Three school board incumbents from North Bergen, including the president and vice president, face reelection to the nine-member board on April 21. But two independent candidates are trying to wrest away two of the seats.
Board President Julio Marenco, Board Vice President Maurena Luzzi, and member Ruth Shaw are seeking new terms. Herbert Shaw (no relation to Ruth Shaw) and William Koehler are both running for seats, as they have done in several past elections without success.
Voters can elect three board members to serve for three years and approve or reject the district’s $111 million budget. Traditionally, the school budget is voted down every year, and voter turnout tends to be dismal.
‘It’s always money’
Koehler is a life-long resident who graduated from North Bergen High School. He is an engineer who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
He works for his wife at K and H Machine Shop on Grand Avenue. His seven children were all home-schooled. His two youngest are now at the eighth grade and high school senior levels.
He said that he was running because of his “dissent” with politics in North Bergen and Hudson County. He pointed out that at one time, 23 candidates vied for seats on the local school board, and now only a handful of people vote on the school budget.
He said that because he has no allegiance to anyone, he would be a good fit for the board.
“It’s always money, but beyond that, I guess it’s really classroom size problems and how they would go about meeting the children’s needs without overburdening the teachers,” said Koehler.
He said that he wanted the public to be aware of how funds were being used in the district.
Longtime board member
Maurena Luzzi attended the New York College of Music, but did not graduate because of her already blossoming career as a singer and her marriage to her husband. She was born in Brooklyn, raised in the Bronx, and moved to New Jersey after her marriage when she was 21 years old.
She is almost 70 and has been on the board since the late 1980s.
Her husband was a music teacher in North Bergen and Luzzi, always volunteered with him to teach the children drama and to put on plays for the students, at one time teaching a group of 350 students. She was a member of the Horace Mann PTA.
“I saw how things were, and I know how things are now, and I’ll tell you something, its worth being a teacher here now,” said Luzzi.
Luzzi had four children who all graduated from North Bergen High. She now has six grandchildren.
She said that one of the biggest projects the district is undertaking is expanding the front of the high school for a larger guidance and health department. She said it will be “tremendous.”
Luzzi said that the board will forge ahead and continue to aid the children, for whom she said she has always had an affinity.
Aiming for change
Julion Marenco has been on the board since 2002 and has been the president for one year, and said he wants to continue because of his love of public service.
“I like serving,” said Marenco. “I like public service, and this was probably the best avenue available to service. It’s proven true.”
He is originally from Union City. After completing high school, he moved to North Bergen and then attended Seton Hall Law before joining the U.S. Navy.
Marenco said that there are changes occurring throughout the district that will benefit the students and faculty. He said that the board has been using “innovative environmental ideas” brought forth from the superintendent. He also said the board has been working hard to fix many of the infrastructure problems in North Bergen’s older schools.
“There is an opportunity for change and improvement,” said Marenco. “There’s a lot of work that always needs to be done, and [the school board is] one place where if you want to serve, you can not only serve, but you can help the heart of the community.”
‘I won’t be elected’
Herbert Shaw is a political activist who often says that the pursuit of happiness is only “sometimes” granted in this country.
He was born in Weehawken and lived in West New York and Union City, before moving to Fairview and getting married. He then moved to North Bergen.
He is a retired operating engineer and is a Korean War Veteran.
“I won’t be elected, but somebody has to challenge these corrupt establishments, and that’s what I’m doing,” said Shaw. “You can do it in this country.”
Shaw has run for board seats more than 30 times.
He said that one of the biggest issues in the school district is that “people aren’t getting their money’s worth for their taxes.” He said it was because the U.S. education system was poor in comparison to other countries.
Ruth Shaw, a North Bergen native (and no relation to Herbert), is running for her third three-year term. She originally got involved in the township by volunteering in North Bergen’s Pop Warner Recreation Department when her daughter and son were involved in cheerleading and football. Both of her children graduated from North Bergen High School.
“We’re a great team that works together toward common goals to move in the right direction, which we are.” – Ruth Shaw
“We’re a great team that works together toward common goals to move in the right direction, which we are,” said Ruth.
She said it was an honor to be on the board and serve the community.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.