CANDIDATES FOR THE BOARD OF EDUCATION SHARE THEIR THOUGHTS, Candidates B-C

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On November 8th, voters will be asked to choose up to three candidates to fill vacancies on the Board of Education. Joe Canova is the single incumbent seeking reelection. Dana Beltran is running for a seat on City Council as she nears the end of her term and Jim Daley is not seeking reelection.

Members of the Facebook group, Clifton News and Community, submitted questions for the candidates, revealing some of the topics that were of greatest interest to the community. Every candidate was invited to respond and most did. Responses are missing from Kurell Law and Abdallah Matari, who did not participate.

Following are the first three candidates, alphabetical by last name, and their responses as submitted. Names in color are links; you can click on them to visit the candidates’ website or Facebook page.

Samantha Bassford, ballot position #8

Why are you running? Please limit your response to one or two sentences: As I progressed in my student affairs career, I learned how to be a resources for both professionals and student, participated in many diversity inclusion equity trainings, learned facilities/custodial management, property management, oversaw multi budgets, work with faculty in residence, became mental health first aid certified, trained others on conflict resolutions, crisis management, implemented professional development trainings, advised two mutl-cultural sororities sigma lamda upsilon senorita unidas latinas inc and delta sigma theta sorority incorporated as well as other student organizations and advocated fiercely for the bipoc and LGTB+ community. I seek to give all stakeholders an experience that comes thru a holistic lense so that way all angles of a matter are covered as I believe my background is unique as a potential board member.

How have you educated yourself on the workings of our Board of Education and kept up with current issues facing the district? If you are an incumbent, how long have you held a seat on the BOE?: I am an active participant in attending meetings. There are trainings for the board that every board member must take to be able to follow procedures. My finger is definitely on the pulse regarding issues as the public can see through my involvement in speaking at the meetings and on Facebook prior to even deciding to run.

What do you think is the greatest current challenge the school district is facing and what is a solution you would offer to that problem?: Staffing is an issue. From bus drivers to teachers. I believe our current board and administration is actively working in this. As someone who has always needed to work with tight budgets to keep staff feel valued and motivated, I believe my experience and skill set can contribute in retention.

What are your thoughts on the diversity of the staff at some of our schools and what would you do to help recruit more diverse teachers and staff?: I think often diversity is looked from physical appearance but there needs to be more intersectionality in the district. Intersectionality is hard to gauge from a candidate applying unless they share in the interview process. In seeking diversity, we must be careful with not discriminating against anyone in the process. Reviewing what Clifton often in terms of areas that require a certain expertise will bring diverse candidates forward.

How will you handle state mandates (masking, vaccinations, Health Standards, funding issues) that might conflict with your personal beliefs?: Collectively as a board we would need to implement state mandates. If there should be something I do not agree with I will need to assess and process the mandate as a board member first. I will only speak against a mandate if there will be a negative impact that affects well-being or safety.

What are your thoughts on staff retention? How do we keep more of our wonderful teachers and other staff?: See previous answer.

How do you feel about our district sharing funding with local charter schools? Are you in favor of using district funds to pay for transportation for private or charter school students?: We need to follow the guidelines given by the state regarding transportation.

If you are elected, what are your top TWO priority projects - the things you most want to tackle in your first year? Please limit your response to no more than three sentences per issue: I want to make sure we are being ethically and fiscally responsible in all areas. I also want to see where we can help students improve on their interpersonal skill sets in inclusion.

Mark Brunciak, ballot position #1

Why are you running? Please limit your response to one or two sentences: As a parent of 2 children, several nieces and nephews, and many friends with children who all attend Clifton Public Schools, I have a vested interest in preserving and improving the quality of Clifton Public Schools. More so, that I believe in quality public education for current and future students.

How have you educated yourself on the workings of our Board of Education and kept up with current issues facing the district? If you are an incumbent, how long have you held a seat on the BOE?: I have educated myself by attending almost all Clifton Board of Education meetings since summer 2020, and classes provided by the NJ School Boards Association.

What do you think is the greatest current challenge the school district is facing and what is a solution you would offer to that problem?: The greatest challenge are the children suffering learning losses and mental health issues associated with the COVID lockdowns. I would like to give individual schools more autonomy with the use of time, organizational structures, teacher assignments and alternative systems for delivering instruction in exchange for holding principals and faculty accountable for results. Also, to strategically direct resources to address the district’s most pressing needs, most challenged schools, and most at-risk students, rather than treating all schools the same.

What are your thoughts on the diversity of the staff at some of our schools and what would you do to help recruit more diverse teachers and staff?: I believe Clifton has done a great job with diversifying staff. In fact, I am not aware of many other districts that can pride themselves on the basis of diversity such as Clifton. Many of the limitations posed have been established at the state level, such as requirements for school bus drivers, and the amount of schooling required in order to become a certified teacher, paraprofessional, and/or administrator. Once reform occurs at the state level, the possibilities are endless in recruitment of teachers and staff.

