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 : Michael Conti
Current Age : 33
Current Occupation: Mortgage Banker
Are you employed by a public school district?
Highest Level of Education Achieved (optional: include degree/institution) :
M.Ed Curriculum and Instruction, University of Maryland
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?
As mortgage banker, I have to review condo projects and determine whether they have the capital reserves to support granting an approval to lend to individual homeowners. If the Brick Township School District was a condo project, we would have difficulty lending money due to inadequate capital planning.
I believe it is our responsibility to look towards alternate funding sources, grant writing and engage the business community. We need to take advantage of the relationships we can foster with local businesses, which has not been done. We also need to work with our legislators to make sure Brick receives the funding it deserves and can get a “helpful push” when necessary. The communication between the Board and district representatives has been non-existent. Furthermore, 9 million of the 13 million dollars used by the current board was a one shot deal through a combination of surplus and ROD grants that no longer exist. We need to be more proactive with a consistent and maintained five year capital plan for the district that focuses on NEEDS.
Finally, we need to gain the public trust and make them believe the district is on the right track. Then, in the appropriate economic environment maybe we can address a larger scope of the facilities issues that affect this district. It is obvious that the current economic environment does not foster nor would support a referendum.
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?
When I graduated from the University of Maryland with my Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction I began teaching at Wheaton High School in Montgomery County, Maryland. In the Montgomery County Public School System excellence in teaching and student achievement was the expectation and the norm. Standards and curriculum were aligned through the county school district and that clear path showed in almost every national ranking system with EVERY high school ranking as the best in the entire country. I was proud to be a small part of that as an educator. However, now that I am teaching older people about their money, as a mortgage banker, and back in my hometown, I’m looking to bring that pursuit of excellence to Brick Township Public Schools.
We need to align standards across grade levels and with the help of the New Jersey Common Core State Standards Initiative we should be on our way. However, we can’t afford to be 13 individual schools going in 13 different directions. We need to foster and develop the idea of Brick Township Public Schools as a professional learning community. As mentioned before, when I taught in the Montgomery County Public School System, all of the schools within the district worked towards a shared vision and goal. Competition and rivalry are wonderful things, but we need to be competitive rivals towards a shared vision and goal.
The district needs to create more AP and honors course offerings while encouraging, enabling and then supporting students to step out of their comfort zones by taking more challenging and rigorous courses. In order to do this, there needs to be an identification process that involves teachers, counselors and administrators while offering a support system for those students who choose a more rigorous curriculum. As a township, we need to involve all segments of the student population instilling a belief and objective that they can achieve at the highest levels.
Quite frankly, I do not have the confidence in the current board to implement the necessary professional development and curricula changes needed to improve our standing from ranking in the bottom third of the State. This is an abject failure of the current board and one that I believe, my expertise, can help turn around.
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 discussion with township residents while walking voting districts, many parents would favor full-day kindergarten for their children. The academic and social advantages for children that attend full-day kindergarten are well documented in research. However, it is important to remember that what children are doing during the kindergarten day is more important than the length of the school day. As previously mentioned in the question regarding curriculum, it is more important to develop a well-rounded curriculum that educates the whole student rather than stripping programs to create a bare bones kindergarten that ultimate winds up being a disservice to our educators and children.
We have to be mindful that New Jersey may finally mandate full-day kindergarten. We need to take steps adequately plan for such a mandate prior to it happening rather than scrambling to react. If it does become a state mandate, I would continue the conversations with our local legislators to make sure that Brick Township was receiving its full share of aid for any State mandate. We also need to work with our local government officials across the street, who for some reason the current board has shut down communication, to take advantage of shared service agreements. We should also look to neighboring school districts that may benefit from shared service agreements to lessen the burden on Brick Township tax payers.
With the B.E.S.T program being as successful as it is, we need to ensure that it continues to play a supplemental role if the township decides on full day kindergarten. Regardless, this will not be a decision that is rashly made or without a full, inclusive and open conversation with the residents of Brick Township.
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?
The district took the first step in having Advantage3, a marketing company, come in and locate where we could generate revenue through strategic advertising on school grounds and busses. However, the expenditure that the township undertook to find have Advantage3 find locations could have easily been done by our Business Administrator or other central office personnel who have been in the district, saving us $30,000. In concert with the State Department of Education we could have narrowed the focus to areas that would be acceptable for advertising and then begin to sell the space. The advertising space sold to local businesses will open up future relationships that will not only help our district, but open doors for our students.
There is also money available through the utilization of energy savings projects. These energy savings projects will give us the ability to address many of our facilities issues in a fiscally conservative fashion. We need to start and continue conversations with local officials about shared service agreements and other mutually beneficial cost saving initiatives. We can do a far better job engaging the business community and reaching out to the State Legislature to help generate alternate funding sources and lessen the tax burden for all. As I have told numerous people I have spoken with there is a lot to be done with regard to curriculum that shouldn’t cost the tax payers at all while not just maintaining, but STRENGTHENING our scholastic program for students. Again, I believe my extensive background in curriculum and instruction would be an asset to the residents and this school district.