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Barbarulo Believes Unique Background an Asset to Board

Ron Barbarulo, a master plumber with a passion for coaching youth sports, is running for re-election to the Fair Lawn Board of Education.

This is the first in a series of profiles about each of the six Fair Lawn Board of Education candidates.

Three educators with advanced degrees, a financial risk expert and a lawyer comprise this year’s stable of Board of Education candidates.

And then there’s Ron Barbarulo, the master plumber with an assertive, tell-it-like-it-is approach. Barbarulo, who went straight to trade school after graduating from Paramus Catholic in 1981, believes his unique background has brought a breath of fresh air to the board during his three-year tenure.

“I don’t think you need a board made up of all educators,” said Barbarulo, after a recent board meeting. “I think you need a variety of people on the board to help because it takes a variety of items to run a school district.”

As the board’s chairman of buildings and grounds for the past three years, Barbarulo said the school district’s administrators have often leaned on him for maintenance-related questions. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene last year, Barbarulo’s plumbing expertise proved instrumental when he was able to independently analyzeMemorial Middle School’s cracked boiler and recommend that the district opt to replace the decades-old piece of machinery rather than spend nearly as much on costly repairs.

During his board tenure, Barbarulo's distinguished himself by speaking his mind, even if that’s meant disagreeing with the rest of the board or superintendent on some issues -- like its decision to outsource custodians earlier this year. He’s the rare board member who publicly questions Superintendent Bruce Watson, even if it’s just to ask for clarification on policy issues.

“Sometimes you’re going to get people in general that just are going to go along with anybody just to stay status quo,” said Barbarulo, who recalls telling Watson bluntly during their first meeting in 2010 that he wouldn’t just be a rubber stamp. “I don’t mind upsetting the apple cart. I’ve never been that way.”

Barbarulo’s interest in a board seat stems from his passion for working with, and on the behalf of, children. As a youth sports coach for over 30 years, he’s likely the most visible of the board's current members.

“I’m a very active person,” said Barbarulo, who’s held leadership positions in various plumbing associations and youth sports programs over the years, “but my biggest passion is coaching kids and dealing with kids and fighting for kids.”

He and his wife, Denise, have three children of their own -- Kayleigh, Dominic and Joe – all of whom attend Fair Lawn schools.

If reelected, Barbarulo said his goal is to find money in the budget to bring back a number of the music programs the district has had to drop in recent years due to budget cuts. He’s also hoping to eventually find funding to install lights and artificial surface at the football field, and work with the FLHS Athletic Hall of Fame Committee to find a dedicated home for the school’s athletic artifacts.

Barbarulo, who takes a measured approach to his position and won't cast a vote unless he feels comfortable he has all the facts, said that finding places to make sweeping cuts in the district's budget isn't as easy to do as people believe. He does, however, acknowledge that there are items in the budget he disagrees with and going forward thinks he could help the district save in maintenance costs and by improving the heating and cooling efficiency of its buildings.

Win or lose at the ballot this November, Barbarulo said his dedication to supporting the town’s children will never waver.

“Regardless of what happens, I’ve enjoyed it and I’ll always be here to fight for the children of Fair Lawn and all the children that I’ve always been associated with over the years of coaching,” he said. “I’m going to still give my best to the people of Fair Lawn, the taxpayers of Fair Lawn and most important, the children of Fair Lawn.”

