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Millburn School Board Candidates Debate the Issues

The four candidates running for the three Board of Education seats participate in the first public forum.

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!

20yearmiller October 20, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Can't help but notice Mr. Cahn states he will "MAKE" the board listen. This implies he will ram it down their collective throats. I've talked to most of the board members over the years and they were very willing to discuss my concerns. If he really wants to work with the board he'd better change his approach as they won't give him the time of day with this attitude. Likewise, I'm getting nothing new out of what the other candidates are saying in this article. "We should be concerned about our school's performance"? Duh! "Assure our schools gain the legendary reputation of being ahead"? Duh! "We should have a fiscally prudent budget"? Duh again! Now, my problem is, who in the hell do I vote for? I've never not voted in my life and am not going to start now. Please BOE candidates, give me something I can sink my teeth into. Myself (and others) are hungry for more ideas and information
MarkDS October 20, 2012 at 09:33 PM
I too noticed how the comments from the candidates are mostly meaningless empty platitudes. In any community there will be a variety of opinions, often totally contrasting. The role of the board is not to always listen to those who yell loudest, or even with the majority. Certainly everyone should be allowed to express their opinion and have that opinion heard with an open mind. But at the end of the day the role of a board member is to make a decision about what is best for the district.
Sophie October 21, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Hi 20yearmiller I'm just a 3 year Short Hiller, so maybe you can help me better understand the issues here. It is very nice to hear that the board members discussed your specific concerns, but does that mean that they are willing to discuss everybody's concerns? Or are they just willing to hear selective concerns and ignore the rest? Are you also suggesting that there is no room for improvement in the schools, that the schools are perfect the way they are, and that the budget is used wisely? Thank you in advance for your 20 year's worth of advise.
Susan1 October 21, 2012 at 01:27 PM
I agree that there's not much substance to any of the three challengers. Wong says you can email him. I can email any of the BOE members now; how is that innovative? Wadha's priority is to make sure our schools "regain" a "legendary reputation?" Sorry, your priority is to make our schools the best they can be; the reputation will follow. It might be amusing to watch Cahn "make the Board listen" but there is too much at stake here. None of these three new faces seem to understand the role of the BOE.
20yearmiller October 21, 2012 at 03:05 PM
We're still #1 in SATs and AP classes. Apparently our class size dropped us down in the rankings. This seems to be the only area where we are deficient. The question is, do we hire more teachers to drop the class size? Or, not be satisfied with our superior test scores and AP classes and put our money into raising the bar even more in those areas? One never knows, they might change the criteria again in a year or two and then those extra teachers become an unneeded fiscal monkey on our backs. This is just one of many real issues that our board must decide on.
Hedley October 22, 2012 at 02:05 AM
Does anyone know if there is a relationship between the new candidates and We Love Millburn? If so, why don't they admit it? And do we really want a Board who makes decisions based on Millburn's ranking? Limiting AP participation in order to drive up rankings doesn't sound like a Board who wants to represent all the kids.
The Bus stops Here October 22, 2012 at 02:41 AM
Check out the Lawn sign and that is all you need to know. The Debate was covered more thoroughly on the alternative press. Wadhwa said the three new candidates are “young blood with fresh, new ideas.” She said the fact that they are running in the same election and go to some of the same functions is just coincidence. Sigel said that “as the person with signs standing alone,” he has noticed that the talking points of the other three candidates come directly from “We Love Millburn,” a local watchdog group that frequents board meetings and often speaks up during the public comment session. “The sidewalk comment comes directly from Josh (Scharf),” Siegel said. “You have to stand on your own and be an individual. If you’re not an individual, then you’re beholden to someone else.”
Serta October 22, 2012 at 04:23 AM
