Six candidates seek three seats on Monroe school board

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By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

MONROE — Six candidates are vying for the three, three-year seats that are available on the Monroe Board of Education (BOE) in the upcoming election.

Two incumbents, Thomas S. Nothstein and Michele M. Arminio, face former Board Members George “Doug” Poye and Ken Chiarella and two newcomers — Patricia Mary Lang and Anand “Andy” Paluri — in the race.

Michele M. Arminio, who is seeking her second term, is a 36-year resident of the township.

She earned a degree in sociology from Douglass College at Rutgers University and is a full-time real estate agent with Coldwell Banker.

She said she participates in public municipal meetings, vocalizing her concerns about the use of public funds and rapid overdevelopment.

“I volunteered with community members to oppose uncontrolled residential construction,” she said. “Thomas Nothstein and I [have] attended BOE public meetings for 15 years.”

Arminio said they believe it is a personal obligation to be informed in local government affairs.

“A strong belief in civic duty leads me to participate in government transparency and environmental issues,” she said. “I am a member of the nonprofit, nonpartisan NJ Foundation for Open Government [where I] recently attended a national summit in Washington, D.C.”

As board members, Arminio said she and Nothstein bring the voice of the community and concerned citizens to the governing body.

“Our country thrives on the ability of our citizens to be well educated,” she said. “Each student in the Monroe Township School District deserves the opportunity to achieve academic excellence. As a board member I wish to ensure that students receive the tools to learn in a safe and intellectually rigorous environment.”

Arminio said running for the Monroe BOE is a small, yet significant way to fulfill a responsibility to her community to represent the interest of students and taxpayers alike and to promote best practices and efficient funding.

“As a BOE member I am able to bring the voice of the community to the governing body,” she said.

In the months and years ahead, Monroe Township and the school district will experience large-scale residential construction projects and rapid overcrowding in the schools, Arminio said.

“This is daunting,” she said. “The residents of Monroe need board members who understand the process and are willing to deliberate important decisions.”

Arminio said she and Nothstein fight for accountability. They helped save $100,000 by promoting the reuse of 200 Apple iPads and saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees by hiring one very competent in-house attorney.

Ken Chiarella, who is seeking his third term on the board, is a lifelong resident of the township.

He previously served two terms from 2008-14. He has three children currently attending schools in Monroe.

Chiarella earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Rutgers University and is a regional loss prevention manager for CVS Pharmacy.

Along with having served on the BOE, Chiarella has volunteered his time with the Historic Preservation Commission, Recreation Advisory Board, Planning Board for one year as an alternate member and various parent-teacher associations and organizations.

“I am running so that I can fight to get our district funding for our schools which will relieve the tax burden on our residents,” he said. “Nearly 90 [percent] of our $100 million budget is funded through property taxes. That has to change.”

Chiarella said he will fight to move the BOE election back to April.

“Partisan politics at the BOE level is just wrong,” he said. “We cannot allow our children to be pawns in party politics. Moving the election back to April will also give residents the ability to vote on school budgets. We deserve the right to vote on our budgets.”

Chiarella said he will continue to be fiscally responsible while working to ensure that children have the best education and educators, so that they can get into the best schools or find a path where they can be successful.

“Great schools mean a great future generation, but the payoff for great schools is felt right away in the fact that great schools also impact home values positively,” he said.

Chiarella said he will also continue to fight for those students who need them the most.

“Our special-needs students deserve a future, and we need to ensure that we are working to educate those children so that they can succeed too,” he said.

Patricia Mary Lang, who is seeking her first term on the board, is a 14-year resident of the township.

She has four children: 20-year-old twins, a 19-year-old and a 12-year-old.

Lang earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in education from the College of St. Elizabeth and a Master’s of Arts degree in education from Kean University. She is an educator.

“I have developed and implemented art programs for children and adults with disabilities and worked closely with the Monroe Township High School and Child Study Teams to provide classified students with work experience,” she said.

Lang said she has also advocated for inclusive opportunities for people with disabilities, implemented a support group for survivors of stroke and traumatic brain injuries and is active in the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association Go Red for Women.

She also said she organized a prayer service for the local police department, participated in and supported the Hungry Bowls project and started Monroe Township/Jamesburg Cares About Our Students to fight PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers).

Lang is a member of the Monroe Township Special Education Parent Association, Monroe Township Special Families, Tourette Syndrome Association, Asperger Autism Spectrum Education Network, Statewide Parent Advocacy Network and parent-teacher organizations and associations.

