This story was originally published in the October 2018 Princeton Echo.

Five candidates are competing for three spots on the Princeton Public Schools’ Board of Education in the November 6 election. Incumbents Betsy Baglio and Dafna Kendal are seeking to keep their seats against newcomers Mary Clurman, Daniel Dart, and Brian McDonald.

The Echo asked each candidate to answer the questions at right about their backgrounds, experience, and priorities for the schools. Their answers are presented below in alphabetical order by last name.

Elizabeth (Betsy) Baglio

Please tell us in brief where you are from originally, your academic and professional background, your age, and when and why you moved to Princeton.

Background: I am 43 and I spent a wonderful childhood attending excellent public schools in Connecticut, Maryland, and Massachusetts. My parents decided to settle in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, in the mid-80s, and I am a proud graduate of Tantasqua Regional High School. I became a public school teacher upon my graduation from Princeton University, where I earned an additional certificate in the Program in Teacher Preparation while an undergraduate. I have worked extensively as an educational consultant and professional developer for K-12 teachers, and I hold a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

My husband and I decided to move to Princeton in August of 2011 because we wanted to raise our sons in a diverse community with great public schools.

Please identify your spouse or significant other, their occupation or employer, and ages of your children. Where have your children attended school and where are they now?

My husband, Steve, is a corporate attorney who works in Manhattan. Our older son, Matthew (12), was in the first grade at Community Park Elementary School when we moved to Princeton in 2011, and is now an eighth grader at John Witherspoon Middle School. Our younger son, Charlie (9), has been at Community Park since kindergarten and is now in the fourth grade there.

What activities or organizations have you been involved in that relate to education or the local community, either here or other places you have lived? What caused you to first get involved?

My work experience in education started as a teacher in a sixth grade classroom in Connecticut and then as a fifth grade teacher in Massachusetts. I left the classroom to direct professional development for an educational collaborative of school districts outside of Boston, where I worked with district administrators to design professional development offerings to meet the needs of their staff members. Later I worked as a curriculum consultant, grant writer, and professional developer for a number of public school districts.

Before being elected to the Princeton Board of Education in 2015, I was an active parent volunteer for the Princeton Public Schools. I launched the first array of after school clubs at Community Park in the fall of 2015, working to develop the program with parent volunteers and staff at Community Park with input from our PTO counterparts at the other elementary schools.

My younger son is in the first cohort of students in the Dual Language Immersion (DLI) program at Community Park, and I advocated for the 2015 pilot launch of this program. In addition, I was on the Princeton Public Schools’ Strategic Planning Steering Committee and helped to craft the district’s 2015 mission statement. I have been active in other local organizations as well, such as the Trinity Church Children & Youth Ministries Committee.

Why are you running for school board? Please identify the issues that are of particular concern to you, or that you feel are of greatest importance to the community. Where do you stand on the proposed referendum?

I am excited to run for a second term on the Board of Education because I have enjoyed engaging in the work of the Board, and I believe that I offer an important perspective as a former public school educator. I am proud to say that, in my first term, collaboration among many stakeholders has led to meaningful changes for all students such as a new PHS schedule, a consideration of purposeful homework, new and more coordinated supports for all students, and the creation of new opportunities that allow parents to give feedback to the district.

If re-elected, I will continue to focus on work related to equity for all students within our schools. In addition, improving and increasing communication among all stakeholders will remain a priority for me.

As a board member, I encourage you to learn as much as you can about the proposed referendum and to vote when it appears on the ballot. As a private citizen (please note that my views are mine alone and do not represent those of the board), I am concerned about the condition of our schools. Overcrowded and outdated schools will not provide a safe and suitable environment for teaching and learning. I am the parent of a child who will be attending middle school when enrollment is projected to soar, and another child who will soon enter our high school. I believe that we must make an investment to ensure that our public schools remain strong and able to meet the needs of all students.

Some have questioned whether the board has the time or the acumen to adequately vet and carry out the long-term, large-scale projects planned for the district. Is this criticism is warranted? How can you ensure the board has the resources to handle the issues it faces?