What a wonderful community we live in. People step up to volunteer their time to serve our community and you give 'em a full dose of your vitriole and disrespect. Smear tactics are far more entertaining and hurtful to opponents than the facts, aren't they The Bus Stops HhereHE. The opponents have their backgrounds and professional experience to offer; the incumbant has his voting record to demonstrate his accomplishments and independence. Birnberg, Waters, Levy, Wenik, Seigel. if a group of ducks walk like ducks and talk like ducks, it must be a group of ducks, as the saying goes. Don't let an incumbant's voting record stand in the way of a good story.
Serta October 22, 2012 at 04:25 AM
Limiting AP partciipation is the policy of the Board now.
Sophie October 22, 2012 at 10:49 AM
Hi Hedley, I love your trick questions. Is the answer that the new candidates and We Love Millburn all live in Millburn. Is that it?
Sophie October 22, 2012 at 11:20 AM
Hi Bus stops here, I do like your lawn sign rationale. It just makes so much sense and gives a whole new depth and dimension to political thought, but I do have a few questions: Yesterday, I passed a house with a Wadwha sign on the front lawn along with a lawn sign for a house painter. Does the combination of those two signs mean that the house painter is endorsing Wadwha for Board of Ed or that Wadwha is recommending the house painter? If a lawn has Siegel and one or two of the other candidates, does that mean that Siegel is now part of this group of "young blood with fresh new ideas?" What if a lawn has all four of the lawn signs on it? How would you interpret that? I saw a lawn with only a Cahn sign on it. Does that mean that Cahn now stands on his own and is an individual? If you put lawn signs on your lawn, is that candidate now "beholden" to you? There are only a couple of weeks until the election and I look forward to seeing the talking heads on CNN, MSNBC and Fox debate your revolutionary lawn sign political theory on their respective channels.
JKH October 22, 2012 at 01:01 PM
We do live in a wonderful community, actually. We have good schools, with good results and it's a real shame that a small band of people have ganged up together to rabble-rouse. They certainly do not represent the majority. I hope that whoever wins the election does just one thing: keeps an open mind. Things sometimes look a certain way from the outside, especially if you are being fed lies, or half truths by disgruntled parties as rumor it has it above. At the end of the day, I don't care who sponsored them, We Love Millburn or any other unhappy group or person. I do care that they keep an open mind and be mindful of the facts and give everyone a fair shot when they show up to work for the first time. I have been around long enough to know that we have some real characters on that board, for sure. We also have some fine public servants who show everyday and try to do what they think is right and it's not always OBVIOUS who they are. So, new BOE person, pls. Keep an open mind. Give everyone on the Board a fair shot and do not lump people together. A good example of a member who does this is Regina Truitt. She shows up to work with an open mind and she doesn't appear to ever make decisions based on personal issues she has with other BOE members. She ought to be the next BOE president, in my view.
Susan1 October 22, 2012 at 02:02 PM
I find it highly suspicious that the three challengers are running together. Why do their signs stand in groups of three? Did they even know each other before the election?
Hedley October 22, 2012 at 04:07 PM
If they are running as a block, they should say so, so that voters can evaluate their affiliations and "new ideas."
Hedley October 22, 2012 at 04:09 PM
If the challengers are acting/running as a group, shouldn't they be evaluated in the same fashion as you wish to evaluate Seigel - based on his perceived group?
Serta October 23, 2012 at 04:21 AM
You cannot be seriously following the BoE. They lump themseves together to form a dominant majority. Give me one example of independence through his voting record of this self-described independent incumbant? You are the one with all the platitudes and empty talk. Voting records speak volumes. As for the next President, JKH prefers fence sitters to those who walk their talk. Please Patch readers, get informed. Vote responsibly on November 6th.
Susan1 October 23, 2012 at 11:08 PM
Yes, Serta, it is important to vote responsibly on November 6th. But for some of us, voting for a block of three candidates just for the sake of change isn't responsible at all. I have not heard you say one positive thing about any of them; just attacks against the current BOE members. What was that quote above? "People step up to volunteer their time to serve our community and you give 'em a full dose of your vitriole and disrespect." Oh wait, that was YOU. The incumbent member on the ballot has done just that - volunteered his time to serve his community. Vote for whomever you choose, but stop calling them ducks. They're members of our community.

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