Voters will decide between five candidates for three open seats on the South Brunswick Board of Education on Nov. 6. The seats of current Board President Stephen Parker and Barry Nathanson are up for grabs, along with a seat vacated when Elizabeth Chang resigned from the board. Nathanson and Parker will be challenged by Azra Baig, Raymond Kuehner and Peter St. Vincent.
Azra Baig is a registered RN at the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro in the Emergency Department. She has two children in the school system, one in the 10th grade at South Brunswick High School and the other in 8th grade at one of the Crossroads middle schools.
"I feel it is important to have a parent who has children that are currently in the school system, someone who is knowledgeable of the current issues in the schools, and who is highly visible and active in the South Brunswick community," Baig said. "Many people are not aware of or do not know who is on the Board of Education and I feel it is important to have a good relationship and excellent communication with the people that one represents."
Baig said she seeks to bring diversity to the board in order to make it more representative of the community at large.
"Besides being a parent, I feel the board should have equal representation and perspective of females on the board," she said. "Currently, of the 9 board members, there is only one female. Furthermore, I feel the board should be represented by the culturally diverse demographics of this community. Even though I was born and raised in the States, I feel I have an understanding of the needs and issues of the township's diverse and immigrant population."
Baig added that her extensive work volunteering in the township helps her to understand the needs of district staff, parents and students in South Brunswick.
"I hope to help motivate this community to get more involved in volunteering and helping out in all aspects of the schools," she said. "I also have an excellent relationship with the South Brunswick athletic community due to both of my daughters being involved in a multitude of sports such as soccer, basketball and track and field. I am frequently seen attending most of my daughter's games and volunteering with the Viking Athletic Club. As a substitute nurse in the district, I am comfortable interacting with the school's principals, teachers and staff and I would like to continue to support the tremendous work that they do."
The Board of Education voted unanimously in early 2012 to move the annual school elections to November. Officials estimated the move could save the district $36,000 and the township $14,000 on the cost of running the April election. Changing the election date eliminates a budget vote entirely for spending that falls within the new 2 percent tax cap.
The budget, which increased by 1.15 percent over last year, lowered the general fund tax levy by about $630,000 to $96.2 million, but the tax rate increased by about 5-cents to $2.85 per $100 of assessed valuation.
With the difficulties the district is facing, Baig said the board must seek to reduce inefficiencies while maintaining academic standards.
"We need to continue to preserve the quality of all academic programs and extracurricular activities that help support the mission statement of the district, to maintain 'an environment that promotes intellectual challenge, creativity, social and emotional growth and healthy physical development of each student,'" she said. "The members of the board and administrators all need to look at the budget on an ongoing basis and to look to streamline and run programs more efficiently."
South Brunswick experienced another decline in ratables of about $5.4 million (2.3 percent) last year, which amounted to a 7-cent tax increase, according to Business Administrator Anthony Tonzini.
Baig said the board must seek ways to bring in additional revenue to combat the decline in tax ratables by reaching out to other entities for shared services and innovative ideas.
"As a board we need to be fiscally responsible and look at ways to generate revenue," Baig said. "Perhaps we could do this by working with the township, corporations and businesses, and/or consult with other school districts in the state to see what they have implemented."
Were she to be elected, Baig said she possesses the experience and passion to be an asset to the Board of Education and the students of South Brunswick.
"I feel confident and passionate that I have the right qualities needed to take on this important role and I feel I am the best choice to represent the various communities that make up this school district," Baig said.
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