The Short Hills Association hosted the first of two public forums for the Millburn Board of Education candidates on Thursday evening.
Arp Trivedi, a member of the association, moderated the forum and led the discussion with 30 minutes of questions from the association. Following Trivedi, the public had the opportunity to question the candidates.
The four candidates vying for the three board seats are Elliot Cahn, Dr. Eric Siegel, an incumbent, Dr. Rupali Wadhwa and Raymond Wong.
Here’s some of candidates’ responses from the Short Hills Association’ prepared questions:
What changes would you proposed to improve the relationship between the board and the public?
Siegel: All we can do as a board is be honest with the public. We can get information back to the public faster. We can probably improve out website because I think it's a little bit out dated. We just need to improve by listening to the public with on-going strategic planning meetings.
Cahn: I will make the board listen. I don't believe they do. I would welcome the public and encourage their participation in a number of different ways. First and foremost bring back the public 100-year old right to vote on the school budget.
Wong: Transparency and updates can be provided in a better fashion. You can email me directly. If you have a comment and a question, you can reach me directly and that's the kind of transparency I can provide.
Wadhwa: My answer is dramatic. I would bring the public in the priority setting process of the districts' schools. We must get a process set up where the citizens are comfortable to give their input and time to help the board solve the inevitable problems.
In the recent NJ Monthly rankings Millburn township's school dropped from first place to eighth place. To what degree are you concerned and knowing that most taxpayers are concerned what do you foresee as potential solutions?
Cahn: It may be true that scores remained high even though class sizes went up but perception is reality. People who are considering a move to New Jersey look at these rankings. Our drop in ranking has given perspective residents a possible reason not to consider Millburn. They may look at higher rated districts.
Wong: The percentages of teachers who have higher degrees are measured. So when we select our teachers as we hire them we should be looking to recruit and hire more teachers with higher degrees. We should look at the policy of opening AP to more people.
Wadhwa: I'm concerned because my community is. And if I'm to represent them I need to learn more about this and be concerned. These rating are skin deep. The criteria changes every year. They simply don't tell the achievement story. I would encourage the board to look deeper to how student achievement scores are across all students.
Siegel: We should always be concerned about our school's performance and we should always strive to do more and improve but what's being lost in this entire discussion are the hard facts. Our school scores have improved in every academic metric. Those stating otherwise are doing a diservice to our community, are not understanding the facts and frankly are a bit naive.
What goals do you hope to realize if you are elected?
Wong: The goals that I have are very simple. One, we should have a fiscally prudent budget. Two, we need to protect our assets. Three, we need to improve the relationship between the board and the public.
Wadhwa: My first priority is to assure our schools gain the legendary reputation of being ahead of all the other schools and not only today but in the future. For this we need to be aware of the changing economy, globalization and the skill sets need for the job market in the future.
Siegel: My goal is to continue the pursuit of highest academic achievement. but it has to be tempered with the fiscal responsibilities of reality. My goal is to increase the use of technology to educational experience at all levels. This will allow us to have more differential learning inside the classroom.
Cahn: Board relations. Get a better comradery amongst all Board of Ed members so that productive fruitful discussion about the school district's future can take place. Budget priority must line up with long-term goals. Listen to the community and insist on keeping that dialogue positive polite productive and on going. Focus on student achievement.
Read more later about public and candidate questions.
There will be a second forum next Thursday, Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m. in the Education Center, hosted by M-SPEC. The board election will be on the ballot on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Did you miss the forum, what would you like to ask the candidates? Tell us in the comments!