SOUTH BRUNSWICK – Raja Krishna, Mike Mitchell and Smitha Raj will compete against incumbents Arthur Robinson, Deven Patel and Patrick Del Piano – who are running together on the same slate – for three, three-year seats on the South Brunswick Board of Education.
Mike Mitchell is a 16-year resident of South Brunswick. He is employed by New Brunswick Public Schools as a paraeducator; and is the head coach for the girls bowling team and the head coach for boys and girls tennis at the high school.
He is the founder/vice president of the Greater Middlesex Conference Tennis Coaches Association (GMCTCA), a member of the South Brunswick Lions Club, and a former committee member of the New Brunswick Juvenile Justice Commission.
“What motivated me to run for the school board was inspiration from a friend who saw something in me and asked that I consider it. Secondly, it is the children of South Brunswick. We already have one of the best public school systems in the State of New Jersey, ranked No. 13 out of over 400 school districts. They are the reason why the board exists. Every decision made affects them, so I am looking to be a positive influence if elected.”
Mitchell said there are many issues facing the school district, but three remain close to his heart – the first being addressing COVID-19 and school safety.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest rate, I give the South Brunswick School District an 8.5. If we are able to safely transition a portion of our student population into the buildings in the coming weeks or months, I’d have to say a 9 or 9.5.
“I believe our superintendent, Scott Feder, and his team did a superb job in preparing our schools for reopening in September. Of course, we didn’t want to use the remote option to begin our school year, but uncertain conditions and the threat of the spread of this virus was too great to take chances of the health and lives of our students and staff.
“Students and staff returning to buildings in November may be too soon. I don’t know. It’s impossible to have all of the answers right away and unfair to ask. If we continue to rely of the advice of those in the medical profession doing what’s best for our community then we stand less of a chance to error; and even if we do, error, we learn and continue moving forward.
Mitchell said it is time to face systemic racism and confront it head on.
“South Brunswick has become a very diverse community in the last few years so the need is there; however, it starts in the community. Forcing awareness and sensitivity training/classes on our students and staff is not the answer. Community-based programs which foster openness, allowing people from various ethnic backgrounds to experience the culture of others, would open the dialogue that is needed in schools with the adults and children. We must become accepting of each other’s differences and lifestyles to get along in the world – something that is crucial for our kids to learn,” he said.
He also said if elected, he would address bridging the student achievement gap amongst Whites, African Americans/Blacks, Hispanics and Asians.
“It is my understanding that the first three groups are falling behind and there needs to be some kind of initiative set forth to change this. As stated earlier, South Brunswick Public Schools has the distinction of being one of the best in the state. We can only get better, but we need to address the issues that concern each and every group in our community, including our students with special needs,” he said.
Deven M. Patel has lived in South Brunswick for 17 years. His 17-year-old triplets, one girl and two boys, are currently seniors at South Brunswick High School.
He is a civil engineer for the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
He is a South Brunswick Board of Education member since April 2011.
He is a member of the South Brunswick Transportation Advisory Committee, and had served as chairman for 5 years. He represents South Brunswick at the Middlesex County Transportation Committee.
He is on the board of directors from Middlesex County for the New Jersey School Board Association (NJSBA), and is part of the NJSBA Health and Wellness Steering Committee
He coached soccer for 6 years for the South Brunswick Soccer Club.
“COVID-19 situations caused many problems to the school district which included re-opening of schools, financial hardship for the school district. Being an incumbent helps me to tackle these issues since we all are working on it. All board members have knowledge and communication channels established with the legislators or Department of Education, which helps to resolve issues faster. I am sure that my 9-plus years of experience as a school board member, I can help the district tackle issues,” Patel said as to why he is running for re-elction.
His first key issue is school funding.
“According to the governor’s budget, K-12 school aid will be ‘flat,’ at about $8.7 billion for the 2020-21 school year. The reallocation of aid mandated by S-2 will continue. This means that the 196 so-called ‘overfunded’ public school districts saw cuts in state aid this year as they to reopen and face added costs brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. Saying that, the South Brunswick School District (SBSD) suffered about a $2 million loss in state aid. In addition, the SBSD lost another $500,000 in youth-based mental health funding, which provides great support to our children of the SBSD. We need to work with the legislators to get funding back,” he said.
Another hot button issue this year, Patel said racial justice needs to be addressed.
