Five candidates are up for three seats on the Lawrence Township Board of Education.
Incumbent Michele Bowes, 49, has lived in Lawrence since 2007. She is a social worker at St. Lawrence Rehabilitation Facility and has been on the school board since June 2016. Bowes currently has two children in the school district. She graduated from New York University with a degree in psychology and earned a master’s in social work from Columbia University.
Glenn Collins, 58, has lived in Lawrence from 29 years. He is a claims investigator who previously served on the school board and ran for town council. He has two children in the school district. Collins attended high school at Our Lady of the Valley in Orange and graduated from Kean College with a degree in occupational therapy. He has coached several youth sports in Lawrence and it a member of the Amercan Legion Post 414, Knights of Columbus and VFW Post 3022. He has been a member of the Rec Advisory Committee and the township planning board and is the Cub Scouts Pack 28 den leader.
Incumbent Dana Drake, 38, graduated from Lawrence High School in 1996 and, after attending college and moving for work, has lived in town since 2007. She currently has a son enrolled at Lawrence Middle School. She is a business consultant and earned an associate’s degree in accounting from Johnson and Wales University and a bachelor’s degree in business management and human resources from Fairligh Dickinson University. Drake has been on the board of education since 2013.
Kelly Edelstein, 37, has been a Lawrence resident for 19 years. She currently owns Edelstein Media Marketing and previously owned and operated Acacia Restuarant. Previously, she spent running her own business as a private household manager and personal chef. She has two children in the district. Edelstein graduated from Pennsbury High School in 1998 and attended Mercer County Community College for a brief period. She is involved with the PTO at Eldridge Park School and Lawrenceville Elementary School. She is also the president of the district’s Special Education Parent Advisory Council.
Incumbent Max Ramos, 47, moved from New York City to Lawrence in 2000. He is currently a sales executive for a large technology firm. He has been a member of the Lawrence board of education since 2014, and he also ran unsuccessfully for township council in 2013.
Ramos has one child currently in the school district and another who went through it. He attended Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens, New York and then graduated from Baruch College, majoring in marketing and minoring in computer information systems. He earned a master’s in management from Rider University in 2009. Ramos is a member of the Knights of Columbus and previously coached recreational basketball and soccer. He served on the Lawrence Township Growth and Redevelopment Committee from 2013 to 2015.
1. Do you feel that there are any areas in the school budget that need to be looked at in order to reduce expenses?
Bowes: Since joining the board in June of 2016, I have had the opportunity work closely with administration to examine and evaluate the school budget and hear from people in the community. Lawrenceville is fortunate to have a top Business Administrator who understands the importance of meeting the needs of the students and staff in a fiscally responsible way. Looking at areas to to reduce expenses is a challenge but necessary in order to improve opportunities for student learning.
Collins: One area where I think the budget can be addressed to reduce expenses is to ensure that we are enforcing residency requirements. We have seen recent news items in both Hamilton and Ewing where they found students that were not residents attending their schools. This is a major drain on the budget and is unfair to Lawrence residents. Another area I would look at is limiting vacation payouts for administrators.
Drake: All areas of the school district’s budget should be looked at each year to make sure we are getting the best value for our money. The goal is to control rising expenses, while maintaining and improving our high standard of excellence in academics and personal development. One of my continuing concerns is allocating and prioritizing funds and resources to provide programs that support all our students, including enrichment activities, athletics, music and arts, and technology.
Edelstein: I hope to help find innovative ways to control expenses while improving the quality of education in the district. I would like to see the district improve and expand in-district special education programs to allow more students to remain in district. By offering more appropriate and effective programming, we can tremendously reduce our expenditures on costly out-of-district placements and allow students to be educated inside their own communities. I would work with the best interest of all students and taxpayers in mind.
Ramos: One area that could have impact in order to reduce expenses is to eliminate accrued vacation payouts for employees to cash out when they leave their job. In 2017 alone, this has amounted to close to $100,000. That is a lot of money that could be put right back into the classroom or returned to the taxpayers. I’m the only sitting board member who has consistently voted “no” when these items come up.
2. Are there any programs you would like to see added or improved in the district to improve the quality of education?
Bowes: In the past year, new programs have been added to the curriculum in the schools. For example, an increase in AP classes available at the high school. I would continue to look to offer choices that are the most beneficial for student growth and development. Technology, humanities and world languages are subjects that are important to me with a continued focus on mental health and wellness, as well as drug and alcohol education/prevention programs.
