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Meet the BOE Candidates: Dr. Stephen Parker

A series focusing on the candidates running for the South Brunswick Board of Education.

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.

Dr. Stephen Parker is the current Board of Education President, who has served for the previous six and a half years. He works in aerospace and software engineering. Coming from a family of educators, Dr. Parker said his belief in education prompted him to seek out public service.

"I believe very much in civil service and giving back to the community," Parker said. "I was brought up in a family of educators and I understand the importance of a good education. Putting those together I decided to look at running for the board. I had already served on multiple board committees and had some friends on the board, so it was something I felt I could do to serve the community."

Parker said his priorities as a board member is to ensure the district maintains the highest quality while offering a well-rounded education to students.

"Our first priority is always the children of South Brunswick, to provide a solid educational system for them," he said. "The budget provides us with challenges to find talented staff members to implement our programs. We have to focus on solid educational measures that further student achievement. We also have to look at what this community values, which is art, the music program and athletics. So we have to find a way to make those a part of our program."

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. 

"Voters still have control (over the budget) by who they put on the board. They have to elect fiscally responsible people who will work hard to keep the budget down, yet still provide a quality educational system," Parker said. "My stance is that I want to provide the children of South Brunswick with the best education we can afford and balance their educational needs with smart fiscal decisions. That's my priority, seeing the children of this district have a quality educational system because they are the future of our community, state and country. We must provide them with the tools to meet the challenges of the future."

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.

Tax appeals in South Brunswick resulted in the loss of over $100 million last year. Over the last seven years, South Brunswick's ratable base has decreased by $180 million. That drop in value has a greater impact on the school tax rate than any other factor, according to township officials.

"The biggest challenges we face are the budgetary issues we don't have control over," Parker said. "We don't have control over the way the state contributes to educational funding and we don't have control over the ratable issue, which are the two major things that impact our budget. I believe budgeting will always be a challenge in this state because of the way we fund education."

Dr. Parker said his experience, combined with his ability to solve problems, are among the chief assets he provides to the Board of Education.

"Experience is always a value when you've been through the process and understand the laws," he said. "Some of the things we do as a board we do because the law tells us we have to do it that way. Understanding that helps us move the process smoothly. My background is to solve difficult problems when I see them. When I see a difficult situation, I don't panic, I look at the problem and try to find a solution.

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