It is a privilege to serve the community as a member of the Princeton Public Schools’ Board of Education. The responsibilities of the Princeton Board of Education are outlined by law, and they include the oversight of a referendum such as the one our community is considering. The Board of Education, throughout this project, must continue to ask questions, listen to the community, consider the tax impact, consult our educators and, most importantly, keep the needs of all students at the forefront.

Mary Clurman

Please tell us in brief where you are from originally, your academic and professional background, your age, and when and why you moved to Princeton.

I have lived nearly all my life in New Jersey, growing up in Montclair, and I later spent a decade in Arizona. I came to Princeton in 2008.

From 1959 to 1961 I attended Bryn Mawr College and completed my BFA at Cooper Union Art School. After my son was born, in 1967, I worked for 10 years as a Montessori-certified preschool teacher. I then won an Essex County grant to develop family day care, later creating employee childcare centers for St. Joseph’s and Muhlenberg hospitals. I launched and operated a nanny placement agency for another decade and moved to Arizona in 1998.

Please identify your spouse or significant other, their occupation or employer, and ages of your children. Where have your children attended school and where are they now?

Twice widowed, I am lucky to have found a partner in Peter Lindenfeld, also widowed. We live on Harris Road. Peter’s children attended Princeton public schools and now live in DC and Vermont. My two grandchildren just returned from Kenya, where their family had lived for five years while my son created a Kenyan-staffed company to digitize schoolbooks for the Kenyan school system. He and I both attended and graduated from public schools. Peter retired from teaching physics at Rutgers, with awards for his contributions to teaching.

What activities or organizations have you been involved in that relate to education or the local community, either here or other places you have lived? What caused you to first get involved?

As a five-year board member of my professional association I revamped its monthly newsletter. In Arizona I worked to save the town’s Harvey House Hotel and made murals for the local school, a motel, and the cowboy church, where I played keyboard in the band, next to 10-gallon hats hung on the wall. I have volunteered on organic farms in Europe and taught in Thailand for the Peace Corps. I served on the executive board of the Princeton Community Democratic Organization and became a municipal committeewoman for my district. I have worked with many neighbors through our mutual concerns about development in town.

I became interested in the Princeton BoE when it announced plans for the $13O million bond and renewal of the Cranbury send-receive agreement. I launched the group that has attended every BoE meeting since January to publicly address and clarify the issues.

Why are you running for school board? Please identify the issues that are of particular concern to you, or that you feel are of greatest importance to the community. Where do you stand on the proposed referendum?

Good schools need good funding, but people on fixed incomes are leaving Princeton, and they blame burgeoning taxes. Education is my field, I live in Princeton, and I thought I could help. Mice, sweltering heat, and flooding must be fixed. However I question the demographic projections. Furthermore, it seems to me that the need for good teaching trumps any big building that houses it. PHS students themselves emphasize the need for more time with teachers. And where is the concern for the longstanding achievement gap?

Some have questioned whether the board has the time or the acumen to adequately vet and carry out the long-term, large-scale projects planned for the district. Is this criticism is warranted? How can you ensure the board has the resources to handle the issues it faces?

I believe that schools should respond to the needs of those affected by them: children, teachers, parents, and the larger community that pays to support them. I miss honest give-and-take in open community discussion of educational and fiscal priorities. A good school board should encourage critical thinking as much in adults as it does in students.

The BoE hires school architects, lawyers, and financial consultants but ignores warnings from long-time residents, also expert, who have not only sent their children through the school system but have been unhappy with the results of previous school bonds.

The Superintendent provides a plan, and the BoE is responsible for seeing that priorities are set within the capabilities of the community to support them. Plans should not be made on a take-it- or-leave-it basis, but in cooperation with those who are asked to pay for them.

The BoE represents the entire community, not just parents. It should not be run in isolation from the community but rather as its thoughtful servant.

Daniel Dart

Please tell us in brief where you are from originally, your academic and professional background, your age, and when and why you moved to Princeton.

I am from Boston originally. I attended Boston College School of Management and graduated with a B.S. I am grateful to enjoy good health and to enjoy long distance running at 62.

