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Scotch Plains Fanwood School Board Elections 97apr16


Specially Written for The Times

Scotch Plains chose a combination of experience and "new blood" Tuesday by electing incumbents August A. Ruggiero and Theresa Larkin, along with newcomer Thomas Russo, to the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education. Board Vice President Lillian M. Dettmar lost her bid for a sixth term on the board.

Sixty-seven percent of the voters in Scotch Plains and Fanwood supported the $36,935,929 tax levy for the school budget with a vote of 1,965 to 955. The total $41.8 million spending plan represents a 2.64 percent increase over last year’s figure. In the township, property owners will see a 1.64 percent increase in the school portion of their tax bills, while Fanwoodians will see a 2.47 percent increase.

The Scotch Plains-Fanwood budget was among 14 out of 19 school spending plans in Union County to be approved by voters. In Scotch Plains, voters supported the budget by a vote of 1,429 to 536. In Fanwood, the budget was approved by a vote of 657 to 298. Assistant Superintendent for Business and Board Secretary, Richard J. Marshall, confirmed that the last time a school budget was defeated in Scotch Plains-Fanwood was in 1994.

A total of eight candidates had sought the three available seats held by Mrs. Dettmar, Mr. Ruggiero and Mrs. Larkin, all from Scotch Plains. Besides the three incumbents, they included newcomers Frances Gonzalez, Jean McAllister, Kristen Croag Paparella, Norman J. Ross and Mr. Russo. There were no Fanwood vacancies this year.

According to unofficial tallies, Mr. Russo garnered the most votes, with 1,019; Mrs. Larkin received 970 and Mr. Ruggiero captured 964. Of the other candidates, Mrs. Dettmar received 819; Mrs. McAllister, 782; Mrs. Gonzalez, 464; Mrs. Paparella, 413 and Mr. Ross, 336. The final results, including absentee ballots, were expected to be certified by Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi’s Office by early next week.

During his campaign, Mr. Russo had called for the need to bring a fresh perspective to the board, and said that if elected he would serve no more than three terms. Although he commended veteran board members for their years of service, the father of two young sons maintained that residents who currently have children enrolled in school ought to have a greater say in how the district is administered.

Mr. Russo, who practices law in Scotch Plains and has lived in the township for more than 30 years, has served on the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Public Schools Citizens Budget Committee, the Strategic Planning Team and the Scotch Plains-Fanwood School Funding Task Force. He also is counsel to the Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School Alumni Association.

Mr. Ruggiero, who was elected to his sixth term, had argued the importance of having experienced representatives on the board, particularly as the district faces such challenges as maintaining quality education in the face of reduced non-restricted state aid.

The professor of mathematics and physics at Essex County College in Newark has been a member of the board since the 1970s and has been elected board President five times. He focused his campaign on the need for fiscal responsibility and improving education while strengthening ties between the board and the community.

Mrs. Larkin, who was elected to her second term, also had advocated responsible use of tax dollars as part of her campaign platform. She additionally stressed the need to maintain current class sizes and to keep the lines of communication open between the school board and the public.

Last year, she represented the board during contract negotiations with the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Education Association and is board Liaison to the district’s Parent-Teacher Association Council and the Municipal Alliance Committee.

Mrs. Dettmar had also based her campaign on her lengthy experience, including having been elected Vice President of the school board seven times. She had particularly emphasized her position as Legislative Liaison to the New Jersey School Boards Association, which she said enabled her to keep the school board directly informed about such issues as funding to local school districts.

Mrs. McAllister, a former marketing and sales executive in Manhattan, and Mrs. Paparella, a bookkeeper, had both cited the importance of a strong financial background in the development of budgets and curriculum. Mrs. Gonzalez, a Youth Coordinator at Middlesex County College, had promoted the concept of corporate sponsorships and other community resources to help support education.

Mr. Ross had centered his campaign on his dissatisfaction with the current school board, frequently lambasting officials for what he described as their rubber stamp approach to policy making. He was also critical of the district’s Adult School program and the amount of time allocated for public comment at Board of Education meetings.

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