Editor's Note: Each of the 11 candidates running for a seat on the township's Board of Education responded to a questionnaire sent by Brick Patch. Their answers to our questions will be published on our site verbatim. Candidate profiles, in alphabetical order according to last name, will appear through Friday until all have been published. We have disabled comments on profile articles to ensure the candidates' statements speak for themselves and readers can decide, without additional, anonymous commentary, their view on those running for office.
Full Name: Richard V. Lau
Current Age : 53
Current Occupation: Former Owner, current Pharmacist, part-time, Briarmill Pharmacy, Lanes Mill Rd, Brick
Highest Level of Education Achieved (optional: include degree/institution)
BS in Pharmacy, Rutgers University College of Pharmacy
Are you employed by a public school district?
Have you ever previously held an elected office in Brick or elsewhere?
I have never previously held public office, nor do I have any intention of ever seeking public office other than the Brick Township Board of Education.
Question 1: The issue of school district facilities is frequently on the minds on Brick residents. Please describe your specific priorities in terms of where tax dollars and capital funding should be directed for facilities projects. Do you favor looking into the possibility of holding a referendum for a future capital outlay?
As a former member of the Community Facilities Committee, I am well-aware of the deteriorating condition of some of our District facilities. Considerable time was spent prioritizing the condition of our assets and discussing the options for future funding of their repair or replacement. I was an out spoken advocate for a conservative approach to any decision on a future referendum. There is simply no way to justify asking our residents for more tax dollars in our current economic environment.
Our first priority should always be proper maintenance and repair of our existing facilities, with additional emphasis placed on safety and on the educational environment. Many of our most severe facility deficiencies are related to electrical, and HVAC issues. With completion of our District Energy Audit last year, I look forward to decisions made on the Energy Savings Projects in 2013. The possibilities for considerable improvements, paid for with energy savings, may be available.
For now, we must consider every budgetary possibility. We need to remember that while the current Board has completed some facilities projects, they have also utilized a one-time surplus of five million dollars from the 2011-12 budget and four million dollars from Regular Operating Grants. Those excess funds are now depleted. I might have spent those dollars in a different fashion, but we will now have to face reality. We will have to satisfy the TRUE NEEDS in our facilities by remaining inside of our budget. Absent any unforeseen surpluses or a new round of state grants, I would hope that we can set aside a minimum of 2-3 million dollars each year over several years for Capital Projects. We need a five year capital plan that we can honestly adhere to. We must also open a line of communication with our local and state governmental officials, to continually remind them of our plight, and be sure that we are in the conversation when additional monies become available.
In addition, we must engage the entire community in the process. Improvement in relations with our local businesses and township officials may lead to cost savings by way of shared services. We also need to be honest with parents and residents in all of our Board activities. The Board of Education in Brick must begin to gain the trust and respect of the tax payers before asking for more of their tax dollars.
Question 2: Some members of the community have voiced concern over the rigor of the district’s academic program, as well as the availability of honors and advanced placement courses at the high school level. What specific policy steps do you feel the district should be taking to ensure students receive a rigorous and competitive college preparatory education in our public school system?
I do believe that we should elevate the academic expectations of our college preparatory education in Brick. Having employed hundreds of Brick Memorial High School college-prep students in my Pharmacy through the years, I have experienced first-hand their level of ability in the marketplace and their own personal feelings about their education.
There was always a very large segment of these students that were extraordinary, and I was impressed with their book knowledge and scope of learning. However, more often than not, they openly discussed the fact that they were not challenged. We need to do whatever is possible to increase the number of Advanced Placement courses available to these students. While the current Board has made some progress, we can and will do even more.
While increasing the availability of AP and honors courses for our best students, we must also raise the expectations for ALL of our students. Adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative will go a long way toward raising the bar for ALL of our students in the future.
I appreciated the advertisement of the success of our best students this year. Over the years I have expressed to various administrators that the success of these students should be used to motivate and raise the expectations of our younger students. Having been involved in many career and mentoring programs through the Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, and Big Brothers, Big Sisters, I truly appreciate the value of mentoring in our schools and in our world. I would love to see our most qualified students be given a better opportunity to be mentors-sharing their abilities, enthusiasm, and passion for learning.
We also need to review the opportunities afforded to our vocational students. Recognizing that college opportunities will not always be available for all students, and knowing that our business world is changing dramatically, we must be more progressive in our thoughts about what jobs our students will be asked to fill. Our world is changing; we need to help our students change with it
Question 3: Full day kindergarten is becoming more common in public school districts, and there is the possibility that the state could mandate its availability in the coming years. Describe your support for, or opposition to, such a program in Brick. If it becomes a mandate, what approach would you take towards implementing a cost effective full-day kindergarten program for the Brick district?
In talking to many residents these past several months, it is clear that a high percentage would favor full-day kindergarten for their children. The academic and social advantages for students who have attended all-day kindergarten appear to be significant. Of course, this would come at a cost, with recent estimates of up to one million dollars per year.
As in all endeavors of this magnitude, we need to elicit the input of the entire community: our parents, residents, and taxpayers. While I would be very interested in delving into the budgetary issues necessary to make this possible, I also recognize that we may have to wait for full-day kindergarten to become mandated by the New Jersey Department of Education. At that point, funding may become available. In the meantime, we should begin to prepare by making the adjustments necessary to facilitate the process. We will exhaust every opportunity, such as grants, cost-sharing, and the like.
While the Primary Learning Center has proven to be a model facility for many years, full-day kindergarten may necessitate changes in how it is utilized. This could be disconcerting to some parents who may not favor that their children be brought back to the various “home” elementary schools. However, all cost-saving options would need to be explored, with every possibility up for consideration.
Question 4: It is no secret that New Jersey – specifically, its suburban communities – has the nation’s highest property taxes. What specific ideas do you have to generate revenue or realize savings in order to stabilize the tax rate, while maintaining a proper scholastic program for students?
As a Past-President of the Brick Chamber of Commerce, who is still involved in every aspect of the local Business community, I have always been surprised by the lack of a relationship between the Brick business community and our School District. We have watched, while other local districts have taken advantage of the advertising and marketing needs of its business neighbors. As a Scholarship Chairman for so many years, I have seen first-hand many businesses open their hearts and wallets for contributions for our children. I know that they see the benefit of supporting our District and they are looking forward to the Advantage3 marketing program. When done in a thoughtful and tasteful fashion, advertising in our district can generate significant dollars for our budgetary issues. Long-term, building a strong partnership with our business friends can open the door to any number of opportunities for our students.
As I have mentioned earlier, the Energy Savings Projects will be a key factor in giving us the ability to accomplish some of our facilities issues in a fiscally conservative fashion. These are the items that fall under the critical NEED category.
I am also very interested in reviewing the possibility of either selling the Laurelton School, or utilizing it in some fashion, and realizing savings somewhere else. This must happen. This would be much needed revenue that could be dedicated towards capital projects.
In addition, I would appreciate the opportunity to re-open relations with our local officials about shared services and other mutually beneficial cost saving initiatives. It is hard to fathom that we do not currently communicate with the township administration and council with regards to issues that affect us both. We cannot remain two separate islands. It is imperative that we work together to solve our problems. I have worked successfully for and with many Township administrations through the years, and I look forward to representing our Board of Education in that capacity.