July 28, 2021

Two Incumbents, Three New Candidates To Compete for School Board Seats in Nov.

By Donald Gilpin

Adam Bierman, Mara Franceschi, and Jeffrey Liao will be competing with incumbents Betsy Baglio and Brian McDonald in this November’s election for three available seats on the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education (BOE). Current Board member Daniel Dart has chosen not to run for re-election and will be stepping down at the end of 2021.

Monday, July 26 at 4 p.m. was the deadline for candidates to file with the Mercer County Clerk for the November 2 election, where the five candidates will be running for three-year terms on the BOE, starting on January 1, 2022.

Bierman, a lifelong Princeton resident and a product of the PPS, emphasized his goal of excellent, affordable schools. Priorities he noted include “returning all students to school full-time and in-person with sports, clubs, and other extracurricular activities; developing affordable and cost-effective solutions for projected enrollment growth due to COAH (New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing); development and support for educational programs to offset learning loss due to COVID-19; and supporting our diverse student body and community through anti-racism, equity, and inclusion.”

Bierman, who has made unsuccessful bids for BOE (2020) and Princeton Council (2018 and 2019) in the past, teaches at the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, working with at-risk students in Trenton.

Franceschi is a mother of three PPS students, as well as a community leader and frequent volunteer. She worked in the financial services and asset management industries for a number of years then turned her focus to her children and community service. She has served as treasurer and president of the Johnson Park PTO and has worked with district leadership as a member of the PTO Council over the past two years. She has also worked as a volunteer with numerous community nonprofits.

She noted three top priorities for the district: “to continue the pursuit of an excellent education for every child in the district regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, level of family income, or ability; a thoughtful balancing of the needs of aging facilities, increasing student enrollment, and the stress on the school budget, to which my background in finance will bring a valuable perspective; and improving on thoughtful and transparent communication among all the stakeholders in the community.”

Liao, an intellectual property attorney; member of the bar in New Jersey, New York, and California; and the sole U.S. patent counsel in the Princeton office of a multinational pharmaceutical company; stated that he moved to Princeton “specifically for the excellent quality of the public school system” and “is very much invested in the district as I have two children attending schools here  (starting seventh grade and first grade in September) for many years to come.”

He added that maintaining the high quality of PPS education is an important priority for him. “To that end it is important that the financial resources of the district are spent wisely, not to reduce overall funding for the district, but with an eye to prioritization of various competing goals and securing reasonable value for dollars spent.”

Liao emphasized the importance of having a representative of Princeton’s Asian/Asian American community on the BOE. He cited “race-dependent issues” that arise, especially since the onset of COVID-19 last year, and the need for Asian/Asian Americans, who comprise more than 25 percent of the PPS student body, to have a voice at the table when such issues arise.

“As none of the current BOE members are Asian, I am running for the Board because the events of this past year have shown that I can no longer assume that someone else will somehow take care of this structural gap in our society,” he wrote in an email.

“I believe my U.S. education and training, including as a practicing attorney for the last 17 years, makes me especially suited to act as an internal bridge into the Board on behalf of the Princeton Asian/Asian American community and also on behalf of the board in conducting outreach and messaging to the Princeton Asian/Asian American community as well.”

Betsy Baglio, seeking her third term on the BOE, emphasized equity and student achievement as the focus of her work on the Board. She serves on the personnel and student achievement committees of the BOE and is co-chair of the equity committee.

She has taught sixth grade in Connecticut and fifth grade in Massachusetts, and she has worked as an educational consultant and professional developer. “As an educator, I believe that I bring a unique perspective to the Board,” she wrote in an email.

Baglio moved to Princeton with her family in 2011 and has one son at PHS and a son at the Princeton Middle School.

McDonald, who is seeking his second term on the BOE, has lived in Princeton for more than 25 years, and his three children have all gone through the PPS system. He emphasized his goal to continue the important work of the past three years. “I want to support Carol Kelley, our new superintendent,” he wrote in an email. “Every member of the Board is very excited about Dr.Kelley’s arrival and has very high hopes about what she can do as the leader of the district, particularly in the areas of student achievement and equity, which are our top priorities as a Board.”

Citing New Jersey as the top state in the nation for public schools and PPS as “at or near the top in the state of whatever ranking one is looking at,” McDonald stated, “On the one hand there’s a lot to be proud of. We’re doing a lot of things very well, but we also know that we are not delivering a high quality education to every single child. We know that we have persistent achievement and opportunity gaps, and my fellow Board members and I all want to work with Dr. Kelley to do everything we can to address those gaps and make sure that every child has the opportunity to fulfill their potential.”

McDonald, who has a professional background in finance and has worked in the business world and as vice president of development at Princeton University, added that he is also proud of less visible work done by the BOE in planning, facilities upgrades, and in strengthening the district’s financial standing. 

Dart, in stating his intention to step down at the end of this year, said that his first priority in his remaining months in office is “to return all students to school safely and full time, including lunch, sports, clubs, and all other extracurricular activities,” and also “to support our diverse student body and community through anti-racism, equity, and inclusion.”

He noted, “I am proud that we have focused the school administration on students first and foremost and improving existing facilities rather than new land and facilities.”

Update: Adam Bierman withdrew from the PPS School Board race on August 16, 2021.