Three seats are up for grabs for the Dover Board of Education on Election Day. But only three of the six candidates on the ballot participated in a virtual forum Thursday cosponsored by the League of Women Voters Morristown Area, the Daily Record and the NAACP Morristown Chapter.
Representing the "Education For All" ticket were Lorenna Garcia, Angela Ramos-Gamo and the only incumbent in the field, Krista Seanor. The "Unity For Education" ticket of Victoria Pinales, Washington Pro and Maria Solines did not participate and did not respond to email inquiries about the event.
Board members Dahiana Grisales and Benjamin Robles, whose terms expire at the end of the year, are not on the ballot.
That left the forum free of debate as the Education For All Candidates spoke without opposition, answering questions bracketed into themes of board member responsibilities, budget and financial issues and student safety. Referring to her team, Seanor said, "We don't always agree," but no conflicts arose during the hourlong event.
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All three agreed on several issues, including the need for more classroom space, traffic control during school dropoff hours and unqualified endorsements of the controversial state policy 5756, which requires school officials to accept a student's gender identification without notifying their parents.
Seanor offered her experience as a 6-year board member, a former teacher in the district, a former member of the library board and a parent of two children educated in Dover. She also touted programs launched during her time on the board including free pre-K for 3-and 4-year-olds and "Breakfast After the Bell" to ensure "that no child goes to school hungry."
"We have improved communication, providing livestreaming of our board meetings, allowing virtual comments and Spanish interpretation," Seanor said. "Every student gets an age-appropriate device and if a child needs Wi-Fi, the district will provide them with a hotspot."
She also acknowledged the "unique and very challenging issues" in a district serving a Dover population that is 68.4% Hispanic or Latino, according to 2022 U.S. Census figures. The district also serves all students in neighboring Victory Gardens and those in grades 7 to 12 from Mine Hill.
The district includes about 3,500 students in five schools, including a high school and middle school.
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"But our work is not done," Seanor added. "We still have a lot to do. Our students are still struggling in overcrowded schools. We need programs and pathways so that all Dover students leave high school with the necessary skills and a plan for the future."
Seanor specifically said the district must do better in terms of spending on teachers and students.
"Our teachers are among the lowest-paid in the county and we spend amongst the lowest in the county per pupil," she said.
"I think they are doing a good job, but they could be doing better," said Ramos-Gama, a Victory Gardens resident.
Ramos-Gama described herself as a frequent community and district volunteer with a focus on advocacy for students with disabilities.
Garcia currently works as a social worker and therapist providing support and advocacy to families - "which provides me with a unique perspective of students and adolescent needs," she said. She is mother to three children in the district, including a seventh-grader, a sophomore and a 2023 graduate.
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"As an active participant in the district, I realize as the community grows, the district faces challenges with space, increased enrollment, meeting student's needs including language barriers, mental health, housing stability and academics, to name a few," Garcia said.
"I believe in inclusion, acceptance and empowering parents, staff and the community to advocate for the best education regardless of where you are coming from, who you are and what beliefs you may have," Ramos-Garcia said in her concluding remarks.
Election day is Nov. 7. The deadline to register to vote in this year's election is Oct. 17. Early voting begins on Oct. 28. The deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is Oct. 31. Mail-in ballots are also available in Spanish.
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.