I moved to Princeton in 2002 after I accepted a position as a chief operating officer of Merrill Lynch Investment Managers (ret). I have more than 30 years of finance and investment experience.

In addition, I have decades of experience as a senior business leader in hiring, training, and inspiring individuals in careers that combine professional success, personal achievement, health, and family balance. I now work independently in finance and investments and I am active in community life.

Please identify your spouse or significant other, their occupation or employer, and ages of your children. Where have your children attended school and where are they now?

My spouse, Tracy (Williamson) Dart, is in interior design and is co-owner of Found Collections, a fashion and accessories business. Our older daughter attended Princeton Public Schools grades 1-12. She is a sophomore at NYU-Gallatin School. Our younger daughter is in fifth grade at Johnson Park.

What activities or organizations have you been involved in that relate to education or the local community, either here or other places you have lived? What caused you to first get involved?

I recently served on the board of trustees for six years at the Watershed Institute (formerly the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association) in Pennington. I was the volunteer trustee treasurer for most of that time. I am a strong supporter of environmental sustainability and stewardship.

I continue to serve as chair of the investment committee of the Corner House Foundation in Princeton. I like to use my professional experience in finance and investments to increase the financial resources available to Corner House. I am also a member of investment committee of Trinity Church in Princeton.

Why are you running for school board? Please identify the issues that are of particular concern to you, or that you feel are of greatest importance to the community. Where do you stand on the proposed referendum?

I am running to provide new leadership, thinking, and financial expertise that many believe is lacking on the Board. I want to improve the academic experience for all students by eliminating the achievement gap, fulfill equity in education goals, and develop a more effective anti-bullying program.

Importantly, I want to unify the community in support of a new facilities plan to address our critical needs and to hire new teachers. This new facilities plan must be affordable for low-income families, seniors, and the middle class.

Unfortunately, I cannot support the proposed $130 million referendum in its present form. It contains too much wasteful spending that diverts limited funds from improving our children’s academic experience:

  • The proposed referendum will cost almost $300 million to repay with interest and higher operating expenses.
  • The proposed plan will negatively impact our ability to hire new teachers. While our student enrollment has increased over 12 percent in the last 10 years, our full-time equivalent teaching staff has increased by only 2.3 percent. In other words, on a per-pupil basis, we have fewer teachers today than 10 years ago. The proposed $130 million facilities plan will only make this worse.
  • It is irresponsible to borrow $58 million to expand the high school and provide “flexible learning spaces” for 280 Cranbury students who are outside our community. New Jersey law does not allow a sending school to participate in the school referendum and share all the costs and risks that Princeton, the receiving school, must assume.
  • The proposed new grade 5/6 school is glitzy and experimental. We know that bullying increases with the transition to middle school. I agree with the many parents who want to invest more money in our four elementary schools and nurture our children there.
  • The plan to spend $13 million to acquire and renovate 100 Thanet Road for administrative offices will divert needed funds to improve existing school facilities. It is not prudent to purchase a new property with decaying office buildings when the Board is unable to maintain existing school facilities properly.

Some have questioned whether the board has the time or the acumen to adequately vet and carry out the long-term, large-scale projects planned for the district. Is this criticism is warranted? How can you ensure the board has the resources to handle the issues it faces?

The Board of Education is a part time, all volunteer Board. The individual members have very little experience in finance, facilities planning, or construction. I have great respect for the individual members of the Board of Education who volunteer their time. However, I agree that collectively, they do not have the acumen needed to adequately vet and carry out the long-term, large-scale facility projects needed for the school district.

The Board mistakenly believed it could rely exclusively on paid “experts” for the school referendum. Many experts have a separate agenda, conflicts of interest, or merely want to rubber stamp the Board agenda, for a fee. Unfortunately, the Board missed a wonderful opportunity to engage our community and benefit from its collective knowledge and experience. Instead, the Board hastily sent its proposed referendum to the Department of Education for its approval, before engaging the community.

Unable to obtain critical community support, the Board postponed the October 2 referendum date, separated the referendum into two ballot questions, cancelled one property acquisition, and purchased another expensive property, losing credibility and confidence among important constituencies along the way.

