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Paramus Candidates Tired Of Nasty School Board Culture

School board candidates answering questions. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Patricia Kim. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Robert Kaiser. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Alba Marrabello. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Nicholas Matahen. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Elisa Giblin. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Lisa Cassesa. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Sharon Bower. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Jeffrey Warren. Photo Credit: Facebook
The audience at Meet the Candidates at Paramus High School Thursday night. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash

PARAMUS, N.J. — Seven of the eight candidates vying for three seats on the Paramus Board of Education attracted some 150 people to “Meet the Candidates” at Paramus High School Thursday night.

Conversation swirled around key themes: school security, tech and wifi troubles, bullying, multiculturalism, and the homework policy.

Almost all the candidates cited an urgent need for the board to adopt a spirit of openness and respect.

Sophie Heymann of the Bergen County League of Women Voters moderated.

Candidates answered three pre-determined questions and more submitted by audience members as they entered.

Incumbent Jeffrey Warren could not attend because of a work commitment but submitted statements read by the moderator.

Below are the candidates and some key thoughts each articulated during the two-hour forum.

PATRICIA KIM, Anti-Bully Specialist, Newark Public School District

“It’s been no secret that there has been some dysfunction and times of tension during board meetings. It’s disheartening when there’s children in the audience. … How do we expect our children to learn to agree to disagree if board members can’t do that? We need to learn to be respectful of each other.

“It’s not a bad thing to have different views and it’s not a bad thing to have different passions, but we all have to be professional about it.”

ROBERT KAISER, Captain, South Hackensack Police Department

"My most important top objective is school security. …I will bring to the board my 26 years of law enforcement experience. First and foremost, I am a father. When my children leave home in the morning to attend school, I want to make sure they are safe on school grounds.

"There is no candidate that has the administrative background I have related to policies, procedures, keeping costs under budget, working with unions, and resolving conflicts.”

ALBA MARRABELLO, Former teacher, stay-at-home mother

“Part of the reason many of us are here is because we’re tired of certain board members. Sometimes people are re-elected because they are a recognizable name on the ballot, and we need to change that.

“The disrespect to the multiculturalism of this community has been obvious. We need to look at ourselves and make a decision now to put new people on this board because the president is to be held accountable for speaking on behalf of the board when the board does not agree. The voice of the board of education is always the president. It is supposed to be a unified unit, and it isn’t.

“One of the reasons why I want to make sure we videotape the meetings is so that people think twice before they speak nasty to one another.”

NICHOLAS MATAHEN, Consultant, IT-Business Architecture, Planning and Strategy at Microsoft MCS

“Meetings are run poorly and the level of productivity is minimal. … Some board members’ attendance is very poor.

“The budget is beginning to increase year over year. Over the last 10 years, the budget went from $69 million to $89 million. That is a $20 million increase. We are losing students. We went down from 4,300 students to 3,800 students. We lost about 500 students.”

ELISA GIBLIN, Retired Paramus teacher

“I want every student to feel emotionally and physically safe when they come to school. I know we all agree that bullying is a serious issue and it’s one that I feel strongly about.

“A reinstated curriculum council can reevaluate our existing policy and collaborate on a systematic kindergarten-through-high school bully prevention program. We need to teach our kids about confidence, kindness, and conflict resolution.”

LISA CASSESA, Graphic and website designer

“Paramus currently has a BYOD policy. That stands for Bring Your Own Device, which I don’t think is working as well as anticipated. The benefit of bringing your own device is that students can use a device of their choice: laptop, iPhone, iPad, whatever they want.

“But when each student brings a different type of device, there is a problem with successfully connecting to the school network. There’s no consistency in platforms or hardware or software. It is a challenge. … The network is always going to be an issue.

“I was happy to see most of our schools are using Google Classroom - online assignments, online textbooks, online messages from classmates. However, when a student cannot get a wifi signal, how are they expected to do their work? We need to invest more time in a reliable network.”

SHARON BOWER, President, Paramus Board of Education

“Homework should be to reinforce the work - not busy work. We all know that some of our students wait till the last minute. … They have to learn to budget their time.

“They’ve done studies that say children involved in sports or music or other things learn time management, so they do better on their work. They do better on their homework and they do better on their schoolwork because they have learned to manage their time.

“Unfortunately, some of our children do not and their parents help them at the last minute. I understand that, but, by the same token, parents have to try to get their children to follow through with their homework when they’re supposed to.”

JEFFREY WARREN, Vice president, Paramus Board of Education

“One of the things that you learn in business is what makes for an effective, successful team and an understanding as to why teams fail. The Board of Education trustees are a team working for district administration.

“I have over 40 years’ experience in business, the majority of that time as a corporate officer and controller of a Fortune 500 company. There are procedures that must be followed if team decisions are to be effective and successful.

“One is the sharing of ideas and good communication. Debate and discussion is both healthy and necessary. We may not all agree but the strength of the team is a diversity of ideas, which is the result of a diversity of background and experience.”

“Meet the Candidates” was made possible by the Bergen County League of Women Voters and the Candidates Night Committee.

Polls will be open Nov. 8

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