Meet the candidates (Part I) School board hopefuls discuss technology, budget concerns

This month’s election for the Secaucus Board of Education could mark a significant changing of the guard. Three long-serving incumbents who were up for re-election this year – Mauro DeGennaro, Mark Bruscino, and Angelo Adriani – chose not to seek office again, leaving the field wide open for newcomers. Seven candidates are running for the three seats, and only one of the contenders has served on the board in the past.


Three long-serving incumbents up for re-election this year chose not to seek office again, leaving the field wide open for newcomers.

The nine-member board already includes relatively new faces. Last year, newcomers Dora Marra and Michael Makarski defeated two incumbents to claim their spots.
The Secaucus school system has a student enrollment of 2,221 and more than 167 teachers and other professionals. The system also includes eight administrators, five part-time supervisors, and 21 administrative staffers. The budget for the 2008-2009 school year is $34.2 million, while the projected budget for the 2009-2010 school year is just over $35 million.
On April 21, voters will be able to approve or reject the portion of the school budget that comes from local property taxes (see page 3), in addition to voting for new board members. Polls will be open from 1 to 9 p.m.
In alphabetical order, the Reporter profiles four school board candidates this week: Charles Krajewski, Darryl E. Lewis, Robin Renner Mottola, and Gary Riebesell. The remaining three candidates – Tom Toarty, former board member Tom Troyer, and Joseph R. Tringali – will be profiled in next week’s paper.
The Reporter asked all seven candidates the same three questions:
1. What motivated you to run for school board?
2. If elected, what skills or qualifications would you bring to the school board?
3. What do you think are the main issues facing the school district at this time?

Charles Krajewski

Like most of the candidates running this year, this election marks Krajewski’s first foray into politics. A great nephew of the former presidential candidate Henry Krajewski, Krajewski is a fourth or fifth generation Secaucus native. A married father of two young children, he graduated from Secaucus High School before pursuing a business marketing degree at Monmouth University, where he played Division I baseball. After a stint at Merrill Lynch after college, Krajewski began substitute teaching in Secaucus and found his life’s calling. He switched gears and earned a teaching certificate. Currently, he teaches business education and computer technology at Memorial High School in West New York. Krajewski has also been a volunteer and paid baseball coach at Secaucus High School.
1. What motivated you to run?
“I feel I need to give back to a community that has been good to me. All the teachers I had in the local public schools were excellent. They provided me with the knowledge and skills necessary to advance to higher education and to be successful in my own life.”
2. What skills do you bring?
“Obviously, I’m a teacher in another school district. So, I’m in the classroom every day and that’s an important perspective I could bring to the board. Also, being a business and marketing major, I could be helpful when it comes to budgeting. Long-term, I have an interest in being an administrator of a school district, so I’m already trying to acquire the skills I’d need to be an effective administrator, which could benefit the school board if I’m elected. I’m on the Carl Perkins grant team, where I help Memorial go after state grants. That experience can help the school district get money to meet its needs. For example, the grants that Memorial gets goes to new equipment and training teachers.”
3. What are the main issues?
“The economy is the biggest issue this year. You can’t cut your programs, because that’s where the integrity of your education system lies. At the same time, you can’t go raising taxes every year. So you’re stuck in a bind. But I think there are other ways to get money – through grants, donations from local businesses – other than raising taxes.”

Darryl E. Lewis

A native of Tuscon, Ariz., Lewis has lived in Secaucus for 15 years. He joined the U.S. Navy after high school and stayed in the service for 10 years before joining the private sector. The married father of three currently works for New Jersey Transit as an electrical engineer. His son Giovanni and daughter Darra both attend Huber Street School. His wife, Josephine Amato, was raised in Secaucus and teaches science at Huber. The couple’s third child, Halia, is still an infant. Lewis has served as a judge at the Huber Street and Clarendon science fairs.
1. What motivated you to run?
“I used to work for the defense industry in Mount Laurel. We frequently had to ask Congress to extend work visas to foreign nationals because we didn’t have enough home-grown talent in the math, science, and computer engineering fields. We still don’t have enough American-born kids going after advanced degrees in those areas. Judging science fairs at Huber and Clarendon, however, I was very impressed by the students’ enthusiasm and knowledge of science. I decided I wanted to encourage that, encourage more of our students to pursue advanced degrees in math, science, etc.”
2. What skills do you bring?
“I think I can help make sure that we’re bringing the right technology into the school system. There’s a lot of technology that can be brought into the schools, but you don’t want to waste time and money on technology that’s ineffective. I’ve also worked on several military boards. And I’m now a member of the Northeast Electrified Railroad Operating Committee and NJ Transit’s Electrical Rules Committee Working Committee. I’ve managed budgets ranging in size from $50,000 to $1 million. One of the things I’ve been able to do is keep spending down.”
3. What are the main issues?
“I’d like to see if there are things we can do to attract more math and science teachers who actually have math and science degrees, rather than liberal arts degrees. Then, we can use those teachers to cross-train some of the other teachers we already have. I’d also love to see a summer school program for math and sciences.”

Robin Renner Mottola

A Secaucus native, Mottola has long been active in the local PTAs. She has worked as a legal assistant for the past 13 years and previously worked as an information technology specialist with Merrill Lynch. Mottola and her husband Gregory have two children: Amanda, a sophomore at Felician College who graduated from Secaucus High School, and Matthew, currently a student at the Middle School.
1. What motivated you to run?
“I love being in the schools, fundraising, working with children. For several years, I was on the PTA. I took a hiatus for two years. Now I want to get active in the schools again.”
2. What skills do you bring?
“I was on the executive board of the Huber Street School PTA for seven years. I was membership chairperson, then treasurer, vice president, then president. I was also on the PTA board at the Middle School for two years. When I was on the PTA, I did budgets and worked on tax returns. I understand a lot of the administrative aspects of running a board. My background is in computers, so I understand the new technology that they’re using in the school system now. But I also have a background of just working with children, which I think is the most important part of being on a school board.”
3. What are the main issues?
“Of course people talk a lot about budgets. The school system has to review the budget and make sure the school district is living within its means. Each year, the board has to review the budget and work around what they have. We also have to give teachers the tools they need to succeed in the classroom, both in terms of technology and professional training.”

Gary Riebesell

A resident of Secaucus since 1994, Riebesell is a 24-year veteran with the Hudson County Sheriff’s Department, where he is a lieutenant. Riebesell has both a daughter and a granddaughter in the local school system. His daughter, Kelly, is a seventh grader in the Middle School; his granddaughter, Alexandria, attends Clarendon and is in second grade. Riebesell has served with the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department for the last 13 years and is a captain with Engine Company 1. He’s also a coach for the girls’ basketball program and has been involved with the softball program.
1. What motivated you to run?
“I’m an active member of the Clarendon PTA and I want to be more active with the schools here because I know they’re among the best in the state. I ran for the school board last year and did fairly well, given that I was new to campaigning and running for office. This year I feel I can do better and hopefully win.”
2. What skills do you bring?
“I’m a community-oriented, community-minded person. I consider myself to be fair-minded with an ability to weigh all sides to an issue, which is important when you have lots of opinions in a room. As a member of the Hudson County Sheriff’s Department, I also have experience negotiating labor contracts. I’ve been part of two labor contract negotiations.”
3. What are the main issues?
“Sooner or later, the expansion of our school system will become an issue. More people are moving to Secaucus, so more students will be entering the education system here. So that’s an issue the board will be faced with, especially in the grammar school. Now, of course, the budget is the No. 1 issue and it has to be addressed. We’re going to have to find innovative ways to control the budget while maintaining the excellent level of education we offer now.”
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