“I believe in public education,” she said. “We need to invest in students so that they will have the necessary tools and skills to successfully navigate the future.”

Lang said the BOE must ensure that it can meet the needs of all students.

“Our BOE must be able to clearly identify what is in the best interest of our students and do what is necessary to meet those needs in the most financially responsible way possible,” she said. “I believe that my educational as well as my life experiences will make me a strong member of our BOE.”

Lang said she strongly believes that the BOE must make all decisions in terms of the educational welfare of children.

“Public schools must meet the individual needs of all children,” she said. “In order to do so, adequate learning space is required. Studies show that children, especially in the elementary grades, learn better in small classes.”

Lang said providing classroom space is becoming increasingly difficult based on the unprecedented amount of growth the Monroe School District is experiencing.

“I want to work with other BOE members to develop and institute an immediate plan, as well as a referendum, to address our need for classroom space,” she said.

Thomas Nothstein, who is seeking his second term, is a 31-year resident of the township.

He has two adult children. He attended Middlesex County College and Union County VoTech and is a technical sales engineer. He is a former soccer coach and Girl Scout cookie manager. He ran for mayor in 2007.

“I am running for re-election to the board because I have a passion for education and a head for business which makes me an ideal candidate,” he said. “During my first term, my runningmate Michele Arminio and I made great strides in increasing the district academically while also, for the first time in the history of Monroe, [we came] in $600,000 below the state-mandated cap.”

Nothstein said both of these accomplishments, among others, were achieved during an unprecedented growth in student population and no increase in state aid.

“One area I would like to continue to work on is in the area of enterprise funds,” he said. “This is a way to generate additional revenue for the district without increasing taxes.”

Nothstein said during his first term, he and Arminio initiated a program to take over a private before-and-after school care business and turn it into a profit center that would generate more than $400,000 in its first year alone.

“We are also looking [to use] online classes as a revenue stream, which can be sold to students that want to take mandated classes at a more convenient time,” he said.

Anand “Andy” Paluri, who is seeking his first term on the board, is a 10-year resident of the township. He has two children, a 15-year-old and a 10-year-old.

Paluri earned a Master Of Science in Transportation Systems Engineering and is an engineering manager for an international design consulting firm.

He said he is very active in the community. He served for two years as a shade tree commissioner and served on the township Planning Board for six years. Paluri also participated on the School Fiscal Responsibility Transparency Committee and served in executive capacity on several community-based non-profit organizations.

Paluri said the reason he is seeking a term on the BOE is to “bring a quality education at a reasonable cost by providing new voices given [my] educational and practical experience and work as a liaison between the town and the BOE to facilitate better planning and maximizing the value of our investment.”

He said it is important to improve state funding for the town and plan adequately to meet the future demands on the township schools.

“The goal is to bring the school to the top-10 schools in the state in [the next five years] by training and empowering our teachers,” he said.

George “Doug” Poye, who is seeking his second term on the board, is a 47-year resident of the township.

Poye first ran for a seat in 2012 and served as a board member from 2013-15.

He has three adult children, three grandsons and three granddaughters. Poye noted that two of their children live in Monroe and one lives in Jackson.

Poye earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics from Texas Christian University, a Master of Science degree in applied statistics and statistics from Rutgers University and completed post-graduate work in education.

He spent 41 years as a public school educator. He served as a teacher, supervisor and high school principal at Hillsborough High School.

Poye said he has attended Monroe BOE meetings on a regular basis for six years and has written monthly articles on those meetings for four years.

“These are published in three of the township’s retirement communities,” he said.

Poye said he has served as a volunteer tutor in math for elementary-aged children in the library’s Summer Tutoring Program and teaches sixth grade religious education (CCD) at Nativity of Our Lord Church on Applegarth Road.

Poye said he also organized and led a hiking club for active adults in his community.

“I am passionate about education since I believe that a good education opens doors to one’s future,” he said. “I believe that every child deserves to have good teachers and to have the opportunity to achieve to their maximum potential.”

Poye said he is well qualified to ask the questions that need to be asked and to work with other board members and the district administration to help Monroe become a premier district in New Jersey.

“I understand that the increase in our district’s student population requires that the board provide space and services at a price that our taxpayers can afford,” he said.

Poye said the board is faced with a need for more classrooms at all grade levels.

“I believe that my past experiences with multiple expansions of the high school where I worked before retiring will be valuable to finding ways to meet that need,” he said. “I also believe that we must provide those additional classrooms while being fiscally conservative so as to lessen the additional impact on property taxes.”

Polls will be open from 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Nov. 8.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@gmnews.com.