October 28, 2015
CFR wrote on October 22, 2015
Please see our Candidate Questionnaire on the attached pages. We will take your responses and publish them word-for-word in a newsletter and on Facebook prior to the election. If you chose not to reply, we will indicate as such.
Please submit your replies to our email address, please do so.
Please answer the questions from the perspective of an elected Board of Education member. Please keep your responses as concise as possible and limit them as indicated for each question.
Deadline for receipt of your response will be 10/26/15. We apologize for the short notice.
Citizens for Readington
Responses from Curry and Panico follow (in alphabetical order, with any bold formatting provided by respondent).
CFR: What are your qualifications for this position? (250 words)
Curry: I have served on both Readington Township and Hunterdon Central’s Boards of Education for almost fifteen years. In that time, I have seen many changes in education and worked with, conducted searches for and hired multiple superintendents. Hiring a superintendent is by far the most important decision of any board of education.
At Hunterdon Central, I have served consistently on the curriculum committee and, in my ten years there, have also served on negotiations, human resources, and finance. Providing a high quality education for all students, while being fiscally responsible to our taxpayers, has always been a priority for me and has guided every decision and every vote.
While I now work in advertising and communications, my background in business, as a certified public accountant, allows me a great understanding of public entity finances. Previously in my career, I worked on the New York City Board of Education audit and as the General Accountant of The Municipal Assistance Corporation for the City of New York, the company that managed the investments used for paying down New York City’s debt during their financial crisis.
Panico: Currently, I am finishing up my third year on the Readington Township Board of Education, I am a manager at a small business in Bedminster, NJ, and I am an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Raritan Valley Community College. Prior, I worked as the Network Administrator at a private school, and an IT Specialist at Hunterdon Central. I hold degrees in Business Administration from Rider University and Raritan Valley Community College. I have a proven track record in all aspects of education: Kindergarten through Higher Ed, public and private. My experience and education is the right mix to lead Hunterdon Central forward and make it a better place for our students. As a lifelong resident and former Red Devil, I have one thing at heart: the best for our school and community.
CFR: The job of the superintendent is to run the high school. The job of the Board of Education is to ensure that the school is run well. In your opinion is the school run well? (250 words)
Curry: I believe that Hunterdon Central is well run. On your website, you quote wonderful statistics about Hunterdon Central that could be used in a real estate brochure meant to attract homebuyers to Readington Township. However, I’m never more proud than when we receive correspondence from former students saying that the education they received at the high school prepared them well for college and careers. We never forget that our primary goal is to provide the best possible education in a safe learning environment for all of the children in our community. No decisions are ever made lightly, and much research and discussion goes into every decision made. Curriculum discussions occur with the sending districts to make sure that our students are adequately prepared for Hunterdon Central and poised for future success. Yes I do believe that Hunterdon Central is well run.
Panico: Hunterdon Central is a great school, however, it can be run more effectively. We need to demand the best for our students. A climate survey would give evidence from the key stakeholders as to areas where the internal operations can be improved. We can utilize the school’s broadcasting technologies to live stream and archive the Board meetings for transparency and accountability. Course content can be enriched by connecting with community experts to bring authentic learning experiences into the classroom. The budget will be scrutinized to reduce the 2% annual increase towards a flat budget. These are some of the ways that Hunterdon Central be run more effectively and transformed from a good school to a great school.
CFR: The Board approves budgets and expenditures. What is your opinion on fiscal management? (250 words)
Curry: Fiscal responsibility is key to providing a quality education and maintaining the facilities, so that our school is a safe and comfortable environment for student learning. Every aspect of our school is impacted by its financial stability. While we have had, and currently have, excellent business administrators at Hunterdon Central, I feel as a board member it is my duty to ask questions and challenge expenditures to make sure that we are doing the absolute best that we can with the tax dollars that have been approved and provided. During my tenure on the board we have had:
This has been achieved without affecting class size or impacting the quality of instruction. Creating the budget is a collaborative effort of all stakeholders at Hunterdon Central. As a board member, I feel it is my duty to give adequate review and question everything throughout the process. I believe that my financial background has given me great ability to do that.
