HOWELL – Current members of the Howell Board of Education running for re-election and challengers expressed their views ahead of the upcoming Nov. 7 election. Community involvement and shrinking state aid emerged as common themes among the four candidates.
All candidates are running for a 3-year term on the Board of Education, which represents students in grades K-8.
Ira Thor ran for the seat left open by board member Jeanne DePompo after she stepped down in July, and was also the first runner up in last year’s election.
Back then, as well as now, his biggest passion and reason for joining the board is getting the community involved. He has also served on the board’s Community Interaction and Policy Committees for the past two years.
“I think it’s important as an elected member of the community to find other ways to connect,” said Thor.
One of his ideas that go beyond traditional Board of Education meetings is to hold coffee conversations at Dunkin’ Donuts on Sunday mornings to talk about issues, as he feels meetings can be intimidating to parents, or that people have other activities going on that make them inconvenient to attend.
“There’s a reason people are disconnected,” he said.
Spending is another big concern, especially when he said that 67 percent of the tax rate goes to schools.
It’s very important to Thor that the board spends that money in the most responsible manner possible, that there’s no waste, and that children and families are getting the most they can out of schools, he said, in light of putting such a financial burden on homeowners.
“If you are one of the nine people serving on the Board of Education, or town council for that matter, that you are spending wisely.”
Lastly, he hopes to set an example for his three kids – most who still have a long way to go through Howell schools – that community service is extremely important and that everyone should try and give back.
“If you have the time to give back, you should,” he said, adding that if he gets elected to the board he may have to give up something else in his life.
“This is important to me, or I wouldn’t try the second time.”
Thor has served for three years on the Board of Directors for the College Sports Information Directors of America, has been the youngest ever president of the Division III College Sports Information Directors of America, and is currently the chair of the College Division Management Council.
He is in his fourth season as a volunteer soccer coach for the Pinelanders, and has previously coached for the Howell United Soccer Club.
Albert Miller, who is retired from the NYC Fire Department Emergency Medical Service, is
a 12-year resident of Howell and has been a board member since April 2011. During this term, he’d like to focus his efforts on community involvement.
“I would love to find ways to get the full community even more aware and involved in our work so they can share their positions and ideas from the start of any project. We really need to build our Community Interaction Committee,” he said, hoping to work with the committee chair, administration, PTA, PTO and local clubs to boost membership.
Miller is a NJ School Board Association Certified School Board Leader, President of the Monmouth County School Boards Association and Religious Education Teacher at St. Veronica Catholic Church.
He has one daughter currently attending Howell schools at Middle School South, and is a Howell High School Marching Band Parent, PTA Parent and Howell Hawks Basketball Program Parent. He has previously served as PTA President at Middle School North and Southard School, and as PTO Vice President at Aldrich School.
He believes the biggest challenge facing the school district is an underfunding of state aid.
“Back in 2009 our district received a huge cut in state aid. Unfortunately, we still are not at the level from before this massive cut. That forces the BOE and administration to develop a budget that provides for our students’ education without knowing what our state aid will be for that year,” he explained, “So we are faced with having to raise property taxes to cover what the state doesn’t give us.”
Miller said he will fight to ensure those property taxes are used for programs that are necessary to provide a thorough and strong education, and also to have an exceptional staff in place that enables students to excel.
“I would also like to work with our state officials to either fully fund the education formula or for them to come up with something that takes the burden of local school taxes off the local property taxpayers,” he said.
Dr. Denise M. Lowe is running for her third term and hopes to continue as chair of the
Education Committee, where she feels strides have been made in student personalized learning, professional development for staff, as well as incorporating students’ voices in school board decisions.
Lowe was also tasked with planning the board’s annual retreat this year, where board members take part in team building activities while getting to know each other in the process, so that they can work well together as a governing body. This year, students who took part in the first annual Student Board of Education Day were invited to attend the retreat and participate in a bonding activity with board members.
“My goals next year is to take a look at our strategic plan to include many of the Future Ready initiatives that are currently in place and realign them. In addition, making sure that student voice is included in our decision making.”
Lowe said the biggest challenge facing the school district is providing a high quality education to students while being financially responsible to taxpayers.
“School funding issues at the state level need to be addressed through our legislature, and we have and will continue, with our board advocacy committee, to address the current funding inequities,” she added.
Lowe is Managing Director of All Children Can Learn, LLC, which provides executive coaching to building and central office administrators, and also works part-time as a consultant for the International Center for Leadership in Education, a subdivision of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Involvement in her sorority, the Lambda Omega Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc. allows her to take part in community service programs throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties.
Lowe’s son graduated from Memorial Middle School in 2011 after moving to Howell in 2009 from New York.
“My son had such an amazing experience in the district. It was not easy moving him from NY where he spent his entire life. One of my reasons for running for the board in 2015 was to give back to the Howell community as a volunteer, a portion of what my son received as a Memorial Hawk.”
Angel D. Sanchez, Sr. is running for a 3-year term after filling the unexpired seat left
open by board member Jeanne DePompo in July. He also ran for a seat in the last year’s election.