Tuckerton/Little Egg Harbor Leader

Seven Candidates on Pinelands School Board Ballot

Four Seats to Be Filled
By Rick Mellerup | Nov 01, 2019

Little Egg Harbor — Seven candidates will be on the ballot for four seats representing Little Egg Harbor Township on the Pinelands Regional Board of Education this coming Tuesday, Nov. 5.

Five are running for full three-year terms. They are Michael J. Cofer, Maddalena Schemichen, Betti Anne McVey, August Daleo and Thomas Rosetti. There is more than normal interest in this race because two current board members, president Susan M. Ernst and Stephen Kubricki, decided not to seek re-election.

The other two persons, A.J. Barchetto and Rachel Harper, are competing for a one-year term to fill the seat of longtime board member Jeff Bonicky, who unexpectedly resigned at the board’s May 15 meeting. In June the board selected Barchetto from among five candidates to temporarily fill the slot, but state law requires an election come November.

Betti Anne McVey is the only incumbent running for a three-year seat.

McVey, “64 years young,” has been a member of the board since 2009. She’s a graduate of Radford University with a bachelor’s degree in recreation administration and therapeutic recreation. She has worked for Stafford Township for more than 35 years, currently as recreation director and Municipal Alliance director.

“I have never worked directly for a school district. But between my job and volunteering with youth sports, I have cultivated good working relationships with many area school districts, and have meaningful relationships with many school personnel,” said McVey.

She has resided in LEH Township for 30 years. All three of her adult children graduated from Pinelands. Her grandchildren currently attend school in the Little Egg Harbor District.

“During my tenure, the Pinelands BOE faced the daunting challenge of rebuilding/repairing our school facilities and grounds,” said McVey. “Already tasked with the responsibilities of setting visions and goals for the district, and focusing on student achievement, the board had to take on the responsibility of navigating the process of funding and rebuilding the district.

“To say we faced challenges would be an understatement. But board members, administrators, staff and residents figured out a way to come together, and now we have facilities that our students and community can be proud of once again. There were some disappointing times during the process, but overcoming the challenges made the end result that much better.”

It is likely that the non-paid job of a school board member in the Garden State isn’t going to get easier any time soon.

“Looking forward, we will continue to face challenges as cuts in state aid, and ever increasing costs, put additional strain on already strained school budgets. I am a true believer that we should always seek improvement in everything we do. Seeking improvement and efficiency should be a goal, and looking at consolidation of school districts and discussing feasibility should be a normal course of action, especially now that all districts are facing significant cuts in state aid.”

Each candidate was asked a question: If forced to make a choice, would you vote to cut services or raise taxes to balance Pinelands’ budget?

“Every budget cycle requires a hard look at allocating resources to needs versus tax increases,” answered McVey. “Supporting student achievement with the least impact on our taxpayers is the balance that all boards wrestle with, and it is never an either/or situation.”

Michael Cofer, 35, has been a Little Egg Harbor resident for 34 years. He graduated from Pinelands in 2003. He has three children, ages 12, 10 and 6; the eldest will attend seventh-grade next year.

He’s an on-call driver for the Little Egg Harbor School District, and helps transport out-of-district students.

“I’m currently running for the Pinelands BOE to help bring some new ideas and perspectives to our schools. I want to work with the fellow board members to keep our schools moving forward while continuing to create a positive and safe atmosphere for our students.”

“One of the biggest challenges,” Cofer said, “will always be keeping our schools on budget and working hard to keep our schools running effectively. Making the decision to cut services or raise taxes is something that must be carefully thought out, and be the best decision for the future of our students as well as the community.”

August Daleo, 53, is another Pinelands grad, Class of 1985.

He’s the owner and president of a real estate appraisal company he opened in 2004. He currently has two children attending Pinelands.

Daleo, aware that consolidation between Pinelands and some of the sending elementary school districts – especially Little Egg Harbor – has already been mentioned in very preliminary terms, he said, “I believe this matter needs to be discussed by all stakeholders, and the districts that would be involved with consolidation. It is a matter that needs to be addressed.”

Daleo said he’s running for the board “to give back to my community where I grew up in, to be part of a group of people trying to make a positive difference to help improve our schools.”

If elected, it won’t be Daleo’s first service on a school board. He was a longtime member of the Little Egg Harbor school board.

Maddalena Schemichen and Thomas Rosetti did not respond to repeated requests for information by the Tuckerton/Little Egg Harbor Leader.

Rachel Harper is “34 years young.” She’s a Southern Regional graduate, and has four children who will be members of the Pinelands classes of 2020, 2025, 2027 and 2028, something, she said, that spurred her interest in running for the school board.

Harper has an associate’s degree from Ocean County College and a bachelor’s degree in education and psychology from Georgian Court University. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership at Fairleigh Dickinson University, which also helped lead to her decision to run for the PRSD school board.

“While completing my most recent courses in school law and school finance, I have become especially interested in board policy, procedure and their critical role in a school district.”

Harper is currently the intervention and referral services coordinator for the Little Egg Harbor School District. She was previously employed there as a special education teacher. She started her career in education as a part-time paraprofessional in the district, and enjoyed her time as a parent volunteer.

“I love what I do,” Harper told The Leader. “As the intervention and referral services coordinator, I am responsible for coordinating the access to and delivery of school resources and services and continually reviewing and assessing their effectiveness in achieving the desired outcomes for students. I work closely with parents and families to develop goals and interventions that are based on each student’s individual needs.

“Prior to this position, I was lucky to be able to work directly with students as a special education teacher in a variety of settings, and I am honored to have been named Teacher of the Year for Frog Pond Elementary in 2017.

“One of the most valuable experiences I have had in the field of education was the opportunity to spend several years as a co-advisor of the Frog Pond Student Council. From color runs to nursing home visits and winter coat drives, the creativity and passion of our students and community members never ceases to amaze me.”

In regards to possible school consolidation, Harper said, “I am very interested in reviewing the results of the study and discussing the potential impacts that it would have on all of the communities involved. I look forward to being a part of the decision-making process as a parent, teacher, and taxpayer.”

When asked what she thought the largest challenge would be in the coming few years for Pinelands, she said, “I feel that after so much effort has been poured into revamping Pinelands, one of the greatest challenges ahead will be promoting and sustaining all of the positive changes, especially if this task is paired with the possible consolidation of districts.”

Regarding the cut/services or raise taxes question, “There are too many factors to be considered to be able to answer this question without taking an in-depth look at the exact issue. And when presented with cuts in state aid, it is always important to remember there are more options to consider than just cutting services or raising taxes.”

A.J. Barchetto did not respond to requests for information. But in June, when the board selected him out of the five candidates to temporarily replace Bonicky, he stressed his background in education.

“I’m entering my 20th year in education,” he said at the time. “I’ll be entering my fourth year in administration as supervisor of special education at Oakcrest High School (in Hamilton, Atlantic County). I did spend a short period of time filling a vacancy at Little Egg Harbor Board of Education, so I have a lot of skills in terms of financial responsibility, planning, program building.”

After that June meeting, Barchetto told The Leader he has been a LEH resident for approximately 11 years. He also explained his interest in running for the board, saying he has five children, ranging from pre-K to seventh-grade, so he obviously has a interest in the future of Pinelands Regional.

— Rick Mellerup

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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