Four on Ballot for LBI School Board

Election Is Nov. 5
Oct 23, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

On Nov. 5, taxpayers in Barnegat Light, Harvey Cedars and Long Beach Township will vote for candidates to fill seats on the Long Beach Island Consolidated Board of Education.

Board members Marilyn Wasilewski of Barnegat Light and Bonnie Picaro of Long Beach Township are both running for re-election. Wasilewski is opposed by Nancy Spark. Picaro is opposed by Brielle Hoffacker.

Meanwhile, Harvey Cedars representative James Donahower is vacating his seat on the board. There are no official candidates for that position, but Devon Taylor and Fred Schragger been campaigning as a write-in candidate.

Barnegat Light

Marilyn Wasilewski has served as the Barnegat Light representative of the LBI Board of Education for 21 years. Additionally, she was on the Southern Regional Board of Education for about 16 years. (She was grandfathered in to serve on two boards simultaneously, which is otherwise no longer permitted.)

She is a past mayor and council member in the borough of Barnegat Light. She ran The Sampler shop for more than 40 years, spending much time chatting with residents about municipal and educational matters.

One of Wasilewski’s four children attended the LBI Grade School, and all four graduated from Southern Regional High School. Three of her grandchildren went through both the Ethel A. Jacobsen Elementary School and the LBI School, and then on through Southern Regional.

When she ran for re-election to the LBI school board in 2016 – also contested by Spark, in an extremely close race – she said her posts on the two school boards allowed her to pay close attention to the Island students’ transition to Southern Regional. “It’s so important to have that continuity,” she noted.

Now, though she is solely a member of the local school board, she still draws on her experience with the high school board, as well as on her business background, to help her navigate LBI Board of Education matters.

Wasilewski is running to retain her seat to, “hopefully, to be able to work with parents and the existing board to come to a decision as to what is best for our schools and children.”

That decision includes, in large part, whether or not – and if so, how – to consolidate the district into one school building, something the board has been discussing for nearly 10 years. Last week, as reported by The SandPaper (thesandpaper.net), the board voted to table talk of consolidation until at least after a scheduled December referendum, which will ask taxpayers to vote on funding renovations to the LBI School. By that time, a reconfigured board will also be in place based on the results of the November election.

In regard to the question of consolidation, Wasilewski remarked, “It is important for this not to be a decision of just the board. Our local community, parents, taxpayers, school administrators and teachers should all be involved in the process.”

Beyond that matter, she stated, “The board’s focus needs to be on educational issues, new state testing and requirements coming down from the state, and decreasing state aid.”

As Wasilewski pointed out during the prior election, “My whole focus as a board member has always been what is best for our children. I believe in public education. I want to see a good, safe school, a school that makes our children happy.

“I’m always open to phone calls – and over the years there have been many. And I try to do what’s best.”

And as she said recently, “When you look at the success of our students of LBI and Southern, and how many of them remain here to contribute to the welfare of our community, this reflects positively on our educational systems.”

Nancy Spark is again challenging Wasilewski for the Barnegat Light seat. A resident of the borough since 1981, Spark is a Realtor and a former owner, with her husband, of a local building company. The couple, who have been married for 42 years, raised two children on the Island, both of whom attended the LBI schools. Her son recently moved back to Barnegat Light, and is engaged, so she imagines she might also have grandchildren in the district in the not-too-distant future.

Previously, for a span of 12 years, Spark represented Barnegat Light on the local school board. She also was on the LBI PTA board for many years.

In addition, she served as chair of the zoning board of Barnegat Light for more than 30 years. She has been a member of the Friends of the Island Library board, and the Island Singers, and has worked with the Girls Scouts, the Boy Scouts and numerous junior sailing programs.

“I believe my background and experience on boards and in land use issues, as well as management experience from working in store management before moving here, can be of value to the board in tackling employee contracts and day-to-day issues brought to the attention of the board,” Spark explained.

“The greater issues that have consumed the board these past several years appear to need a fresh set of eyes and ears in order to move forward,” she added. “There are serious challenges to our area. And a rehash and rechurning of the same old arguments will not achieve a sound result.”

On the matter of consolidation, Spark noted, “I am in favor of keeping both (school) properties for as long as we can unless there is compelling argument to the contrary, which has yet to be revealed. There has been a lot of secrecy, as evidenced by so many closed sessions.”

As she also pointed out, “I believe our faculty does an outstanding job with our students and should not be working without a contract. The board has spent many thousands of dollars on the consolidation issue that could have gone to salaries and taxpayer relief.”

Spark urges voters to approve the referendum to repair the LBI School, “no matter what the next two, five or 10 years bring. The properties should remain based on educational usage, whether for the grade school age or other educational additions – think OCC, Stockton, adult education. These properties should be supported by the taxpayers of our district, since the local education tax bill is minimal. Do we want to pay Stafford or Toms River or Barnegat rates? Absolutely no. That is why we want to stay small and effective.”

She added, “We live in paradise and our kids are able to learn about the environment on a barrier island. They learn about wind, tides, fish, waves, seasonal changes that are unique to this Island. They enjoy playing fields, close friends, bus rides and floods. What a wonderful life education.

“The schools can guide that learning in our living classrooms. Let us allow this to continue in uncrowded conditions for the next generation. My kids loved it; they loved the education, the water, and the great beginning that the LBI schools gifted them.”

