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.”