“South Brunswick is remarkably diverse community and THE entire community is working together. However, there is area of improvement in education. We need to teach our children history of all ethnic backgroundS, race, gender history, and teaching about love and acceptance,” he said.
Both issues go along with equity in education.
“SBSD [has been] constantly working on this issue for many years. SBSD created an Equity Committee and involved parents, students, teachers, school administrators, Board of Education members. am part of this committee as well. This committee worked on opening doors to many students to take Advanced Placement courses, honors courses without lowering the standards. We still need to work as a community to fill the gap and help those students who can do better in life,” he said.
Patrick DelPiano has lived in South Brunswick since 1984.
He has four children, all of who graduated from South Brunswick High School.
He is a retired Jersey City firefighter, and currently is the fire safety/security manager at Hudson County Community College.
He has been a South Brunswick Police Athletic League Executive Board member since 1998.
DelPiano has served on the school board for nine years. He said he is running for re-election because “it is important in these uncertain times that experience and leadership are needed to navigate the district.”
He said the district’s response to COVID-19, particularly working with the superintendent and senior staff, ensured quality and delivery of curriculum, especially to at risk students and those in economically disadvantage situations.
“With regards to real estate taxes I want to ensure that the district is making the best decision to maintain the quality education provided. At the same time we need to minimize the tax impact on our constituents,” he said.
“The third item which is important to me is the social impact on students. I am glad to say we are moving forward with sports and extracurricular for students to be engaged. I am looking forward to working with my fellow board members and the district leadership in creating virtual social opportunities such as discussions, games and movies for students,” he said.
Smitha Raj, PhD, has lived in South Brunswick for almost seven years. She works as a statistical programmer. She has a sixth grader who attends Crossroads Middle School South.
“Community service is something that is very close to my heart. I have volunteered for many causes and campaigns over the years. I was a volunteer teacher in our local language school for two years, as long as we had enrollments. I was also one of the first in our community to bring the Williams compressor 206 to the attention of the residents of our community. I participated in numerous meetings against the compressor station, knocked on doors, distributed brochures, ran a Facebook page, etc., for the cause,” she said.
Raj said she decided to run for the school board because “the current situation has been very challenging for all of us given that in-person learning as we knew is no longer a safe option. Parents are struggling to balance work (either on site or from home) while our students are into remote learning. Effective learning is hampered by technical glitches, distractions at home and availability of uninterrupted internet, especially among the younger students. The students are also missing crucial personal interaction with their peers. Educators are also challenged in every step of the way, from technical glitches to holding the attention of their students who are physically far away.
“As taxpayers we are all worried about the consequence of the looming budget cuts and its implications on our property taxes. Essentially, all stakeholders are affected one way or the other. These concerns motivated me to run so that I can do my bit and give back to my wonderful South Brunswick community that has given us so much and try my best to ensure high quality of education for our students, a safe learning-teaching environment for our students and educators without any increase the burden property taxes for our residents,” she said.
Raj said one area of concern lies in the educational and social impacts from the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“South Brunswick is currently 100% remote due to the COVID-19 situation. While that ensures the safety of our educators and students to some extent, it has thrown other challenges at us. How do we ensure that students continue to learn effectively given the technical glitches, the distractions at home, inequitable internet access during times when their personal interaction with their peers is greatly reduced? We also have to navigate the mental health implications in the light of our student’s altered social life, something according to experts we are not prepared enough for. The other concern is, how and when do we transition into in person learning keeping our students and educators safe?
“We should encourage all stakeholders to be transparent and be vocal about their concerns, keep the communication lines open and come together as a community to navigate these challenges,” she said.
There are economic, global and local impacts as well.
“Among other problems, there are supply chain disruptions, severely constrained service sector, record high unemployment, and lack of demand. It is an unfortunate reality that many of our local businesses could not survive the stresses imposed by the pandemic. All these factors will not only have an implication on families trying to put food on their table, pay their bills and try to stay afloat, but also implication on our tax revenues at all levels. For our school district this is unfortunate because South Brunswick, like many other school districts, is looking at New Jersey state aid budget cuts.
“The least we can do right now is support our local businesses, look after each other as best as we can and encourage our community to initiate and continue the dialogue on how to enable our students to learn effectively given the constraints imposed by both the pandemic and looming budget cuts,” she said.
She also said systemic racism exists and needs to be addressed.
“The issue can be addressed only if we acknowledge its existence. It is a heartening development that public discourse of late has largely been acknowledging it. The issue is also very important in a community like South Brunswick with a significant minority population. Minority enrollment in South Brunswick High School is as high as 72%.
