Six candidates are running for four seats on the Bordentown Regional Board of Education.
William J. Mercantini and Janet L. Nielsen are running for the Bordentown City full term seat on the board. Eileen Francisco-Cabus is up for a full term township spot on the board, while Howard Barman is running for a two-year term. Jamie Augustyn and Mona Goff are running for one Fieldsboro seat. Goff did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Jamie Augustyn is 38 years old. She has lived in Fieldsboro for 15 years and is a senior project accountant for a construction management firm. She has two children, both in the Bordentown school district. She attended Steinert High School in Hamilton and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Mary Washington. Augustyn is the president and founder of the Bordentown Rec Field Hockey League, now in its second year. She is also the director and founder of the Girls Empowering Girls campaign, which is dedicated for leadership, empowerment and anti-bullying.
Howard Barman, 65, has lived in Bordentown since 1989. He grew up in New York and attended Springfield Gardens High School in Queens. He went on to graduate from SUNY Binghamton with a degree in accounting, and he also attended Rutgers-Camden Law School. Barman is a criminal defense attorney with the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender and current member of the school board. In the past, he has also run for township committee and for city commissioner. Barman coaches in the Bordentown Area Basketball League and formerly coaches baseball and soccer. He is the president of Temple B’Nai Abraham and the treasurer of the Bordentown Historical Society.
Eileen Francisco-Cabus is 39 years old and has lived in Bordentown for about a year. She graduated from Freeport High School in Freeport, New York and went on to attend Otterbein College (now Otterbein Univeristy) in Ohio, where she studied psychology. She is currently a program manager for the Trenton Health Team for the Community Health Collaborative, a program in four public elementary schools in Trenton. Franciso-Cabus has never run for elected office, though she served on a township commission in Plainsboro in the past. Her daughter attends Bordentown Regional Middle School. Francisco-Cabus has served as a Sunday school and confirmation teacher at the Princeton United Methodist Church. She is also involved with Bordentown Neighbors Acting Together and the Bordentown Women’s Rights Panel.
William Mercantini, 56, has been a Bordentown resident his whole life, and he works as the business manager for a large state facility for at-risk juveniles. He is the current school board president and has also run for city commissioner. Mercantini went through the Bordentown school district, along with the rest of his family, including his sons, William, Jr. and Nick. He graduated from Mercer County Community College in 1986 and earned a business administration degree from Rider University in 1992. He graduated from Thomas Edison University in 2010 with a master’s in management and leadership, and he also holds a proficiently in accounting. Mercantini is a member of the Bordentown Rotary, Third Degree Knights of Columbus, Bordentown Residents Against Drugs and the Bordentown Water Advisory Board.
Janet Nielsen, 66, has lived in Bordentown for 10 years. She is a retired teacher out of the Middlesex County School District, where she taught K-12 English language learners. Nielsen attened Abraham Clark High School in Roselle and graduated from Kean University with a degree in elementary education. She went on to receive her master’s in education and human development from Fairleigh Dickinson University, an ESL teaching certificate from The College of New Jersey and she also attended La Sorbonne in Paris, France for French studies. Before her school board campaign, she had never run for elected office. In town, Nielsen leads a group called Building Bridges, which aims to unite Bordentown’s diverse community, and she is also a member of Bordentown Residents Against Drugs.
1. Do you feel that there are any areas in the school budget that need to be looked at in order to reduce expenses?
Augustyn: I believe there are areas that could be looked at in order to reduce expenses, but I also feel that there are areas that we need to reallocate funds to that will provide student needs and provide positive achievement in our school district. We need to ask ourselves the questions on each item. Does this promote the vision of our district, and how does this benefit the students in Bordentown?
Barman: We need to look to see if we can share more services with the Township and the City. There needs to be effort to reduce infrastructure spending as salaries have been rising above the 2 percent cap. This cap may be eliminated under the next governor, and costs may be hard to control.
Francisco-Cabus: If elected, I think it’s important to first focus on understanding the rationale behind the budget, and to determine thoughtfully and intentionally the use of school resources to strengthen our children’s education, character and citizenship. Education also builds community and affect home values. Finding the balance is essential.
Mercantini: Recognizing our responsibility to students and taxpayers, the board has developed lean but effective budgets that meet the state mandated 2 percent increase. The best way to maintain this approach is follow our strategic plan, which recognizes our budgetary responsibilities. My experience as an educator and manager of a state facility budget larger than our school and city budgets combined helps me understand our students’ needs and how to manage an organization efficiently and responsibly.
