Incumbent Christine Harashinski did not seek re-election for a second three-year term.

In addition, three candidates are running under the campaign slogan “A New Voice For Barnegat”: Richard Quelch, Robert Sawicki and Sean O’Brien. Both Quelch and Sawicki had previously run unsuccessfully, while O’Brien is a first-time candidate.

Newcomer George Fedorczyk Jr. filed his petition with a campaign slogan of “Progress for Education.”

D.D. Verdolino’s campaign slogan is “Make Education Great.”

Sarno, 51, has one child at the high school and two others who have graduated. He has a bachelor’s degree from William Paterson University with a major in sociology and a minor in criminal justice. Sarno, who formerly owned a local business and was a teacher, has served on the board a total of eight years, the last five as president.

“I think this election comes down to do the people of Barnegat want to continue with what this board has accomplished the last five years,” Sarno said. “We have reduced local taxes three of the five years and had a zero percent increase the other two years. Also during that time, we’ve increased staff, programs and added new computers, security, books, kindergarten classes and made improvements to every building in the district. We’ve also added a new concession stand and are redoing the football field, again all while reducing taxes again this year in Barnegat.”

During the campaign, opponents of the incumbents have criticized the board for what they said is a lack of transparency.

“They need to understand the ethics oath (board members) take upon swearing in,” Sarno said. “The state has rules on what you can discuss in public and when you can discuss it. Unless they’d like to be personally sued, have the district sued or be brought up on ethics charges, they should understand BOE ethics regulations before they make accusations. If they get elected, they’ll be bound by the same ethics rules as us and act in the same manner.”

Toth, 45, is an information security manager for a research company. He has a child in the high school and another in the middle school..

“With my background in computers, I’m able to help out our district as we try to update our technology,” said Toth, who has a bachelor’s degree in communications from William Paterson University. “Since I’ve been on the board, we’ve added 1,500 computers, laptops and Chromebooks through the district.”

He serves on the board’s health, safety and technology committee.

“Last year, we began having armed officers patrol our schools,” said Toth. “It’s sad that we have to do this, but students, teachers and staff need to be in a safe environment.”

He said one of the highlights this past year was offering a free Pre-K program.

“The last three years we have made progress and made various improvements,” said Toth. “I hope we can continue moving forward.”

Eslinger, 54, is a sergeant with the Barnegat Police Department. He is a graduate of the Ocean County Police Academy and attended Ocean County College and Stockton University. He has two children at Barnegat High School.

“I’m grateful to have the opportunity to possibly serve on the board of education,” he said. “Our children’s education is paramount. I am running to ensure our children continue to receive an outstanding education. Two of my older children graduated from Barnegat High School and excelled in college after going through the Barnegat school system.  I feel this is a great opportunity to ensure that Barnegat schools receive the tools they need to continue in this endeavor. I feel the board has built a great relationship with the current school administration, wherein they are striving for balance between educational excellence and fiscal accountability.”

Quelch, 45, is owner of Duck Cove Marina in Long Beach Township as well as R. Quelch and Sons Maintenance Construction. His oldest child recently graduated from Barnegat High School. His two younger children attend Brackman Middle School and Collins Elementary School.

He said a “positive partnership between all stakeholders is crucial in developing a vision for the district and student achievement.”

“We need to establish an effective design of trust and communication between parents, staff, students and the community,” he said. “Everyone has a voice and should be heard. A healthy environment of teamwork and communication brings productive and positive results that will only benefit the district and its students. I want to implement a plan of action and set forth measurable goals in developing the absolute best possible educational opportunities for all students.”

The candidate said he wanted to help build and design a strategic vision for the district, a vision of academic excellence and student success.

“I want to ensure that every student who graduates from our district has a positive, rewarding and successful experience that will give them the necessary tools and abilities to move smoothly into the next chapter of their life,” he said.

O’Brien, 42, has two children attending the Robert Horbelt Elementary School. The lifelong Barnegat resident holds a master’s degree in business administration from Stockton University. He is currently supply chain manager for VEECO Co. in North Jersey. He is also a licensed real estate agent.

“I will work diligently so every child has the opportunity for success while ensuring the district remains fiscally viable and uses all resources efficiently,” he said.

O’Brien said in attending board meetings, he found there is little discussion and most votes are unanimous.

“You hardly get any disagreements, and I think healthy disagreements are good,” said O’Brien. “You need to hear other vierws, and that’s why we’re calling ourselves a New Voice for Barnegat.”

He said recent decisions, such as outsourcing early child care and substitute teachers, were made with little public input.

“There has to be more transparency in conducting business,” he said.

Sawicki, 47, is a paid firefighter in Edison Township. His wife, Kelly Sawicki, is a former board member.

“When I first ran with Rick (Quelch) two years ago, it didn’t seem that we got to know anything happening, that it was all going on behind the scenes,” said Sawicki. “That hasn’t changed much at all. The public needs to be made aware of what’s going on, especially at the board meetings.”

Sawicki said he has seen parents attending their first meeting “get belittled” during the public comment portion.

“It’s like they’re made to feel that they asked a stupid question,” he said. “That can discourage people from coming out to the meetings.”

Sawicki said that too often, Barnegat tries to act “like a bigger school district.”

“They look to do what’s done in Stafford Township, which has more students than we do,” he said. “Also, more parents have been sending their kids to private schools because they’re not pleased with Barnegat. Some will pay extra money to send their kids to Southern Regional.”

Fedorczyk, 44, is an officer for the New Jersey State Park Police. A retired major from the Army National Guard, he has two children in the district – one at the middle school, the other in the Pre-K program.

“I attend the board meetings, and there’s not a lot of discussion going on,” said Fedorczyk. “There needs to be more openness with the board and the public.”

Fedorczyk said he was spurred to run earlier this year when District Superintendent Brian Latwis announced a proposed reconfiguration plan. Among numerous changes, it would result in the four elementary schools housing two grades each rather than continuing as K-5 buildings. Latwis had planned to have it in place this fall, but has delayed its implementation.

“That was not done right,” Fedorczyk said. “There should have been a lot of public dialogue first. People didn’t know this was coming until the last minute, and a lot of people were upset.

“My military and law enforcement backgrounds have afforded me the opportunity to work in stressful environments and as a result learn effective skills in planning, risk management and decision-making along the way,” he said. “I feel, with these skills and my ability to listen to both sides of an argument, I can provide our children the best opportunity to be a part of a successful learning environment.”

Verdolino, who has no children in the school system, has a master’s degree in education specializing in instructional technology from American Intercontinental University and a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in secondary education from New York University. She is currently a substitute teacher at Toms River Intermediate South.

“I seek to be part of a broader community of educators and families and have taught, over time, probably around 16,000 kids in some aspect,” said the 48-year-old candidate. “I’ve been a substitute teacher as a careerist because it enables me to teach various subjects, expanding my own growth and learning, as well as meeting and hopefully leaving a positive effect in the greatest capability I can.”

She said running for the board came as a result of  “pondering the fork in the road of a middle age person.”

“Ultimately, I hope to bring more green spaces into education and, with that, mesh a beautiful complement of the arts in and around Barnegat schools and neighborhoods,” said Verdolino. “It is not what we give or take in life. It’s what we become in the end.  I hope to help children become creators and peaceful inhabitors of their academic and physical well-being.”

— Eric Englund

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