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.
Raymond Kuehner is the Transportation Supervisor and an energy specialist for the North Brunswick Board of Education. He had two sons graduate from South Brunswick High School.
"I'm running to give back to the community. I don't have any students in the system anymore, but my sons received a phenomenal education through South Brunswick's schools and I want to see the quality of education remain as high as it's been in the past," Kuehner said.
Kuehner said as a taxpayer, he wants to make sure the budget continues to be crafted responsibly without affecting the classroom, while still offering an array of extracurricular opportunities.
"I think we need to maintain a balance," he said. "We need to maintain the educational value but there also needs to be extracurricular opportunities that give students the flavor of things they may take into their future endeavors. It's an opportunity to further develop their social awareness, athletics, or skills in the performing arts. A well rounded education involves the right combination of educational and extracurricular activities."
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.
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.
Kuehner said it's the responsibility of the board, as taxpayers, to avoid just adopting a standard 2 percent increase each year and to make sure any tax increase is kept to the lowest possible amount. Kuehner added that the board must explore every avenue for savings from the number of administrative positions to school buildings themselves.
"The public doesn't get to vote if the increase comes in under 2 percent, so an effective board needs to make every possible cut so we come in well under 2 percent," Kuehner said. "Ratables fluctuate, but the board has done a pretty good job with the financial hardships the district has faced. But it can't be a given that we go up by 2 percent. The taxpayers deserve a lot better than that."
Kuehner noted that his experience working for the North Brunswick Board of Education could benefit South Brunswick in reducing costs and exploring new avenues for savings.
"I have a good working knowledge of how a board functions and working within budgets to keep them as trim as possible," he said. "I work well with various types of groups and individuals, and have an ability to keep everyone unified to focus on the task at hand."
Kuehner, who narrowly missed being elected to the board in the previous election, said he hopes to maintain the same quality of education his children received for the entire district in the future were he to be elected.
"I have no hidden agendas and no children still in the district," he said. "My sons graduated from here and received a phenomenal education, so I want to see that quality remain for taxpayers. I really hope to be able to serve this district. I only missed being elected by 17 votes last year, so I'm doing everything I can to get on there this year."
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