“The onus is on us to ensure that all our residents are treated with respect, as should every student and educator. We need to ensure that our curriculum is inclusive and diverse and that it empowers our students with knowledge as well as confidence to be their own person, all this while ensuring that every student has access to the same high-quality education that brings out the best in them,” she said.
Arthur L. Robinson has lived in South Brunswick for 30 years. His son graduated from South Brunswick High School in 2007.
Robinson is a manager and retired U.S. Navy commander for Operation Enduring Freedom. He is a certified public manager for the Food and Drug Administration, commission for the State of New Jersey Radiological Health Program.
Robinson has been a member of the South Brunswick Board of Education since 2008, and is the current vice president.
He is a member of the U.S. Veteran of Foreign Wars of the United States, South Brunswick Post 9111; and is a former auxiliary member for the South Brunswick Lions Club.
“I’m running for re-election to the board to provide continuity and leadership as the district faces challenges of trying to return to normal or near normal during the COVID-19 pandemic and to continue providing a quality education for our children’s future whether through trade school, college or military service,” he said.
Robinson said the three issues that are most important to him and his campaign are a quality education for each and every child in order for him or her to succeed in any career path chosen in life; adequate resources for special education services; and personalized academic improvement measures for each and every child through parent and teacher involvement K-12.
“I would continue to work with my colleagues on the board and our community to ensure that each and every child has the necessary skills to exceed academically for college or develop skills for trade school.
“I would continue working with the board to ensure adequate resources are available to assist our kids requiring special services. In addition, I would continue my advocacy for kids that deserve caring attention to succeed in life.
“I would continue working with the board to track the academic performance of each cohort of kids K-12 to ensure that testing measures are meaningful in determining the academic progress of each kid. As the struggle continues for equal justice and economic prosperity for all people, we must instill in each and every heart that caring for another human being is not by just speech but by deeds of good will. As the late Congressman John Lewis of Georgia said, it’s okay to get into some ‘good trouble.’ ” Robinson said.
Candidate Raja Krishna could not be reached by press time.
Voting regulations issued by South Brunswick Township:
There is a secure ballot drop box for Vote-by-Mail ballots located at the Municipal Building, 540 Ridge Road, Monmouth Junction section of South Brunswick, in front of the main building to the right of the visitor parking.
In accordance with Gov. Phil Murphy’s Executive Order 177, all active voters will be mailed a Vote-by-Mail ballot.
Non-active voters can apply for a Vote-by-Mail ballot at www.nj.gov/state/elections/assets/pdf/forms-vote-by-mail/vote-mail-ballot-middlesex-english.pdf
The ballot may be completed and returned in the following ways or voters can go to their polling location and vote by provisional ballot.
A postcard will be mailed to each registered voter detailing the appropriate polling location.
1. Return your ballot through the United State Postal Service (must be postmarked by Nov. 3, 2020)
2. Submit your ballot in one of the Middlesex County Board of Elections’ drop boxes before 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. The list can be found at www.middlesexcountynj.gov/Government/Departments/CS/Boardofelections/Pages/vote2020.aspx
3. Drop it off directly to the Middlesex County Board of Elections Office, 11 Kennedy Blvd., East Brunswick, before 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.
4. Submit your completed and sealed ballot at your assigned polling location in person on Election Day, Nov. 3. If you do not receive a Vote-By-Mail ballot, damage your Vote-By-Mail ballot, and/or make a mistake, contact the county clerk for a supplemental ballot by calling 732-745-4202.
To track your mail-in ballot, visit https://nj.gov/state/elections/index.shtml
If you prefer to vote in person, you can vote by paper provisional ballot at your polling place.
Polling locations are as follows:
Brunswick Acres School, 41 Kory Dr., Kendall Park: Districts 8, 11, 12, 18, 21, 22
Constable School, 29 Constable Road, Kendall Park: Districts 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 16, 24
Crossroads Middle School South, 195 Major Road, Monmouth Junction; entrance on Kingston Lane; in Voting Room in back of school: Districts 2, 14, 17, 23, 28
Indian Fields School, 359 Ridge Road, Dayton: Districts 1, 4, 13, 15, 29, 30
South Brunswick High School, 750 Ridge Road, Monmouth Junction: Districts 3, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27
For more information, visit www.middlesexcountynj.gov/Government/Departments/CS/Boardofelections/Pages/vote2020.aspx
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