Four candidates are running for three open seats for the Jefferson Township Board of Education on Tuesday, November 5. The election will pit against each other three incumbents, the current president Matthew Millar, Michael Stewart, and Adele Wildermuth, and one newcomer, Dylan Terpstra.
After nine years on the board, Millar said that he still has a “fire inside” him that motivates him to run.
“I still have a passion to make our school system one of the best in the state,” Millar said. “I’m a passionate guy, enjoying what I’m doing.”
Along with his experience on the board, Millar said that he has a history of volunteering for his community as a coach in athletics and on athletic boards. With over 20 years in law enforcement, he constantly stays engage with his community, even in his career.
If re-elected, he said that one of the most important issues to address will be the lack of state funding. After Governor Phil Murphy passed a new state funding formula in 2018, the Jefferson Township school district lost over $2 million in aid and will continue to lose millions more over the next five years. Millar said that it’s up to the board to find creative solutions to fill this gap. He said that the board has to embrace this problem and owes every taxpayer fiscal responsibility while keeping in mind students and teachers.
The other big issue for Millar is school safety. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, the school district worked to increase its security, and this job has been an ongoing process. Millar said that safety is one of the most important priorities of the board, while still maintaining an emphasis on learning. He believes that his role in law enforcement and his masters in education will help the board achieve this.
As a resident for over 30 years, Stewart wants to give back to his community, but he doesn’t see it as a duty.
“I enjoy being on the board,” Stewart said. “It’s fun to see what’s going on.”
He has been on the board for over 10 years, became a certified master board of education member, and said that he has a lifetime of experiences to bring to the table. With this experience, there’s no learning curve that he has to get through before starting his work. From his time on the board, he has learned to work together and build consensus, which he said are crucial to this position.
Stewart said that the biggest issue is and will be the state aid cuts. He wants to try to work with other districts and the New Jersey Board of Education to get more funding, but he’s hesitant to see how it will work out since the board was the one that cut their funding in the first place. He thinks that another avenue to address these cuts is preventing students from leaving the district to go to vocational or private schools by proving that Jefferson schools are better.
Terpstra ran as a write-in candidate in the previous election after seeing that the election was unopposed. He is now on the ballot, running on a platform of change. As a college student at Rutgers University at Newark, he has seen many of his peers run for elected positions and was inspired to run for a position in his hometown.
“Someone has to be the first person to commit to it and run,” Terpstra said. “My goal is to inspire other people who wouldn’t have ran like other less involved parents.”
Though he has no overarching agenda since he believes he can’t make much change as a single new member on the board, he hopes that more people of change will run and change the direction of the board. In the meantime, if elected, he wants to talk and interact with students and teachers to learn more about their issues.
Tersptra’s biggest issues are funding and a lack of civics education in the district. With state aid cuts, he wants to provide a new mindset and perspective to solve this problem. He also wants to implement more civics and voting education in the curriculum to make students more engaged in their community.
Terpstra believes he stands out as a newcomer and an outside voice to speak for those who are unheard. He said that his background as a political science and public administration double major, his involvement in student government, and his experience as an intern for a congressman will help him in his role as a board member if elected.
Wildermuth ran to prioritize academic excellence and to ensure that students and teachers are treated well in the district. She said she loves community service and went to college for teaching, so she has a soft heart for education and wants to stay involved in some way.
Though she went to school for teaching, Wildermuth has spent 30 years in business for her career, including her current role as the marketing director for a pharmaceutical company. Through her work, she learned to lead a group through challenging problems and build consensus.
With this experience, Wildermuth wants to address the budget challenges caused by state aid cuts without sacrificing the district’s educational goals. Along the way, she wants to make sure that the board is transparent in its actions with the community and wants to promote community involvement. As the chairwoman for the business and finance committee, she has already started to brainstorm ways to create a balanced budget.
Wildermuth said she’s excited to see the election and hopes that the community will trust her with the position when they come to the polls on Tuesday.