Panico: If funding were infinite, it would be easy for a school board to create the best possible environment for students. However, the Board and school administration are tasked with finding the appropriate balance of educational initiatives and smart fiscal management. I put students first while analyzing the budget and being fair to our taxpayers. Hunterdon Central needs to focus on expanding educational opportunities for our students, while partnering with community members to keep the costs low. We have tremendous resources in our surrounding towns who are willing to donate time to see the enrichment programs brought into the curriculum. In addition, while NJ legislation allows budgets to grow to a 2% cap each year, my goal is a 0% increase in year-over-year budgets. During my entire tenure on the Readington Township Board of Education, we maintained a flat budget. I strive to continue this track record while at Hunterdon Central.
CFR: Earlier this year there was a controversy on spending $2 million on a weight room. What is your position? (150 words)
Curry: At the October 20, 2014, Board meeting, Hunterdon Central’s Board of Education unanimously approved the inclusion of a Fitness Center Expansion as part of the Five Year Long-Range Facility Plan for Hunterdon Central, and I support that Board decision. The Plan was developed to maintain the safety and adequacy of all instructional, co-curricular and athletic facilities at the high school. The Fitness Center expansion was approved by the Board as part of the Plan, because the numbers of students using the current facility, for both athletic and instructional purposes, makes an expansion and renovation necessary. The Fitness Center expansion will be funded from Hunterdon Central’s Capital Reserve Account. Therefore, no referendum is necessary to fund the project.
Panico: I support athletics. I was a coach in my past job, and I have sponsored local teams to promote the furtherance of youth sports. These programs teach leadership, responsibility, respect, independence, and many other traits to our students. They are a critical part of educational system. However, I believe we need to wisely spend our money, and as we face declining enrollment and increased fixed costs, I do not support spending nearly $2,000,000 on Hunterdon Central’s fourth weight room. I would rather see revitalization of the existing three weight rooms, outfitting them with new workout equipment. According to the plans released in a recent OPRA request, the new weight room will also eliminate some of the coveted parking spots available to students. This concerns me because we do not have enough parking at the school, and we are already leasing spaces from the Costco property across Junction Rd.
CFR: The Board is at the mediation stage in negotiations with the teachers on a three year contract. What is your position? (150 words)
Curry: Negotiations are confidential, and I cannot discuss them. What I can say is that I want a fair and equitable contract for all parties. Our teaching staff at Hunterdon Central is one of the best, and they deserve to be compensated accordingly, but we all need to understand that to maintain a tax rate that is not burdensome to our taxpayers, we need to stay within our budgetary constraints.
Panico: It is the job of the Board of Education to quickly and efficiently ratify the teachers’ contract. A contract in negotiations creates a distraction in the classroom and dissolves a work environment conducive of success. This puts our students at a disadvantage and degrades the educational experience inside the classroom. While at Readington, I have made timeliness of ratification my number one priority when negotiating with the teachers’ union. At Hunterdon Central, I will do the same. We need to offer adequate increases to our employees, and quickly resolve the outstanding ancillary contract items. This will be the first step towards a better work environment for Hunterdon Central’s staff, and a better learning environment for Hunterdon Central’s students.
CFR: At every Board election, communications with the public is one of the topics. What is your opinion? (150 words)
Curry: Communication is an important component of any school district. At Hunterdon Central, that is shown by a communications system that includes a highly detailed district website with a Board of Education site where policies, agendas, highlights and minutes are routinely posted, an extensive listserve and automated messaging system, relevant educational videos, and a series of Superintendent newsletters that were developed at the Board’s request, all intended to keep our community informed about the instruction of their children. I truly appreciate the opportunity that you have provided to communicate with the residents of Readington Township. Being a part of Hunterdon Central’s Board of Education has been an amazing experience for me. Looking at the students and the great things they accomplish is what drives me to want to do the best that I can as part of the Board of Education. Many years ago, when I was president of the Home School Association in Readington, one of my fellow board members always had one thing to say, “Remember it’s for the kids”. Providing a safe and secure learning environment and a quality education for all students, while being fiscally responsible, is the reason that I am here asking to continue to do this job.
Panico: Communication was a top priority for me at Readington. Together, with other Board members, we were able to bring live streaming to the meetings. It allows community and staff members to participate even if they are not able to make it out. We often have people “chatting in” during the public comment section of the agenda. Hunterdon Central needs to do the same. Using the TV station and website, there is no reason HC’s Board of Education meetings are not available on the web and archived for future reference. Not only would it increase public involvement, it would create a higher level of accountability and transparency. The technology is already available at Hunterdon Central, it is just not used. This would be one of my first objectives when I begin as Board member.