The New Jersey Board of Education refused to approve the new referendum plan in time for the new November 6 ballot referendum date and the referendum vote has been postponed again, harming the reputation of our community. Many residents and parents of Princeton Public School children pray that these actions by the Board will not negatively impact the educational goals for our children for years to come.

I believe we should have a volunteer Citizens’ Facilities Advisory Committee consisting of experts from within the Princeton community to study the capital needs of our schools and make recommendations to the Board. Our community has many experts in real estate design, architecture, engineering, and construction with “skin in the game” as taxpayer residents.

A Citizens’ Finance Advisory Committee should study and help prioritize the spending needs of the nearly $100 million annual school budget. It is obvious to many parents from studying the school district finances that the Board is unable to prioritize spending on what is truly important.

Dafna Kendal

Please tell us in brief where you are from originally, your academic and professional background, your age, and when and why you moved to Princeton.

I was born in New Jersey and grew up in Edison. I graduated from J.P. Stevens High School, Lehigh University, and Seton Hall University School of Law. I have been a licensed attorney in New Jersey since 1999. I am 46 years old. My family moved to Princeton in 2011 so that my children could attend Princeton Public Schools.

Please identify your spouse or significant other, their occupation or employer, and ages of your children. Where have your children attended school and where are they now?

My husband, Frank, works in New York City as an insurance broker. My son is 14 and my daughter is 11. My son attended Littlebrook Elementary School, John Witherspoon Middle School, and is now a freshman at Princeton High School. My daughter attended Littlebrook from kindergarten through fifth grade, and now is in sixth grade at John Witherspoon Middle School.

What activities or organizations have you been involved in that relate to education or the local community, either here or other places you have lived? What caused you to first get involved?

I currently serve on the Board of Education (since 2016), and I have chaired three committees and served as vice president.

Through the Give Back Foundation, I have been a mentor to a first-generation student at PHS for the past three years. Additionally, I am a trustee for Princeton Children’s Fund, a 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to provide access to enrichment and extracurricular opportunities for students whose families would otherwise be unable to afford them. I have also volunteered as a softball coach for Princeton Little League and served on the PTO at Littlebrook for several years.

I decided to run for the Board in 2015 to work towards increased transparency, foster positive relationships within the PPS community, and to seek alternate sources of revenue to ease the burden on the taxpayer.

I am a mentor for the Give Back Foundation because as a first-generation student myself, I wanted to provide support to students who may go through circumstances I have experienced. I am a trustee for the PCF because I want to help all students have great experiences and close the achievement gap. Through the generosity of our neighbors and partnerships with community organizations, PCF has helped hundreds of children to attend summer camp, participate in sports, and learn to swim, among other opportunities.

Why are you running for school board? Please identify the issues that are of particular concern to you, or that you feel are of greatest importance to the community. Where do you stand on the proposed referendum?

I am running for re-election so that I may continue to contribute to the great changes happening in the district. The issue of greatest concern to me is an equitable education for students of color and students with special needs. All students should have the opportunity to achieve their potential.

Another issue of concern is the upcoming negotiations with the three labor unions that represent most of the staff that work for the district. I would like to negotiate fair contracts with all unions with no disruption to our teaching and learning communities.

Finally, I think the school district could communicate with all stakeholders in a more efficient and concise manner, and I would look to improve communications if elected to a second term.

As a parent and a taxpayer, I support a referendum that will address rising enrollment and as well as security, HVAC, and other upgrades district-wide that will impact every student.

Some have questioned whether the board has the time or the acumen to adequately vet and carry out the long-term, large-scale projects planned for the district. Is this criticism is warranted? How can you ensure the board has the resources to handle the issues it faces?

State laws put long-term large-scale school district projects under the purview of local school boards. The school board is charged with hiring competent architects, engineers, financial advisors and, ultimately, contractors to manage the project(s). The current professionals the Board is working with have extensive experience with school design and construction. If the referendum passes, the law requires that the projects be given to the lowest responsible bidder. The Board must ensure that the request for proposals are written in a way to ensure that contractors know the full details of the job and have the skills necessary to execute competently and on schedule.

