November 12, 2014

After Shamsi and Witter Election Tie, Witter Wins Final Count By Two Votes

The School Board election lived up to the old adage about not counting your chickens before they hatch. Last week’s coverage of the election for the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE), in which four candidates competed for three seats, had incumbent Afsheen Shamsi keeping her seat on the Board and challenger Connie Witter failing to obtain one.

That’s what the snapshot of the unofficial numbers from the Mercer County Clerk’s office showed right before Town Topics press time.

But subsequent counting showed that Ms. Afsheen and Ms. Witter had received exactly the same number of votes. For a day or so, the two were tied at 2496 votes but after provisional ballots were counted by the Mercer County Clerk’s office, Ms. Witter was found to be ahead by just two votes.

Yesterday, November 11, the Mercer County Clerk’s office posted the official results for the Regional School Board of Princeton as: Afsheen Shamsi 2,515, Connie Witter 2,517, Justin Doran 2,642, and Fern M. Spruill 3,025.

Ms. Shamsi is thus off the Board after serving one three-year term. Ms. Witter is in.

Four candidates had competed for three 3-year BOE seats. Ms. Shamsi was seeking re-election and two vacancies had resulted from the departure of Dan Haughton and Tim Quinn, each of whom had served two full terms.

Ms. Witter, a mortgage underwriter working with first time homebuyers, did not attend the pre-election Meet the Candidates panel discussion held last month by the Princeton PTO Council and Special Education PTO at John Witherspoon Middle School. About 40 parents turned out to hear the candidates, but only Ms. Shamsi and Ms. Spruill were there in person; Mr. Doran had to attend a business meeting but sent along answers to a set of questions that had been distributed in advance.

Several parents expressed their dissatisfaction with the BOE over recent contract negotiations with the Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA).

Ms. Witter’s views may be speculated upon from the responses she gave in the run up to the election to questions put to the candidates by the League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area (

“Within these past 18 years, I have become quite acquainted with the teaching curriculum, programs and youth-related activities,” wrote Ms. Witter, whose three children attended Princeton Public Schools. “Like any parent, I have made sure that my children have taken part in so many of these opportunities. They have all attended college; one remains and my two eldest are currently pursing professional careers. Being a part of this School Board would allow me to give back to a community that has given my family and I so much.”

Asked to prioritize the three most important challenges facing the district, and how she would address them, Ms. Witter responded: “First: continuing to find and adopt great programs that will serve to inspire and empower our students to be as successful as possible. Second: finding creative ways to cut down school costs. This could be achieved by seeking out avenues to increased grant funding. One approach is to create a committee designed to proactively reach out to retired professionals and alumni who want to give back to the community. Third: developing a good relationship between the Board of Education and the PREA. If we remember who we are here for, listen to each others opinions, and make decisions that are best for the students, teachers, and community we will be able to ensure that we are achieving maximum efficiency and productivity.”

As for the Board itself, Ms. Witter suggested that BOE and PREA members would benefit from sensitivity training programs that “create a cohesive environment that nurtures and supports our students.”

The Bag Question

On another election matter, it may be of interest to Princeton readers to know that the County Question proposing a 5 cent fee for single use plastic shopping bags in an effort to induce shoppers to use recyclable bags, was favored by Princeton voters even though it was rejected county-wide. In Princeton 4274 voters said Yes and 2385 said No.