On April 27, voters will decide the fate of a $144 million 2011-12 Middletown Board of Education budget, that will mean a tax hike of roughly $65 a year for the average property owner, and who of six board candidates will fill the three open three-year seats on the nine-member dais.
Another vote that will be taken at the polls this year is one to elect one of the three candidates to fill the unexpired term left by Dan Skelton, who resigned earlier this year.
The three candidates vying the fill that sole open one-year unexpired term have cited immediate challenges facing the district that each is eager to tackle. One looming decision — the hiring of a new superintendent for the district — was pinpointed by all three as a critical issue this year.
Each of the candidates — Allan Burns, Leonora Caminiti and Ernest Donnelly — said that his or her professional experience best suits them for the board position. Aside from hiring a new superintendent, they cited other driving forces behind their BOE run.
With the issues on their radar as plentiful as the number of schools in the township (17), in interviews with Patch, each honed in certain ones: improvement of school facilities, negotiation of teachers’ contracts, sourcing budget funding, improving efficiency and transparency between the township and board, and implementing more shared services for cost savings.
The profiles on each candidate tell their individual stories ...
ALLAN BURNS, 351 Middlewood Road
For four years, Allan Burns has served as the broker of record for Re/Max the Real Estate Leaders on Tindall Road in the township. Prior to that, Burns owned his own company, Brayburn Properties.
Burns has been a member of the township Republican Committee (District 31) for the past year. He also has served as a football coach for many years, coaching Pop Warner at Middletown High School North, Manalapan High School, Kean University and Brick Memorial, where he coached the team to a win at the state championship in 2003.
One of the planks in the platform he’s running on is efficiency. "It’s about efficiency, in our government and school budget, and transparency with the budget, and coordination between the town and the school board," Burns said. He also believes the "budget needs to be transparent to the board."
Burns said that the cost of certain services also needs to be studied in tandem with shared services. More efficient ways to save money need to be addressed, he said.
"We have no more money, so [what we spend] will have to come from what we have,” Burns said. "The last thing I would want to do is raise taxes on residents, especially in this economy." One way to save money, he said, is for the board to look at shared services closer and negotiate with vendors more. "I realize that competition will bring down our prices," he said.
Burns feels he is best suited for the position, "because I am a businessman, I understand business, and I understand negotiation." In addition, he said, "I realize that competition will bring down our prices."
For Burns, a major issue this year is that "the right superintendent needs to be hired. The board, the township and the superintendent need to be on the same page," he said. The right superintendent, he believes, needs an understanding of business.
LEONORA CAMINITI, 9 Lombardi Court
Leonora Caminiti previously served as a board member for two, three-year terms, from 2004 to 2010. Caminiti, a real estate agent in Coldwell Banker’s Middletown office for the past 15 years, she is a certified board member with the New Jersey School Boards Association.
Her motivation for running is her experience, which she said will be helpful this year in the search for a new superintendent and the negotiation of teachers’ contracts, which she indicated expire in June.
"I believe continuity on the Board of Education is a good thing," she said, adding that "change with continuity" is integral. She explained that there is a learning curve for new board members, and the first three years someone serves is a learning experience.
With major decisions facing the board this year, someone with her experience, she believes, is needed. "I know what we can and can’t do," she said. "I’m running on my experience as a board member, what I can bring to the board with my experience, and there will be no learning curve."
The cut in state funding is a critical issue facing the Middletown school district, she added. "We have to work on funding, how we’re going to get funding from the state,” she said, pointing out a flawed state aid system long complained about that gyps the middle income districts, Middletown being one of them.
But the need for a strong grant writer in the central office, who can help secure grant money for the schools, she said, is important. Caminiti said that numerous grants exist, and grant paperwork can take months to prepare, and has to adhere to strict deadlines. Creating that position and putting someone strong in it, she believes, is needed to secure funds for the district.
Caminiti has also volunteered for: The Great Race, Project Prom and the Middletown scouting programs. She also sits on the board of the Bayshore Community Village, which makes management decisions for the low-income community on Wilson Avenue.
In addition, during her previous board membership, Caminiti said she served as a liaison for the Scholarship Committee for Middletown high schools North and South and was the board liaison on a subcommittee for the Middletown Education Foundation.
Caminiti also does volunteer work in her profession. She is the chairperson for the Education Committee, which allows realtors to get certain designations, and also does public relations work and serves on a networking committee for realtors.
ERNEST DONNELLY, 76 Redfield Road
Ernest Donnelly has more than 40 years experience in the education field. He is a retired superintendent of Millstone Township School District; and, prior to that, he was the Lavalette school district’s superintendent and a school principal.
Though retired, he continues to serve in interim superintendent and principal positions, when called upon, throughout Monmouth County. He is currently the interim superintendent at Roosevelt School District, where he said he is involved in negotiating shared services and the hiring of a new superintendent.
Donnelly said he has a passion for the education process. One volunteer position he has held was serving on the ad hoc committee in Middletown for Buildings and Maintenance. That committee was charged with looking at the schools facilities.
"I feel there is a need in the community to look at the school facilities," he said. "We need to start fixing them up. If elected, I will bring that to the front page and follow the committee’s recommendations."
Donnelly explained that the middle and high schools in Middletown are first class facilities, but the elementary schools need work. "We need to be fiscally responsible to put money in the budget to start addressing the problem," he said.
As for the hiring of a new superintendent in the township, "The Board of Education has the opportunity to bring in a new superintendent," Donnelly said. "I find that the superintendent is key to education in a community."
He pointed out that Middletown has been through many superintendents, and needs someone in that position who can "bring about positive change. We need a good communicator, who is talented, who has experience, who can excite the community, and work with the township," he said. It’s a key decision for the BOE, and he wants to be a part of that decision.
Another issue, according to Donnelly, is implementing more cost savings. In line with that, he believes more shared services can be looked at. "In this time, I would be a positive candidate for the BOE," he said.
Donnelly explained that he feels having a board made of up people with different backgrounds is important. Someone like him, who as an education background is key, he said. As a superintendent himself, and hiring a superintendent, "I believe that I can help move that forward." He added the person being replaced on the board, Dan Skelton, had an educational background and he can fill that void.
Voters may notice that there are no political signs by Donnelly posted around town. When asked why, he said he decided to "go green and not spend any money on political signs." Instead, he said they will make a donation to the Great Race, for the kids in Middletown.
When asked why he is running for just a one-year term, Donnelly said that a one-year term is open and he feels he "has the energy now and the know-how." He said he will "see how it goes," and may run for another term next year, "if I am making a difference."