October 14, 2020

Heated BOE Race Highlights Local Ballot For Election 2020

By Donald Gilpin

Eight candidates are vying for three positions on the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) on the election 2020 ballot that, in addition to races for president, House of Representatives, and U.S. Senate, includes several local contests.

Mark Freda, a Democrat, is running unopposed for mayor of Princeton, while incumbents David Cohen and Leticia Fraga, also Democrats, are running for two uncontested positions on Princeton Council.

In Mercer County elections, Democrats Lucylle R.S. Walter and John A. Cimino are running unopposed for two spots on the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders, while incumbent Democrat Paula Sollami Covello is the sole candidate on the ballot for Mercer County Clerk.

In a contested Mercer County race, Republican Bryan “Bucky” Boccanfuso is challenging incumbent Democratic Sheriff John A. “Jack” Kemler.

With three weeks to go until Election Day in this predominantly vote-by-mail election, many have already voted. Voters have the option of mailing in their ballots, returning their completed ballots to their polling place on Election Day, or placing their ballots in one of 15 secure drop boxes throughout Mercer County. Princeton’s is located at the municipal building at 400 Witherspoon Street. There will be five polling places in Princeton.

Registered voters can also vote by provisional ballot in person on Election Day, but only disabled voters will be allowed to use a voting machine. The Princeton League of Women Voters is offering, at lwvprinceton.org/voter-information, a video showing how to correctly fill out, enclose, and seal a mail-in ballot. “To avoid problems, vote promptly and sign carefully and clearly; your ballot is accepted only if signatures match,” said Chrystal Schivell of the League of Women Voters. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by November 3 and received within seven days. Dropped-off ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on November 3.

In the Princeton BOE election, incumbents Beth Behrend, current Board president, and Michele Tuck-Ponder, current vice president, face challenges from Adam Bierman, Hendricks Davis, Jean
Durbin, and a slate including Bill Hare, Paul Johnson, and Karen Lemon. The three highest vote-getters will win election to three-year terms on the Board.   

The BOE candidates were asked by Town Topics to answer, in 150 words, the question “Why should the people of Princeton vote for you?” Their responses follow:

Beth Behrend

School Board service is a big job, with a steep learning curve, requiring careful listening and thoughtful oversight, with students at the center.

With two years in board leadership, I offer a proven, on-the-job record of progress: stabilized finances (from deficit to surplus), improved facilities, concrete steps toward equity (devices, broad-band for all, free Pre-K), data-based planning for rising enrollments — and strong administrative hires. As a 20-year resident, active volunteer and parent, I know our schools and community, bringing professional expertise in law and governance.

I’m ready to hit the ground running, to work collaboratively to build on the positive progress we’ve made — ensuring that our top-ranked public schools continue providing all of our children with an effective, equitable, and cost-effective education.

I am confident, together, we can meet upcoming challenges. I would be honored to have your support in continuing this important work on behalf of our children.

Adam Bierman

Excellent Affordable Schools. Education is in my family’s blood. I teach at DCNJ at-risk students in Trenton. I grew up in Princeton and went through the entire Princeton Public School system. My mother taught in Princeton Regional Schools for over 35 years, and my father was BOE president in the late ’60s/ early ’70s. My background and experience (PDMC, Transit Advisory Committee, CWA Shop steward/lobbyist) can help prioritize spending on what is most important for our students.

My priorities include stopping wasteful spending, using existing facilities more efficiently, and promoting more transparency between Board members and the public.

In my opinion, the BOE at times behaves like a private club, blindly supporting the ill-conceived and grandiose vision of past superintendents, and stifling any critical analysis or oversight. If elected, I will ask the hard questions, listen, and challenge the political forces that have dominated the BOE for years.

Hendricks Davis

We are at a critical juncture in America and the world. Public education has a key role in shaping the future and my background and experience will help the BOE and Princeton community. I’ve worked in and effectively led several education organizations: Princeton Seminary, Blairstown Center-Princeton University, Public Schools, and Advocates for Children of New Jersey. I  have years of leadership, management, and development experience to bring to the BOE. 

I tackle issues by working with all stakeholders to understand root causes (systemic/structural barriers) and enlist support to define and implement good solutions. I’ve guided organizations through processes of planning for change and growth and I’ve hired and supervised excellent staff. I look forward to helping identify the best person for PPS superintendent and working with them. I’m a 37-year resident-taxpayer and support excellent public education for all students.

Jean Durbin

My background in social work, policy, and law, and my community service, will serve the Board of Education well. If elected, I will work to help set goals, implement policy, and provide guidance to the administration to enable them to deliver the best education possible for all of our kids. I will help recruit an experienced superintendent with strong management skills and a demonstrated record of advancing equity, access, and inclusion.

I will support efforts to ensure that our children are known and feel valued and welcomed, and that we implement measurable steps to close the achievement and opportunity gaps. I will strive to keep costs down and support operational efficiencies as well as find new revenue streams. I will work to nurture our community’s support of and faith in our schools. Public education matters. Raising good citizens matters. I’d like my work on the Board to be for the betterment of our schools and community.

Bill Hare

I have previously served on the Board, and that will allow me to hit the ground running, with no learning curve. As a former chair of the Finance Committee, I know where to look for savings and how to reduce wasteful spending. As school taxes now account for 49 percent of our tax bills, creative thinking is needed to reduce spending without affecting the quality of instruction or reducing staff.  Along with Paul Johnson and Karen Lemon, I will be able to work collaboratively with all board members to achieve the goals of affordability and educational excellence for all children. I ask for your vote and commit to be transparent and work in the best interests of all Princeton Public School students.

Paul Johnson

I will never compromise my moral values and code, and play politics when it comes to our children and our community. I will uphold the values of this community and work tirelessly to ensure each child/family is served. I won’t hide behind uncertainties or shortcomings but rather implement necessary change to make our schools more equitable and affordable. I will spearhead the quest for diversity, affordability, and trust while continuing conversations with all our community members. I will bring a refreshing and unaccounted viewpoint to the Board. I am a proven leader with a strong voice and new ideas which will lead our school district into the future. I will work in conjunction with all Board members to ensure we continue to press forward never allowing for complacency of regression. I will continue to further the narrative without compromise until all our goals are met. 

Karen Lemon

Paul Johnson, Bill Hare, and I have listened to the community and teachers and the opportunities they have shared to make Princeton Public Schools better. I do not believe that consistency and complacency of the BOE will address the issues of diversity, affordability, and trust the community has identified. Collaborative leadership and a commitment to listening, responsiveness, and transparency will move the district forward. My experience as a leader at AT&T and serving on other boards will help guide me in creating a collaborative team to work together for students, parents, teachers, and community. I will be accountable to all voters.

The Board of Education is not simply an oversight role. Board members must provide the leadership necessary to address systemic and pressing issues. Please vote for Johnson-Lemon-Hare to address school affordability and put money back into the classroom to support all students. We can and must do better.

Michele Tuck-Ponder

I should be re-elected to the Board of Education because, for over 25 years, I have demonstrated thoughtful, responsive, effective, and caring leadership for the benefit of our town. From serving as a member of the Board of Education, in my roles as mayor and a Township Committee member, as commissioner on the Housing Authority of Princeton, and in volunteer board service including Morven Museum and Garden and Princeton United Methodist Church, I have been honored to contribute to my community in a myriad of ways. This service has provided me with a broad and inclusive perspective on the diverse needs of Princeton residents. If elected, I will continue to serve with integrity and honesty, with the goal of ensuring equity and excellence for all our children at the forefront of my decision-making, balanced with careful stewardship of tax dollars.