Nielsen: The BRSD budget is already tight, but the state currently only funds BRSD at 50 percent of what is deemed adequate by a state-issued funding formula. We can do better. I will fight for increased state funding to ease taxpayer burden and increase programs available to students.
2. Are there any programs you would like to see added or improved in the district to improve the quality of education?
Barman: Our schools are not performing up the reasonable expectations compared to other schools in the county. We need to improve tutorial efforts for students not progressing and look at creating study groups where peer to peer effort can improve overall performance.
Francisco-Cabus: As with the budget, I will need to further understand all offerings provided to the students at all grade levels. Looking at how we support students to find and pursue their passions while also preparing them for the future job market, are pillars by which we can examine the quality of education we provide for our children.
Mercantini: My service of the board has reaffirmed my belief that nothing is more important to student success than parental involvement. To help take our students to the next level, it is my intent to work with the administration, teachers and parents to develop a set of initiatives that help parents better understand and become involved with their children’s education.
Nielsen: The two most important factors in student achievement are teacher quality and class size. We have wonderful teachers; class size reduction is the next step. Smaller classes allow teachers to better meet the needs of each student. Providing all students with skills in critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity should be the goal of everything we do. Smaller classes help us do this.
Augustyn: Technology is important in this 21st century. Learning has changed and we need to provide the tools and training that our teachers need to educate, inspire and prepare our children for a future that will ultimately be executed by a keystroke, not a stroke of a pen. Our children need the tools, passion and opportunities to be successful.
3. What do you think is the most pressing issue in the Bordentown school district, and how do you plan to address it?
Francisco-Cabus: The current most pressing issue focuses on redistricting our elementary school. I attended two of the three meetings in order to hear the response from the community. As more information is gathered, survey results come in and more details are released, I will address it first considering what is best for the children, the community and fiscal responsibility.
Mercantini: We need to continually reassess the curricula to make sure that our liberal and our mathematics courses are state-of-the-art and provide the tools our students need. We must also continue to: upgrade our technology and class room infrastructure; improve our hiring practices to attract the best teachers; and refine our strategic plan. All this must be done within a context that ensures fiscally responsibility to our students, teachers, administrators and the taxpayer.
Nielsen: The needs of our students are constantly evolving, and we need a board that is responsive to that. This is our most pressing issue: our ability to identify needs, think creatively, and act accordingly. Be it protecting our students from the opioid crisis, supporting high-risk students, or providing staff with adequate resources, we need an advocate for our children who will listen to all stakeholders, ask questions to drive the process forward, and demand accountability.
Augustyn: The most pressing issue is the redistricting issue. Many parents are concerned about what the redistricting could mean for their children. I strongly feel we need to do what is best for the children. To choose a plan that will work for the needs to the school but also the students. We need to understand the cost associated with each as well as what it means for the students and family members.
Barman: We are just beginning to negotiate a new contract for the teachers. It needs to be done in a non-contentious manner, and I believe needs to be based on performance rather than just a comparison to what teachers are paid in surrounding districts.
4. Why do you feel you are the right person to serve on the Board of Education?
Mercantini: Life experiences that inspired me to better myself through education have allowed me to bring a unique perspective to the board. Working with at-risk juveniles for 20 years, I started as a cook before moving to an educational role as a culinary arts teacher with a standard teaching certificate. While earning undergraduate and graduate degrees, I moved to supervisory and management positions. This perspective helps me understand the needs of children and the programs that help them.
Nielsen: I’ve been an educator for 45 years in classrooms in New Jersey, California and France. My experience drives my love of education and my understanding of diverse needs competing for scarce resources is key to driving the district forward in a way that best serves our children. I also know that the most impactful person in one’s life could be a teacher, and I understand the community’s responsibility in supporting their efforts.
Augustyn: I am a mom, founder of Bordentown Rec Field Hockey League, director of Girls Empowering Girls Campaign, a coach and long-time member of this community. I feel as a community we need to guide that process by supporting our public schools, teachers, administrators and staff. We need to make insightful and educated decisions that are for the good of the community, the curriculum, the budget, the teachers and the students. By getting involved. That is why I am running for school board.
Barman: I have lived in the greater Bordentown area since 1989. I have lived in both the City and the Township so I understand the differences in desired approach in each location. My education is in law and an undergraduate degree in accounting, it is my belief that this allows me to look at school issues in a way that is cost effective.
Francisco-Cabus: In regards to being the right person for this job, I think we are all just trying to do our best and give back to the community with whatever talents and resources we have. As I have worked as an advocate for children and families professionally, I thought this might be a way to participate in our community. Many parents and community members would fill this role with great integrity.