On the eve of Hillsborough's school elections, the had a lot to agree about.
Despite being opponents in Tuesday’s election, the five candidates—Deena Centofanti, , , and current board member —agreed on many of the pertinent issues in the district, placing an emphasis not on politics, but on education in a Candidates' Night forum hosted by students at .
All of the candidates agreed with the notion that communication between all parties in the district—students, teachers, parents, administrators and the board itself—is an important area of focus going forward.
“We need to try and get the teachers, students and parents to all be transparent with one another; to have open communication, an open-door policy and make sure everyone is aware of what is going on,” Boguszewski said.
“I think there’s a lot of stuff that can be done there that would make the transition [from school to school] smoother for the kids,” Zdroik added. “The communication the other way [is also important], making sure that the staff and the board understand what’s going on and that the students understand what’s expected.”
Class sizes, like in many districts across the state, are also an issue of importance to some of the candidates in Hillsborough. With budgetary constraints always looming, many candidates are concerned about keeping class sizes small enough for optimal education for the district’s students.
“To me, creating an appropriate learning environment and class sizes is extremely important,” Martinez said. “The more children we have in class, the less opportunity there is to learn and the more diminishing returns we have.”
One area that resulted in split opinions from the Board of Education candidates was the district’s decision to keep school board elections in April. Most of the districts in Somerset County—with Hillsborough and Montgomery being the only exceptions—have elected to move their school elections to coincide with the November general election, eliminating a public budget vote in those districts.
Some candidates were in favor of keeping the school election in April, citing a right of the public to have a say in the budgetary process.
“I think we need to let people have a say and a vote,” Centofanti said. “I think our board did a great job coming to that conclusion.”
Others believe that, while the public certainly has a right to a say the budget process, a move to the November election would not necessarily rob residents of that, all while saving the borough the cost of an additional election.
“The cost of an April election may go up because there are less towns that are actually using it,” Soisson said. “While I absolutely value the democratic process and giving people the opportunity to have a say in the budget, you have a say in the budget by coming to Board of Education meetings or sending an email.”
The candidates also spoke on a number of statewide educational issues regarding education reform, including the use of standardized test scores as a barometer of teacher performance and the linking of teacher evaluations to tenure.
All of the candidates seemed to agree that, while standardized testing is one way of measuring classroom performance for students and teachers, it is not the only way of doing so.
“There are so many other ways in which a child learns—developing critical thinking, developing skills—that the standardized methodology is not capable of testing,” Martinez said. “From a teacher perspective, it doesn’t cover class preparation. It doesn’t cover that you may have a certain class size.”
As for Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed bill linking teacher tenure directly to classroom evaluations, all candidates seemed to be in favor of a system that fairly evaluates and works with teachers, but one that is also unafraid to address situations where changes need to be made.
“I think we do need to work to continue a path of learning that the teachers will follow throughout their whole careers,” Soisson said. “If there’s a failure at some point, we need to address that and assist the teacher if we can. If we can’t, then something needs to be done.”
Polls will be open Tuesday from 2 to 9 p.m., when residents will also vote on the district's $113 million budget.