Collins: I would like to see continued improvements in the office of student services. This area has improved over the last few years with new leadership in place. The ability to identify students with special needs earlier in their education by working collaboratively and openly with parents is paramount to success. I have seen better collaboration with leadership, having been actively engaged, and would want to make sure that continues.
Drake: I am not running with a personal agenda, my focus is on what is best for all students. By any measure, student achievement is better than it was four years ago. However, there is always room for improvement. I would like to see an improved world language program and a technology curriculum teaching all students coding. We also need to seriously study implementing Pre-K education for all children in Lawrence.
Edelstein: More than programs, I think great teaching drives the quality of education our children receive. I would like to improve teacher retention and help our district hire and retain more experienced and highly qualified educators. We need to find a way to keep our best educators, as opposed to starting in Lawrence, gaining experience and then moving on to other districts in the area. Great public education keeps property values high and our community thriving and desirable.
Ramos: I’d like to see more focus on Gifted and Talented and Advanced Placement programs for our students with college aspirations. I’d also like to see improvements in vocational programs and entrepreneurship for students that may choose not to attend college. Finally, I’d like to see us work with the township police to reinstate school resource officers so that they can focus on safety allowing our staff to focus more on education and character.
3. What areas of the Lawrence Township Public Schools are most in need of fixing? How do you plan to address it?
Bowes: In my time on the board, I have observed a constant examination of the facilities and priorities with improvements happening all year long. I believe that anything that involves ensuring the safety of the students and staff is a priority.
Collins: The school system can do a better job of working with the community to allow outside extracurricular groups that are feeder systems for our athletics (Junior Cardinals, Lawrence Lacrosse, etc.) and non-athletics (Scouts, Boys and Girls Club, etc.) to promote their services and recruit students. This will improve total-child wellness and health and provide for better community relations.
Drake: We have always invested in maintenance, and it pays off. We are working on a facilities referendum to help ensure our facilities remain adequate, structurally sound, and safe in these challenging times. We need to increase our focus on student mental health and wellness. Also, I believe the school district needs to do a better job of engaging our diverse community. We should be a resource for families, not just students.
Edelstein: I can’t yet speak to individual issues or facilities. I would work to be proactive in developing cost effective strategies to maintain facilities district wide. Anticipating and attending to maintenance needs is more cost effective than fixing crumbling buildings in an emergency. Having safe, well maintained buildings for our students is obviously of paramount importance.
Ramos: There is immediate need for safety and security upgrades (access controls, PA systems, intrusion alarms) air conditioning and HVAC upgrades, and accessibility upgrades across all of our buildings. There are about 20 projects that the current board of education, of which I chair the finance committee, have approved for referendum. I have worked diligently with the administration and my board colleagues to effect these upgrades.
4. Why do you feel you are the right person to serve on the Board of Education?
Bowes: Given my experience on the board, having two children in Lawrence schools and as a social worker, I believe I have a lot to offer. I care about the schools that our children attend and want to continue to help achieve quality education for all children in Lawrence. The current board has worked hard to develop into a team that is strong and effective. I feel I have been an important part of the board and would love to continue to help the district achieve great things in the future.
Collins: I have been actively involved in the community having lived here for almost 30 years and am very passionate about Lawrence. I am an active member of the Knights of Columbus and the American Legion, and have coached youth teams, including soccer, baseball and basketball. In addition, I have served on the planning board and the recreation advisory committee. In short, I love this town, and I want to give back to the community.
Drake: In a word, experience. We are a relatively new board. I bring years of practical business experience and four years of school board experience to the table. I have served on most of the board’s committees, including curriculum; personnel, which I chair; finance; and negotiations. I believe in public education, fiscal responsibility and policies that ensure lifelong success for all students.
Edelstein: I am a homeowner, small business owner and parent of three young children in Lawrence. I have strong ties in our community and want to work to help our schools be the best they can be. I have strong critical thinking skills, the ability to think outside the box and a great work ethic.
Ramos: As an incumbent with three years of experience, I am intimately aware of the current and long term challenges we face, and the areas in which we are performing well. I currently chair the Finance Committee and also serve on the Community Relations committee. I also have served on the Curriculum Committee and the Personnel Committee, so I have experience serving on every standing committee the board has. I will hit the ground running.