Brian McDonald

Please tell us in brief where you are from originally, your academic and professional background, your age, and when and why you moved to Princeton.

I grew up in Edgemont, New York, where I received an excellent public school education. I first came to Princeton as an undergraduate; I majored in history, served as class president, and was on the swim team and the honor committee. In 1995 my wife and I moved to Princeton from NYC to raise our family. I am 58 years old.

In New York I worked in public finance, founded a successful restaurant, and managed and produced rock bands. After moving to Princeton I worked for eight years as Princeton University’s Vice President for Development. I then spent three years at a start-up company, and now I divide my time between sculpting and building custom furniture, and advising nonprofits on governance, strategy, and fundraising.

Please identify your spouse or significant other, their occupation or employer, and ages of your children. Where have your children attended school and where are they now?

My wife, Leah, is well-known in Princeton for her volunteer service at our public schools and many nonprofits, including Corner House, Arm In Arm, The Watershed Institute, Send Hunger Packing, 101: The Fund, and Trinity Counseling Service. Our three children attended Littlebrook, John Witherspoon, and Princeton High. Two are now at the University of Richmond and our youngest is a sophomore at the high school.

What activities or organizations have you been involved in that relate to education or the local community, either here or other places you have lived? What caused you to first get involved?

I have been a McCarter Theater trustee for 17 years and was board president for five years. I serve on the board of Sustainable Princeton as treasurer. For seven years on our town’s Citizen’s Finance Advisory Committee I worked with municipal staff, the mayor, and council to ensure that municipal services were delivered cost-effectively while keeping tax increases as low as possible. I served on the board of the Watershed Institute and coached for Princeton Little League for 10 years. I have also volunteered as a consultant for Princeton Public Library, Homefront, and several other nonprofits and independent schools.

Why are you running for school board? Please identify the issues that are of particular concern to you, or that you feel are of greatest importance to the community. Where do you stand on the proposed referendum?

I am running because our schools are at a critical point in their history. They need to make important decisions about aging facilities; issues pertaining to the health, safety, security, and fair treatment of our students; increasing enrollment that is already resulting in overcrowding; and an operating budget that is under considerable stress. I believe I can help chart a path forward that makes critical investments in our schools and keeps tax increases as low as possible.

In addition to these issues, I think our schools and our society face three great challenges: racism, inequity, and affordability in an age of increasing economic inequality. I believe the school board is in a position to effect positive change in all three areas.

I have been supportive of the district’s and the Board’s efforts to address facilities-related challenges, but I believe that despite their hard work, our community needs more time to better understand the needs, examine and test proposed solutions, and gain greater clarity about the district’s ability to deliver projects on time and on budget. For these reasons, I believe that consideration of the referendum should be delayed until fall, 2019, but in the interim I would support a well-conceived, smaller referendum to address the most urgent needs, especially those pertaining to student health, safety, and security.

Some have questioned whether the board has the time or the acumen to adequately vet and carry out the long-term, large-scale projects planned for the district. Is this criticism is warranted? How can you ensure the board has the resources to handle the issues it faces?

The Board’s role is to govern but not manage. One critical responsibility is to ensure that the staff and professionals managing projects have sufficient talent and resources to properly oversee the architects and contractors. We are fortunate to live in a community filled with exceptionally talented professionals in many fields; I have proposed and will continue to advocate for a citizen’s committee of experts — architects and builders — to regularly meet with the relevant professionals and advise the Board and the superintendent.

We live in a resource-constrained environment at a time when tax increases must be kept as low as possible. But one of the greatest resources of this community is its public schools, and one responsibility of the Board is to mobilize the resources needed to make wise and sound investments in them. It may be possible to look to the state for additional revenue, to have thoughtful conversations with tax-exempt institutions whose children attend our schools, and to consider fundraising for facilities and annual operations. But under almost any scenario, we will need to do very rigorous prioritization and, as many parents try to teach their children, understand the difference between wants and needs.

Our most important resource is our people — the great teachers, aides, administrators, coaches, and other staff who deserve fair pay and a healthy, productive, and respectful work environment. We need to provide them with settings in which they and all our children can achieve their fullest potential.