With at least one incumbent retiring, the field for April’s Board of Education election is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in recent history.
Incumbent Ann Cary has been joined by newcomers Jessica Blessing, Karyn Hoems, Rosanne Kurstedt, Jennifer Silva and Lynn Spadaro in signing out petitions to seek three BOE seats in the April 27 election. Incumbent Gary McCready announced earlier this week that he will not seek a third term and incumbent Alice Hunnicutt has not announced her intentions.
The election comes as the BOE is grappling with state education cuts, the state’s denial of Schools Superintendent Margaret Dolan’s new contract, rising student populations and anger in the Washington School neighborhood over the board's 2009 decision to send portions of the neighborhood to Edison for intermediate school, instead of Roosevelt.
The 2009 election featured the first competitive BOE race since 2003, with Washington parents electing Rich Mattessich and David Finn to the board following the redistricting. The 2010 election featured a four-way race highlighted by Mitch Slater unseating incumbent Rich Solomon, who was defeated following his vocal defense of the new teachers’ contract. Slater is also a Washington resident, who received strong support in the neighborhood.
The election could change the dynamics on the nine-member board, where Slater, Mattessich and Finn have formed a voting bloc on several issues, including redistricting and guidance.
Cary, the current board vice president, said she is undecided on whether to seek a third term on the board. Cary, a former spokeswoman in New York political circles, said she is currently weighing the commitment of continued BOE service against other obligations.
“I have not made a decision yet,” she said. “I’ve had six great years.”
Both Blessing and Kurstedt have committed to the race, saying issues such as overcrowding and the curriculum are driving their candidacies.
Blessing, a Mary Kay consultant and current Lincoln School PTO co-president, said the larger class sizes and budget cuts are the main issues she plans on emphasizing in the race. She noted that during the six months she has thought about a candidacy, a close to home issue also entered her thought process.
“There is no representation at Franklin and I feel like there needs to be,” she said. “We are the biggest elementary school in town.”
Solomon was the last Franklin resident to serve on the board. At the time of his defeat, his two sons were students at Westfield High School.
Kurstedt, who holds a doctorate in curriculum and instruction and is an adjunct professor at Fordham University’s graduate literacy program, said she wants to bring her background in education to the board. She noted she is a board member of the Education Fund of Westfield, a classroom volunteer at Franklin and served on the budget task force to pass the bond issue to renovate Lincoln School.
“I am running because I think I can offer a new perspective to the board,” she said. “I have been in education for 15-plus years and I would like to bring my knowledge and experience to the board.”
Spadaro said she is still undecided on whether to enter the race, but that class sizes in the elementary schools are one of her top concerns. She said she is seeing classes with 24 students in them and she would like to see what can be done without increasing taxes.
“I decided to take a petition out for the Board of Education because I am unhappy with the direction the school district is moving in and I wanted to change that,” she said.
Spadaro noted that New Jersey Monthly’s ranking of WHS as the 42nd best high school in the state, a drop from the previous year, is a concern to her. Dolan and BOE members have blamed the ranking on the magazine’s methodology and not a change in the performance of the school. Spadaro said with Cranford High School ranked as the 13th best high school, Westfield should be trying to emulate the neighboring community.
“Our community should be moving in the direction of Cranford,” she said. “We’re like Cranford.”
Silva said that she is still undecided on whether or not to seek a BOE seat. The Tamaques parent first came to public attention last spring as one of the leaders of the movement to save the job of Tamaques teacher Matt Kravetsky, who had been denied tenure. The movement gained the support of several hundred parents and teachers and Kravetsky and the BOE reached a settlement a day before a planned public hearing.
Hoems could not be reached for comment and Hunnicutt did not return an email for comment on her plans.
Petitions to seek a seat on the BOE are available at the board secretary’s office at BOE headquarters on Elm Street. Completed petitions are due back on March 8.