MONROE – Eight candidates will vie for the three, three-year terms available on the Monroe Board of Education (BOE) for the election in November.
The candidates include incumbent Kathy Kolupanowich; and newcomers Sarah Aziz, Kathleen Belko, Karen Bierman, Jacob Koppel Egierd, Michael Elgawly, Kate Rattner and Christine Skurbe.
Aziz is running on the Accountability Honesty Dedication slate, Belko is running on the Change We Need slate, Bierman is running on the Transparency Participation Integrity slate, Egierd is running on the Real Change Now slate, and Skurbe is running on the Premier Affordable Education slate.
The general election is on Nov. 3.
Sarah Aziz, 43, was raised in Jamesburg and has lived in Monroe for four years. She is married with three children, ages 12, 9 and 4.
She is a 1995 graduate of Monroe Township High School. She earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting from Rutgers University. She currently is inactive, but is a certified public accountant (CPA).
In the community, Aziz is a member of the Woodland-Mill Lake Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) and the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. She is also a parent of a special needs child and advocate for children with disabilities on the Children and Youth Subcommittee of the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities.
Additionally, she is the administrator of the Monroe Township Education Facebook group where she posts summaries of BOE meetings and shares the latest in education news on the state, local and national level.
“As a parent of three children in our public schools, including one with special needs, the success of our schools is personal to me,” she said. “Serving on the BOE would allow me to make sure that all the children in Monroe Township, including mine, have access to a top-notch education. I also want to work to find cost-effective solutions for our overcrowding crisis and make sure we can address this problem without compromising the safety of our students or burdening our taxpayers.”
If elected, Aziz said she would concentrate on the school’s budget.
“I have worked as a CPA and financial analyst, but put my career on hold to care for my family,” she said. “Because of my professional background, I am best qualified to ask the tough questions and make the right connections to keep our schools financially strong and our tax dollars safe. I will work with our administration to find fiscally responsible solutions and ensure that our budget reflects the needs of our schools and the community. I will also work with businesses to find resources for our schools and continue the fight for fair funding.”
Kathleen (Katie) Belko, 56, is a 21-year resident of the township. She is widowed with four children, a 20-year-old and three 17-year-olds.
She earned a master’s degree in nursing from Chamberlain University. She is employed as a registered nurse specializing in education and informatics.
In the community, Belko has been an officer and volunteer with Monroe Special Sports, liaison to the Monroe Township Baseball Association, member of Music Parents Association, co-leader of the Special Education Parent Advocacy Group for Monroe, and a parent volunteer in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts during events.
“This past year has been a tumultuous one for the BOE of Monroe Township and I want to see a change in the tenure of the board,” she said. “The focus has not been on the education or responsibility to our community. I am running because I believe our BOE needs change, not change for change sake, change that emphasizes fiscal accountability, transparency and integrity. A board with greater focus on fiscal accountability, transparency and integrity will have a brighter perspective, limitless possibilities, and more in-depth knowledge on how to provide quality education for Monroe students.”
If elected, Belko said her goal is for the communication of the board and administration to become “continual, upfront and honest.”
“Our concern should be the parents and [for the] community [to] understand where the board stands on the important issues,” she said. “I will advocate for the board committee meetings to be videoed for review by the community, I will also advocate for our public comments to be open at a committee meeting. This BOE needs to also direct administration to increase open communication with parents and community members. I want to also see that our board meetings be not only videoed but live streamed on an official Monroe Township BOE social media page.”
Karen Bierman, 49, has lived in the township for five years. She has a 15-year-old son in high school.
She is a graduate of Boonton High School with some college. She is employed as a high level executive in strategic operations and logistics.
In the community, she is “Andrew’s mom,” actively involved in Boy Scouts, recreational basketball and high school football. She recently served on the ad hoc committee for the BOE to study and make recommendations toward student growth and housing challenges.
“I would like to see transparency, integrity [and] participation highlighted [on the BOE],” she said. “I often witness fracture and frustration among board members and the community participants and would like to contribute a positive influence toward focusing the board on providing their best for our children, educators, parents and community members.”
If elected, Bierman said she has three core items of focus: helping formulate a successful referendum to facilitate additional housing for students; assist in the fight for fair funding from the state; and negotiate/advocate for stronger teacher contract to facilitate teacher retention in the district.
Michael Elgawly, 54, has lived in the township for 24 years. He is married with three children, ages 14, 11 and 7.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in finance. He is employed as an economics instructor at a state university.
In the community, Elgawly is involved in his children’s sports on the Monroe soccer teams and is a volunteer for his church in Monroe.
“I am running for BOE because I believe the current board does not have our kids, parents and teachers in their best interest,” he said. “In addition, we need to have greater fiscal responsibility. Monroe residents have had enough of the disproportionate rise in property taxes.”
Elgawly said the board needs to address the increase in enrollment due to the increase in developments in Monroe.
“New schools and/or additions to the existing schools will need to be erected,” he said. “This will require a BOE member that is going to account for every dollar spent.”
Kathy Kolupanowich, 66, has lived in the township for 34 years. She is married with three children, who are all graduates of the Monroe Township School District. She has a 2-year-old grandson, who will attend the Monroe schools.
She attended the Katherine Gibbs Business School. She was employed as an executive secretary for Otis Elevator Company and Johnson & Johnson before deciding to become a stay-at-home mom.
She has been a member of the BOE for 21 years.