Long Beach Township

Bonnie Picaro – one of four Long Beach Township representatives on the school board – is up for re-election to the seat she has held for 33 years. The longtime board member and her husband, local physician Anthony Picaro, have lived in Haven Beach since 1973. The couple raised three children, all of whom went through the LBI school system. Picaro was active in the PTA when her children entered the district, serving as president for two years before she joined the school board.

“I have worked in my husband’s medical practice – Ocean Medical – for many years, and I owned the Sandpiper Motel for 18 years. I am now happily retired and enjoying my grandchildren!” Picaro noted.

“I am an experienced board of education member and I am proud to have been able to give my time and commitment to the district,” she stated. “I believe this commitment shows a strong sense of intention and focus, and that is what I believe I bring to the BOE. I am a good listener, respect different opinions, and enjoy finding solutions to problems in a non-sarcastic and friendly way. This can be very challenging and takes a great deal of patience sometimes!”

Picaro was not in favor of the board majority’s initial plan to sell the LBI School property and move the district population into the Jacobsen School, a plan that faded after a failed referendum in 2017.

“We need to try to keep both schools,” Picaro remarked. “But the landscape is changing at the state level, and I want to find solutions to be proactive responding to these changes. ... Keeping both schools could give us the ability to be creative and find revenue to support this plan. I think there are many avenues open to us, which is why I introduced a motion at the last meeting to have the strategic planning committee, which starts in January, begin working on this, through their structure. It is a working document that helps set a course towards the success of our district. It includes parents, teachers, taxpayers and board members to shape the document.”

She does worry about the state’s push to consolidate schools, and, as such, noted, “To keep both schools without recognizing the need to address future issues involving revenue shortfalls could be a major problem in the future.”

Picaro supports the Dec. 10 referendum to restore the LBI School. “This needs to pass,” she emphasized. “We have neglected the LBI School for years because the plan was to sell it. Now the school is at a critical point. The pilings under the building need to be fixed in order to keep the school operating.

“Since 2012, when Superstorm Sandy hit our Island, I have been working towards restoring LBI (School). We now need to finish what we started and turn LBI into the state-of-the-art building that we can all be proud of and everyone – students, parents, teachers and taxpayers – can use and enjoy.”

She added, “Living here and being able to raise your children here is a gift. It is a sheltered world we have here and helps protect their childhood. We have small classes, and almost a private school feel to the district. ... We need to protect this special place for our children, but we also need to look to the future and find a way to make this a school for the future and find solutions to keep control of our district, and also be fiscally responsible.”

Challenger Brielle Hoffacker was born and raised in this area, and currently resides in The Dunes section of the township with her husband and their two children, who are enrolled in the LBI Consolidated School District.

In addition to her roles with the LBI PTA, the Spray Beach Yacht Club and Saint Theresa’s Catholic Church – as well as attending almost every local school function – Hoffacker works full-time in management. “I believe my experiences in management for 10-plus years, combined with my passion for education and community, have prepared me for this role. I am ready to listen to and serve my community.”

She was prompted to run for the board because, “As a parent, taxpayer and member of the LBI community, I was worried about the unrest on the LBICSD. I was concerned that certain members were not motivated by the right reasons. The true reason to serve on a school board is to ensure our children get the best education possible. If we do this right, the same children will continue to enhance our community for years to come. The community should rally around the school, as it should be the hub and heart. We need to bring the heart back – our children and community deserve it.”

Hoffacker’s vision for the board is “one of collaboration with our community. We have so many great minds right here. Why are we not utilizing their expertise? Many of these people went to these very schools and are eager to give back to the community that gave them so much! I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and collaborating with the community for the future of our children and Island.”

On the issue of consolidation, Hoffacker remarked, “I would love to keep both schools fully functioning, as giving up any piece of land on Long Beach Island is a sin. Unfortunately, I understand that keeping both schools may not be the fiscally responsible decision. Our priority should be the educational, physical and psychological health of our students, staff, and administrators. Making sure they have one, or two, superior buildings to guarantee an inspirational and peaceful place of learning is a necessity.

“My personal feelings on which school should be chosen to keep or sell, do not matter,” she added. “What matters is what is best for our district and for our taxpayers. Education has changed dramatically since the school buildings were built, and education will forever be improving. We need an airtight, public-approved plan to turn our district into a district our community can be proud of.”

Hoffacker continued, “Education is constantly evolving. We need to keep up with the positive educational trends to ensure our students get the best education possible. This means we have to be proactive for every type of learner – from the student with special needs to the student bound for the gifted and talented program. What does each student need to succeed? Our school is only as good as our weakest link. The industrial model of education just isn’t good enough. Our world has changed so much, and we need to keep up. Luckily, we have the best teachers who work tirelessly to ensure our children succeed. Now, we need to provide them with the literal and figurative space they need to do their jobs.

“I value differences of opinion and will work tirelessly to find common ground to make this district the best it can be. Let’s stop having factions of the BOE and start having one united front. I am the change that can make that happen.”

She added, “We have a community filled with learning opportunities, from the fishing docks of Barnegat Light to the art at the LBI Foundation and the sea turtles nesting in Holgate. Let’s ensure our children learn from this great community we all love!”

*   *   *

The school board is comprised of nine members: four from Long Beach Township, two from Surf City, and one each from Ship Bottom, Harvey Cedars and Barnegat Light.

Those elected to the board will serve terms of three years.

To learn more about the LBI Board of Education, visit lbischools.org.

— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

juliet@thesandpaper.net

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