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Michelle October 24, 2012 at 03:51 AM
Ronnie's has done a great job, he really does care about the children of Fair Lawn. Regarding special needs students. All students in this town have the right to an education, regardless of whether they are special needs or not. This town has an excellent special education program and I don't understand how anyone can say we should cut it. It's such a shame that I keep hearing this.
L October 24, 2012 at 04:54 AM
He is not a member of NJEA, therefore he gets my vote.
Drained October 24, 2012 at 10:08 AM
Merideth, between having Manager Metzler the plumber and Board of Ed Barbarulo the plumber in charge of things, it seems thing are flushing down the pipes quickly!
Deleted because of harassment October 24, 2012 at 01:49 PM
As the parent of a student with special needs, what Fair Lawn does not need is taxpayers that would deprive some children of an education because they believe to educate them is a waste of their taxes. Considering kids with special needs a waste of money is thinking that is a throwback to the 1950's or earlier when we locked some of them up in institutions as a family embarrassment and left the rest of them to flounder though life as best they could. Shame on you.
Jennifer October 24, 2012 at 02:04 PM
My son has had the pleasure of working with Coach Ronnie and I can honestly say that as an outside influence on my son Coach Ronnie hands down has been one of the best! He truly is an asset to the town of Fair Lawn and MOST IMPORTANTLY the children! Having conversations with him re: the educational system and children whom need more attention than others (knowing first hand myself), he puts forth the effort needed to attend to these matters on and off the field! Not only does he have my vote for the BOE he has my overall support! Being a “Fairlawnian” I deal with the school system as well as the town and my goal is to ensure that my children are comfortable in all aspects of growing up here and Ronnie has played a part in that and for that we thank him! We need more people like Ronnie Barbarulo! Jennifer
Kathleen Echevarria October 24, 2012 at 03:41 PM
I think Ron Barbarulo does a great job. Whether it is on the BOE or in coaching his involvement and focus is always on our kids and their well being. He asks the questions that need to be asked and he’s not afraid to take an unpopular stance on issues for the betterment of our children and their development. He is not on the BOE to win a popularity contest. Fair Lawn is an incredibly diverse community. We are people of different ethnicities, incomes, religions and beliefs with a common goal to help our children achieve success on whatever path life takes them. Ron does not dismiss any child for any reason. He does not make a decision, or vote, without complete immersion in the issue in order to make an educated decision that is BEST for the community as a whole. Not only can any parent go to Ron with a question or seeking help, but OUR CHILDREN feel comfortable going to “Coach Ronnie” for help on and off the field. We need people like Ron Barbarulo on the BOE to represent those diversities, ask the tough questions, take a firm position, go the extra mile and keep fighting for OUR kids.
Robinhooded October 24, 2012 at 04:04 PM
From the Board of education minutes, Pupils on Roll - Special Full-Time, 825. This is a substantial increase and burden upon Fair Lawn taxpayers, Every year the special numbers increase because surrounding communties want Fair Lawn to pay for this, of which Fair Lawn can no longer afford! Fair Lawn has more special students than most towns have students!
Ronnie Barbarulo October 24, 2012 at 04:23 PM
I think people who do not understand what special education is about should attend a BOE meeting or FLASE meeting. We have the largest special Ed numbers because we are one of the best and other towns send their kids here for that reason. Remember, every parent wants the best for their child and that's what we try to provide. I would be happy to discuss the details with anyone, anytime
Robinhooded October 24, 2012 at 04:51 PM
When the board of education and its policy's cause the extinction of Fair Lawn residents thru skyrocketing taxes you will be talking to the mirror! Admit Fair Lawn school taxes are outrageous then we can talk! The days of champagne wishes and caviar dreams are over. Time to cut!
Stuart Pace October 24, 2012 at 05:01 PM
I hear what everyone is saying, but I don't see 50 people vying for the BOE positions. Be a part of the change, run for office.Sitting in a chat room that 12 people read isn't going to make a difference.
Robinhooded October 24, 2012 at 05:19 PM
Stu, and one wonder's why nobody runs? you of all people should understand that. As far as having voices in the game, what should people do say nothing? 86 million dollar budget looking to be increased another 1.5 million soon is vomitus, can you say foreclosed due to high taxes?
Robinhooded October 24, 2012 at 05:25 PM
MJM, here's something else to consider besides special needs. How many kids are in the schools illegally? How many kids go to our schools because of just an address used, or a relative that has a Fair Lawn business? Who is controlling this? Why are the taxpayers not given any announcement of kids being removed from the schools due to residency issues? Who is not doing their job? Where are the controls?
Jenne October 24, 2012 at 05:28 PM
There may be ways to cut the spending on Special Needs -- for instance not 'paying to send them to other schools' which is what I was told by the county was Fair Lawn's way. However, no matter what Ms. Baxter and Superintendent Watson think, there are federal and state laws that require Fair Lawn and other school districts to provide appropriate educations to special needs students.
Jenne October 24, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Curiously, a really tiny fraction of kids who graduate/age out from Fair Lawn schools, seem to be special needs, which I find suspicious. (only 3% of the population needs the special needs graduation test? How does that work?) I have yet to see a kid with any kind of physical or visible disability in Westmoreland or Memorial Middle. So where are these kids? And, yeah, MJM, nobody ever transfers a kid from home school district to another in NJ without SOMEONE coughing up the dough. So, the question in my mind is not whether we are educating more special needs kids than live in town, but if we are paying extra to other schools to educate our special needs kids.
Stuart Pace October 24, 2012 at 05:57 PM
your voice isn't being heard here
Robinhooded October 24, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Is that why you post here Stu? Same reason? NOT
Jenne October 24, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Hm. In 2010-2011, Fair Lawn had 1,016 students with IEPs (21% of the district enrollment). So what does "Special Full-time" mean here, 825 is an increase? Hackensack had 862 students with IEPs out of 4,728. Garfield had 808 students with IEPs out of 5,253. Paramus, 1,083 out of 4,214 (almost 25%!) So.. the numbers don't seem too out of line with neighboring schools. Or are you subtly claiming that Fair Lawn is taking in Paterson kids? It'd be hard to do, you have to show a tax bill or current lease and a birth certificate.