How will you handle state mandates (masking, vaccinations, Health Standards, funding issues) that might conflict with your personal beliefs?: I am not concerned about masking much more, there are no longer mandates imposed by the State, and President Biden proclaimed the pandemic is over on his recent 60 Minutes interview. Regarding other state mandates, I think the Administration and Board need to be more transparent, rather than attempting to deflect, making any potential controversial topics harder to find, and let parents know verbatim in mass communications any added or changed policies. In addition to this, if the state is threatening to reduce or remove our district’s already massively underfunded state formula in receiving funding, that they be notified of this as well.

What are your thoughts on staff retention? How do we keep more of our wonderful teachers and other staff?: We should create an Employee Retention Plan, which includes interviewing employees from last year. Was there information they felt was pertinent when deciding to stay/or not, that they were not informed of previously? Do they have any suggestions for supporting new staff that may have been overlooked?

How do you feel about our district sharing funding with local charter schools? Are you in favor of using district funds to pay for transportation for private or charter school students?: My only issue here is that the District has no say in decision making of that charter schools. However, my understanding is that charter schools has requirements that requires their school have academic achievement at 90% of all pupils of the respective district that is funding them. Moreover, that high standards are mandatory, and if the student population goes under this threshold, that the School will be put on probation for 1 to 3 years. Also, when I speak with parents who have children in these schools that they believe their kids are more successful in these types of schools. Finally, that Governor Murphy signed off some time ago on $10 million for maintenance and emergent projects for charter schools for Fiscal Year 2023.

If you are elected, what are your top TWO priority projects - the things you most want to tackle in your first year? Please limit your response to no more than three sentences per issue: My 1st priority project is ensuring that children obtain a Grade A Education. Addressing students that have learning loss and mental health issues associated with Covid lockdowns and how I would handle it is described above. My 2nd priority project is school safety. I would review and improve safeguarding policies to affirm physical and emotional well-being, as well as safe travels to and from schools. School safety is the link to improved student and school outcomes.

Joseph (Joe) Canova, ballot position #7

Why are you running? Please limit your response to one or two sentences: I have 3 daughters, two of which are currently in Clifton schools. I want to ensure our town has the best possible education system. This will not only keep our community members here but encourage others to want to live in Clifton.

How have you educated yourself on the workings of our Board of Education and kept up with current issues facing the district? If you are an incumbent, how long have you held a seat on the BOE?: I have been on the board since April of 2019. To keep up with what’s going on I read the NJSBA news releases, attend BOE training classes, attend the Passaic county meetings, attend the state board of education meetings as the backup for our Passaic county representative and listen to the citizens of Clifton.

What do you think is the greatest current challenge the school district is facing and what is a solution you would offer to that problem?: There are current and emerging challenges all of the time which is what makes the job so dynamic and exciting. I continue to believe we do a great job educating students and the under-funding from the state has put us at a disadvantage in comparison to other schools. We need to continue having conversations with our elected officials to keep the momentum for a fully funded district.

What are your thoughts on the diversity of the staff at some of our schools and what would you do to help recruit more diverse teachers and staff?: The board of Ed is not and can not be involved in hiring nor show partisan to any particular group. This is strictly a function of the superintendent and their staff. Our super has a great One Clifton motto and initiative to produce more educators in Clifton who are from Clifton, therefore representing our town accurately and I support his goal.

How will you handle state mandates (masking, vaccinations, Health Standards, funding issues) that might conflict with your personal beliefs?: Regardless of personal thoughts and opinions we need to be respectful of others and their own thoughts and beliefs.

As a board member you are representing 80,000 people in the city so you need to make sure you hear both sides of the issue and accommodate the best you can for all.

What are your thoughts on staff retention? How do we keep more of our wonderful teachers and other staff?: Recognition for going above and beyond and a job well done is always a great way to show appreciation. Staff retention and moral are handled by the superintendent and administration as that would he administering to schools for a board member to get involved. Having a strong superintendent who hires the right people and continues a positive culture is a great way a board member can support the teachers.

How do you feel about our district sharing funding with local charter schools? Are you in favor of using district funds to pay for transportation for private or charter school students?: I support the idea of special needs, charter, private and vocational schools as a school isn’t a one size fits all. What I don’t like is the way funding is setup. I believe these schools should have their own budget line based on their student counts and not have to pull from the local district. It’s hard enough to budget as it is, and when you add the complexity of a surprise budget every year it’s unfair, especially if we need to give up funding for an guesstimate of students who may possibly attend a school.

If you are elected, what are your top TWO priority projects - the things you most want to tackle in your first year? Please limit your response to no more than three sentences per issue: Continue bidding the referendum projects and scheduling them to get the facilities where they need and concentrating on Security improvements are good focus areas among others. In a large district, it’s difficult to just pick 2 since we are juggling 40 or 50 different things and ensuring every time we meet we are getting a little bit closer to where we want to be.

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The next Board of Education meeting is on Thursday, October 20. Meetings start at 7 pm and are held in the BOE building at 745 Clifton Avenue. They are open to the public. You can also watch the meetings live on the district’s YouTube channel.

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