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Trio Stump for Election to Board of Education

Incumbent Ann Rhines, and Fran Rossoff and Helene Barsamian, fielded questions Tuesday at Thomas Jefferson School.

It may have been a very light turnout at Tuesday night's Morris School District Board of Education "Candidate's Night," but those that did attend had plenty of questions for the three women vying for two seats.

The trio of Morris Township residents–Helene Barsamian, Fran Rossoff and incumbent Ann Rhines–fielded about two dozen questions from about two dozen attendees to the League of Women Voters of the Morristown Area-sponsored event at . They are running for a pair of contested seats on the Board, including Rhines', which she has held for nine years.

Two other open seats, currently held by Morristown residents Leonard Posey and Jeannette Thomas, are uncontested.

Rhines taught in the Morris School District for 50 years, retiring in 2001. Both she and Rossoff–a Board of Trustee member for the Morris Educational Foundation–had all their now-grown children educated through the District. Barsamian, a former professional fundraiser, sent her children to the in Morristown and The Pingry School in Short Hills.

The three candidates expressed similar positions on a number of issues, including ; the need for continued support for students where English is not their first language; and making sure every child in the District is well-represented.

However, not every issue was a consensus.

Barsamian, a nearly 40-year resident of the Township, called herself a potential "fresh perspective" for the Board of Education. While the District has been able to keep costs in check and the annual budgets below the 2-percent cap required in the state, much of that through grants provided by the Morris Educational Foundation, she suggested there are even more ways to gain funds for the Morris School District. This could include private funding from corporations, she said.

"A lot of companies could do a lot more to help us along," she said. When asked by a member of the audience whether such an idea was risky, Barsamian said, "It is risky, but life is a risk."

Both Rossoff and Rhines–also an MEF trustee–did not quite jive with the idea.

"Personally, I'm not willing to take big risks with our student's education," Rossoff said.

The two sitting members of the MEF also diverged slightly regarding a question about charter schools and the role they play in the education system.

Rhines, a self-professed "cheerleader" for the Morris School District, said it provides as good of an education to charter schools like the Township's Unity Charter School–"maybe better," she added–and said the benefits of them rested more in urban areas.

She noted the Morris School District presently spends about $1 million a year to send about 30 students here to Unity Charter School, which has a greater focus on sustainability and the environment.

"I like the idea of choice," Rossoff said. "As a taxpayer, I would like some choice. I would like to learn more."

One question, regarding the candidate's opinions on "Intelligent Design" and its role in schools, had both Rhines and Rossoff declaring ignorance to the topic.

Barsamian, however, said "all sides of that issue should be presented.

And, it should be balanced with what's taught at home," she said. "I am for exposing children to both sides."

That was an answer that perked up attendee Pat Collins. "That was the best answer," she said. "That, I loved."

Collins said the event was informative and a great way for people to make an informed choice come Election Day on April 17. "I just wish a lot more had turned out," she said.

Attendee Bill Schlosser agreed. He, too, however, found the event to be a benefit to him and his decision-making process. "It's great to let us know what their passions are," he said.

Rossoff said she wants to make sure the disparity of test scores between students in the Morris School District continues to be addressed and, hopefully, solved.

Rhines hopes the District can continue to provide "the best education to our students. I want all students to become lifelong learners," she said.

Barsamian said teachers, and the District need to "steer children's minds.

"We need to have a conversation, between teacher, family and school district," she said.

Overall, the point of the evening, and the trio fielding questions from the stage, was according to Rossoff: "Our students in the Morris School District are the reason why we're here."

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