In the community, Kolupanowich spent 20 years on the elementary, middle and high school Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) and held officer positions at each level. She volunteered her time to the organizations and programs her children participated in (recreation sports, Girl Scouts, cheerleading, band parents) and sat on many school district committees as a parent.
“As a BOE member, I’ve sat on every district committee, including negotiations, and have given countless hours to improving the educational opportunities in our district,” she said. “Currently, I’m the treasurer of the Monroe Township Education Foundation, BOE rep to the Monroe Township Recreation Advisory Board, a member of the local League of Woman Voters and Friends of the Library, and was appointed to the Mayor’s Open Space Task Force for the New Jersey Training School.”
Kolupanowich said she has always said “the most important gift we can give our children is a quality education.”
“We’ve come a long way in 21 years, but there is still more to do,” she said. “Getting our students/staff safely back into the classroom; working with the MTEA [Monroe Township Education Association] to come up with a fair contract; advocating for a new, fair funding formula from the state; (and) finding space for our unhoused students. I bring to our board experience, history, passion, and a desire to continue educating the next generation of students. I would also be the only senior representation on the BOE.”
Kolupanowich said the four areas she stated are all important, but can’t be accomplished without the support of the community.
“I believe communication needs to be improved between the school district, parents and the community so that everyone is aware of what we are doing,” she said. “Although information can be found on the district website, we need to find other ways of getting our message across. We hear a lot of the negatives, but we need to focus on all the positives and accomplishments that our district has achieved.”
Jacob Koppel Egierd, 25, is a lifelong resident of the township. His sister and cousin are juniors at Monroe Township High School [MTHS].
He is currently working towards a master’s degree. He earned a bachelor’s degree in cognitive neuroscience from Rutgers University. He earned a certificate in environmental planning and minor degrees in biology, philosophy and political science. He also earned a certificate in conflict management/counterterrorism from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel and did coursework in Mandarin and Chinese calligraphy from Beijing Language and Culture University.
Egierd is a data analyst for the Rutgers Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at the Rutgers Center on Policing and is an enumerator for the U.S. Census 2020.
“Both of my parents and much of my family grew up in Monroe Township and graduated from [MTHS],” he said. “My grandparents live in one of Monroe’s senior communities, Encore. I grew up going to PTA meetings with my mother Leslie Koppel, a county freeholder, and have been active in Monroe ever since; from cutting new trails at Thompson Park for the Middlesex Conservation Corps to speaking up against developers at Monroe Town Council meetings.”
Egierd said “Monroe schools are already great, but we need to keep making positive change.
“I’m equipped with the experience necessary to make the right decisions regarding the current pandemic and to prepare Monroe students for tomorrow’s modern, global, technologically-oriented economy,” he said.
If elected, Egierd said he would like to focus on student development.
“Monroe Township schools need to do more to prepare students for the myriad of paths available to them after high school, from starting their own businesses, to getting into top-tier universities, to pursuing technical or creative professions,” he said. “As a student myself and recent MTHS graduate, I understand how to improve the experience of Monroe students more than any other candidate.”
Kate Rattner, 36, has lived in the township for seven years. She and her husband have three children, ages 9, 3 and 1.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from Rutgers University, a master’s degree in music education from Auburn University, and a master’s degree in school counseling from Seton Hall University. She is a small business owner in the recruiting industry.
In the community, Rattner is a troop leader with the Girl Scouts and a member of the Woodland-Mill Lake PTO. She also serves as the secretary for her religious institution and was a recreation soccer coach for the Monroe Township Soccer Club.
“I am running on the board because I want to be a positive influence for change,” she said. “We need people who are willing to work together. I have young children and I want to make our schools the best they can be.”
If elected, Rattner said she wants to work on communication with township residents.
“Many people are unaware in regards to information about our schools and our BOE,” she said. “I’d like to see better usage of social media, mobile apps, and emails to all residents to let them know what is going on.”
Chrissy Skurbe, 47, has lived in the township for 18-and-a-half years. She and her husband have three children, ages 18, 15 and 7.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and political science from Rutgers University. She formerly was a marketing/public relations professional before becoming a stay-at-home mom for 15 years.
In the community, she was the founding president of the Oak Tree PTA in 2008 and remained the president for six years. She served as president of the Barclay Brook/ Brookside PTA for the 2015-16 school year. She founded the Monroe Township Middle School Parent Staff Association in 2018 and was the president for one year. She is a member of the Monroe Township League of Woman Voters and served as a member of the Monroe Township District Education Council from 2008-18.
“I am running for a seat on the Monroe Township BOE because I want to bring the much-needed change to our school district,” she said. “I have seen our district start to fall in rankings and become a huge financial burden on our taxpayers. We need to stop using the taxpayers as a blank check while focusing on providing the premier education our children deserve. In order for our students to succeed in a competitive environment, we need to increase our STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] and STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics] programs. Many families moved to Monroe over the last two decades because our school district ranked high in many areas. This led to stable and increased property values in our community. If we do not change the current path of decline, it will affect more than just our children’s future.”
If elected, Skurbe said she would like to see the board concentrate on more fiscally responsible spending.
“Our taxpayers in Monroe Township have seen taxes more than double in the last 10 years,” she said. “Our senior community as well as our younger families cannot continue to afford the increasing taxes year after year. We need to focus on increasing revenue through other means beside taxes. We need to continue to advocate for and demand our legislators revamp the school funding formula and fairly fund schools across New Jersey.”