Following a tumultuous year that included angry debates over school holidays at packed public meetings, three members of the embattled Randolph Board of Education have declined to run for re-election.
The names of current board members Tammy MacKay, Jeanne Stifelman and Susan DeVito are not among the list of declared candidates running for boards of education in Morris County following Monday's deadline to file for the November election. Instead, seven other candidates will compete for their three seats on the nine-member board.
Amanda Adams, Sheldon Epsteins and Hazel Ball are running together on a self-described "Experience And Integrity" ticket. Epstein previously served on the board from 2013 to 2019. Debby Rauch Lissaur, who filed with the slogan "Leadership Excellence Collaboration", Todd Schleifstein ("Integrity First"), Kelly Ann Arzberger ("Back To Basics") and Layne Broyles ("Right Choice") also filed to run.
Schleifstein, an attorney and frequent presence at board meetings, said the three open seats in this year's election present "a rare opportunity to remake a Board of Education that has rightfully come in for more than its share of criticism."
He cited recent controversies that exploded in the district including "the so-called sex education curriculum" and the deletion of specific holiday names and days from the school calendar, including Columbus Day and the second day of Rosh Hashana. The current board has acted "to serve partisan interests or for completely unexplained reasons, and efforts to address diversity and inclusion," he lamented.
Public backlash to a board decision in the spring of 2021 to replace Columbus Day on the school calendar with "Indigenous People's Day" drew hundreds to board meetings and the attention of national media, including Fox News, where the move was derided as an example of "woke culture" advocates "whitewashing history."
The board attempted to mollify Italian-American groups and others who protested at school meetings but only stirred more ire by removing all holiday names from the calendar. They later reversed that decision and added the names back to the calendar.
More controversy brewed in the spring of this year when trustees voted to remove one of two days off on the calendar for Rosh Hashana, drawing rebukes from Jewish residents and local temples.
"It's difficult to understand what's been going on with the Board of Ed and what appears to be a fixation with cleansing the school system of American history and our traditions," Morris County Commissioner Deborah Smith, a Randolph resident, said at a board meeting.
The K-12 district has about 4,300 students, according to the state Education Department.
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Broyles, a special-finance business development director for Douglas Automotive, has a daughter in middle school and another entering kindergarten in the district. "I pride myself on being upfront and outspoken, as well as passionate about the safety of children and their education," she said in a statement to the Daily Record.
"Transparency is key to our district's success and integral to overcome some of our most recent challenges," she wrote.
Ball is a senior principal talent acquisition business partner for Northrop Grumman. Adams is an associate director of the Professional Development Division for the New Jersey Education Association. the state teachers' union, and was an elementary school teacher for 18 years in Essex County. Both are members of Randolph PEACE, a community organization that "creates awareness around diversity, offers education, promotes community-building initiatives and advocates for inclusive and equitable programs and policies within the town."
The remaining Randolph candidates, as well as the incumbents, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Crowded Morris races
The Randolph race is part of an unusually crowded field for school board elections this year.
While contested races are often a rarity in school elections, they'll be a reality in 26 towns or regional districts serving 33 municipalities in Morris County this fall. Four districts have no board of education elections this year: Hanover (Hanover Park Regional District), Mendham Township (West Morris Regional), Rockaway and Wharton (Morris Hills Regional).
Also unlike some races in past years, there is at least one candidate for every seat in every town after Monday's filing deadline.
Some of the largest fields are in Parsippany, Dover and Randolph, each with seven candidates seeking three seats.
In Parsippany, incumbents Andrew Choffo, Kendra Von Achen and Alison Cogan are all on the ballot. The challengers for their three seats are Falgun Bakhtarwala, Michelle Shappell, Jack Raia and Yvonne Ferise.
Notably in Florham Park, Madison Police Chief John Miscia is among six candidates running for three available seats. Miscia is on the "Achieving Excellence Together" ticket with incumbent Yvonne Cali and Christina Anello. Two other incumbents whose terms are expiring, Nicholas Ritrivi and Fabienne Crimi, did not file to run for re-election. Miscia's ticket faces competition from Claudia Marzella, Kathy Stanzione and Marc DeBoer.
William Westhoven is a local reporter for DailyRecord.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on Morristown Daily Record: Randolph NJ school board election: incumbents won't seek reelection