Stuart Pace October 24, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Just telling ya Robin that most of Fair Lawn is not reading the patch. I am telling you that if you want your voice heard, you should get to the meetings.
Jenne October 24, 2012 at 06:30 PM
P.s. forgot to cite my source for the special ed numbers, it's the National Center for Education Statistics School District search: http://nces.ed.gov/ccd/districtsearch/
Ezra P. October 24, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Special needs are not always visible from the outside - but special needs might affect student behavior, it could be a physical limitation, it could be students needing help learning in different ways (math concepts teaches fractions in 1st grade), etc.. By the time these children get to graduation - perhaps they have managed to succeed despite their classification and are able to function intellectually and take the regular testing. This speaks towards the special needs programs. With regards to Westmoreland: Not all schools are equipped to handle special needs kids and they are bussed to other schools in the district. If you look at the 10/18 BOE minutes, you will see that Westmoreland and Lyncrest have 0 special needs kids which statistically is impossible that two areas of town have no special needs kids. There are 190 elementary children classified. By middle school, it is 51 evenly divided and at the HS level 47 (which is about 3% of the H.S). I think this shows only the most severe cases need the extra help, and the majority are able to succeed before then. Just because a child is classified, does not mean that they have to go to separate programs. I know a number of children in my daughter's class who are considered "special needs" - but spend most of their time in the regular classroom - with some pullout time. With regards to funding of special needs - I remember seeing some details on Watson's budget presentations - I think there is county money here.
Robinhooded October 24, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Been to the meetings, and guess what? You get treated like dirt. Very little gets accomplished. Watch the council meetings and see how residents get treated!
Stuart Pace October 24, 2012 at 07:21 PM
I have been to the meetings.I have always been treated with respect. Sorry to hear of your bad experiences.
Ezra P. October 24, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Actually - Watson has made it clear that whenever possible - do not send special needs children out of district... (unless medical or other special reasons). For other districts to send children here - they need to pay for it. The detailed expenditure sheets are on the BOE website...
(0) October 24, 2012 at 08:24 PM
maybe he wore a bag over his head and claimed his name was robinhooded so the council didnt take him serious.... i watch the meetings and i dont see them mistreating residents
TeacherMom October 24, 2012 at 08:37 PM
When an out of district student is placed in a Fair Lawn program, the home district pays tuition to Fair Lawn. The rates are public and can be found in BOE minutes.
TeacherMom October 24, 2012 at 08:48 PM
Fair Lawn keeps so many children in district that other districts would send out. Your source must be mistaken.
Danny L October 25, 2012 at 02:20 AM
As a resident with an FLHS student, I have to agree with many things RB is supporting. I'm especially impressed with his handling of MMS's boiler system problems. However, a serious issue which is not being addressed in these comments is his want to increase spending on the football team's utilities. In all honesty, our football program is not great(better described as mediocre) and is unlikely to improve. Those funds could easily be used not just for other sports (Like: tennis: better lighting, covered courts. Fencing: measly budget with aged equipment that is all repaired by the coach.) But could also be used for academics, the real reason FLHS exists! Many classes are in need of new textbooks, lab equipment, etc. As much as it pains me to say it, I have to agree with my child's chemistry teacher, "Secondary education-where education is secondary". As for special education, I agree that cuts need to be made. Unlike every other student, which has felt the pain of cuts, most Spec. Ed. programs have been protected. They are a tiny part of the student population, yet more is spent on SE students individually than any "normal" student. Cuts need to be made, because many of these "normal" students are, just like in the rest of the country, struggling with the standard class level and for tutoring, can only rely on other students, unless parents can pay for a private tutor! I'm lucky enough that my child has the genes and opportunity to succeed, but we have to help everyone!
TeacherMom October 25, 2012 at 11:19 AM
Putting "normal" in quotes does not make your comments about special education any less ignorant. There are laws in place to guarantee that children with disabilities get a free and appropriate education, just like any other child. Not every family is blessed with genes and opportunity. I'm curious if you know enough about FL's Special Ed. Program to make true suggestions about what to cut. Educating children with special needs in our own schools is a huge cost savings. The tuition at private special education schools is often at least double the cost of educating kids right here in Fair Lawn.
Kathleen Echevarria October 25, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Danny L - I think you misread regarding football. Looking back at the article, the reference was to the football field and not the football program. While yes obviously the football program would benefit, so would many other sports that can potentially utilize the field, as well as, the Marching Band. A topic not discussed here is the support of the arts in school - the music program. My child was involved in the Marching Band for many years and I was the President of the Friends of Music the parent group in support of that program. There have been studies that student involvement in music has a positive impact on other areas of their lives i.e. self-discipline, dexterity, coordination, self-esteem, thinking skills, listening skills, creative abilities and personal expression. Not to mention that most music students tend to score higher in both math and english on the SATs. We need well rounded children. I would love to see more support of the Arts from all.
Isaac Finkelstein October 26, 2012 at 05:03 PM
From the article: "If reelected, Barbarulo said his goal is to find money in the budget to bring back a number of the music programs the district has had to drop in recent years due to budget cuts. He’s also hoping to eventually find funding to install lights and artificial surface at the football field, and work with the FLHS Athletic Hall of Fame Committee to find a dedicated home for the school’s athletic artifacts." So your stated goal is to spend even more of our money? Seriously? Realize, when you say "find money in the budget" what you are really saying is "find money in the already wildly overburdened taxpayers' pockets". The schools are already excellent, the goal of the BOE now should be to cut costs to bring down our insane taxes.

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