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: Karyn Cusanelli
Current Age : 45
Current Occupation: Independent Marketing and Sales Executive; Proud mom of two daughters who are recent Brick Memorial High School graduates, currently attending college.
Are you employed by a public school district?
Highest Level of Education Achieved (optional: include degree/institution)
I graduated from Brick Township Memorial High School in 1985. In 1989, I graduated from Monmouth University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, with a concentration in Marketing, and a minor in Communication.
Have you ever previously held an elected office in Brick or elsewhere?
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?
I feel the priority for tax dollars and capital funding should be upgrading the heating and cooling efficiency in the buildings, as well as ongoing preventative maintenance of the buildings and systems. By investing in proactive maintenance measures, we will realize future savings.
I DO NOT favor holding a referendum for a future capital outlay. The current economic situation for families and those on fixed incomes in Brick is not conducive to further burdens on the taxpayers. With a budget of over $140 million, we should be able to prioritize what we need and obtain it within the existing budget and additional revenue sources. The current board has been able to facilitate many upgrades to our school buildings and facilities, while simultaneously giving back $1.3 million to the taxpayers and choosing a 0% budget increase. It is certainly possible to be fiscally conservative, respect the taxpayers, and provide what is necessary for our students.
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?
To ensure students receive a rigorous and competitive college preparatory education in our public school system, we need to raise the bar on expectations, as well as provide more opportunities to challenge our students. Grammar and proper writing skills need to be improved and incorporated into most courses. This is something that will benefit our students, whether they go on to college or enter the workforce directly upon graduation. College prep students should be required to take four years of math, and these courses should be modified within the block schedule to be offered on an A/B schedule, as opposed to just a half-calendar-year semester, to provide continuity and retention. This should curb some of the problem of many of our graduates being placed in lower level math courses in college, based on their math placement test scores.
I also think we need to explore ways to offer students courses through online learning within the schools. If there are not enough students to warrant a course being offered, we should be able to offer a classroom environment in a computer lab where multiple students can take their desired course online, overseen by a teacher. This would be an economical way to prevent students from being shut out of a specialized world language or other courses, particularly during their senior year, and forced into a course they don’t want, just because it fits their schedule.
Additionally, we need to incorporate SAT prep courses for our students. This would benefit any student considering college attendance. It would also encourage more students to take the SAT and improve our district’s SAT scores and overall rankings.
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?
I support a full-day kindergarten option in Brick and believe we should not wait until it becomes a state mandate. There are certainly pros and cons to full-day kindergarten, and every child has different needs and maturity levels. A conservative, economic solution would be to allow parents to choose which option best suits their individual needs. By offering both options in our district, with curriculum tailored to each time option, we would be able to monitor the progress of each group to determine which program is better suited to student achievement. This would be a less costly initial approach, as it would be easier to transition physical space and staff. If the state then mandates the full-day program, we are ready. We could also investigate whether there would be grant money available to offset the costs, since a study of this nature would be beneficial to so many other districts.
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?
A great way to generate revenue in our district is through sponsoring various academic competitions. Several schools in our area have academic bowls, math competitions, invention contests, etc. and it is a great way to generate revenue, while showing that Brick Township values education and student achievement. These competitions can be held for every grade level and they are an excellent way to challenge our students and make them strive for something beyond their classrooms. It is also a way for our students to interact with their peers from other districts and private schools. Growing up in Brick myself, I have fond memories of the excitement and pride of attending large athletic tournaments hosted at Brick Memorial High School.
With our recently renovated and improved athletic facilities, such as the Brick Memorial gymnasium and outdoor track, we certainly could generate revenue by sponsoring large athletic events again. Corporate sponsorship of projects is also a way of completing projects without burdening taxpayers. Advertising revenue generated from businesses and sponsors, through school bus advertising and signage around the athletic fields, is another option. As is always the case, the annual school budget needs to be closely scrutinized and waste needs to be eliminated and reallocated to the needs of the students. Prioritizing preventative maintenance of our facilities is important to prevent future costly expenses. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; we need to always budget and plan ahead, just like we do in our own homes.
I would never consider cutting student academic programs or beneficial activities like middle school sports; prior planning and fiscal responsibility should guarantee that students never have to suffer.