Absentee ballot returns, released last week by the county, have solidified Mark Spindel's hold on the third and final contested seat in the Fair Lawn Board of Education election.
Barring an enormous outpouring for incumbent Ron Barbarulo in the yet-to-be-counted provisional ballots, Spindel will join incumbent and leading vote-getter Eugene Banta and challenger Jeff Klein on the board come January.
Banta and Klein held significant leads that virtually assured their victories before absentee ballots were counted, but Spindel's 87 vote lead over Barbarulo put him in a more precarious position.
"I can't be very jubilant at this time until it is completely finalized," Spindel said the morning after the election. "There's still that uncertainty."
As it turned out, Spindel had nothing to worry about. His county-certified 318 absentee ballot votes ending up leading all candidates and extended his lead over Barbarulo to 158 votes, with only a few hundred provisional votes left to be counted.
Both Spindel and Klein hope their election to the board will usher in an era of increased transparency and renewed engagement with the community.
“The foundation of your country’s future, your community’s future lies in the hands of the people who are sitting in those meetings, yet it doesn’t get any attention,” Klein, a special education teacher and private tutor, said prior to the election. “I hope to change that. To grab some attention from people, and at the very least, I hope that people are engaging in conversation about how the community becomes a greater part of the school and the school a greater part of the community.”
Spindel said he'd address the transparency concerns he heard from residents while campaigning by launching a series of programs he implemented during his 40 years as a teacher and administrator in the Passaic School District to improve communication between parents and district faculty and administrators.
If parents feel like they have a voice in what's being done in the schools and how money is being spent on their children, they'll be more likely to support the district's spending decisions and tolerate the tax burden, Spindel said.
While he's heard from current board members that a number of his ideas have been tried by the district in the past, he said that won't deter him from pursuing them again.
"Just because they were done years before or they're currently being done doesn't mean they can't be done again or even done a little bit differently," Spindel said. "I'm here with different suggestions that worked when I was a principal that they may not be aware of."
The top priority for both newcomers will be getting a full-day kindergarten program off the ground for next school year.
The current board has been trying to institute a full-day kindergarten program for years, but cost and space concerns have prevented it from becoming a reality.
Both Klein and Spindel said they'd make an all-out push to reduce costs elsewhere so full-day kindergarten can come to fruition.
“Full-day kindergarten is an absolute priority,” Klein said during October's candidate debate. “I do believe the board could use a fresh perspective on how to get this done, how to fund it and how to work with the variables and logistics of getting it done, but it has to get done.”