Morristown school board race to pit two familiar faces against each other

Morris School District Board Vice President Nancy Bangiola will face a challenge from former Morristown town Administrator Michael Rogers in November 2019. Photos by Kevin Coughlin
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Morris School District elections used to be sleepy, uncontested affairs. Not anymore.

On Nov. 5, 2019, board Vice President Nancy Bangiola will face her only challenge in 15 years– from Michael Rogers, Morristown’s former town administrator and her former colleague on the Morristown and Morris Township Library board.

Rogers served for a decade under two Democratic mayors before becoming  administrator for the city of Summit in September 2015.

During his Morristown tenure, Rogers was a key player in the downtown’s revitalization. He helped launch a landmark tax appeal case against Morristown Medical Center, and orchestrated five straight zero-increase town budgets, prompting Mayor Tim Dougherty to call him the finest administrator in New Jersey.

Rogers, who has a daughter in the 4th grade at the Normandy Park School, said on Tuesday that he simply wants to serve the community, and believes his fiscal experience could be helpful at budget time.

“I have a lot of respect for her,” Rogers said. “I just think it’s time for a change.”

Bangiola has enviable credentials of her own. An attorney, she serves as executive director of the Morris County Bar Association. She also is president of the library board. Three of her children have gone through district schools.

“At a moment when four of our current board members have been serving for two years or less, seasoned, experienced leadership is critical for the stability of our district,” said Bangiola, a five-term board veteran facing her first contested race.

She pointed to her role in the selection of Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast in 2015, and to her chairmanship of the negotiation committee for the last three teacher contracts. Bangiola also expressed pride in helping foster a “culture of collaboration and support” among trustees, administrators, faculty, parents and students.

From left, school board members Nancy Bangiola, Vij Pawar, Leonard Posey, Ann Rhines and Melissa Spiotta at Morristown High 2019 commencement. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

She and Rogers are vying for a Morristown seat on the school board, in a regional district serving students from Morristown, Morris Township and Morris Plains.

If Rogers prevails, he would become the second person with connections to town hall to serve on the district board.

Last year, town Attorney Vij Pawar raised more than $17,000 and easily outpolled John Creamer for a three-year seat on the regional board

MORRIS TOWNSHIP RACE

Two Township seats also will be contested.

Board Vice President Peter Gallerstein compared field trips to a virus. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Board member Peter Gallerstein, pictured in 2013. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Longtime board member Peter Gallerstein, a medical doctor, and Melissa Spiotta, a 1985 Morristown High School graduate who was appointed to fill an unexpired term last year, will face challenges from Susan M. Pedalino and Chris Crean.

Spiotta replaced Jennifer van Frank, who stepped down last summer and subsequently was hired as the district’s communications coordinator.

“The residents of Morris Township have my commitment that I will do my best to ensure a learning environment that enables students to be future-ready, and that our tax dollars are spent wisely,” said Spiotta, whose daughter will be a sophomore at Morristown High this fall.

A former president of the Hillcrest Home and School Association, Spiotta also serves on the Morris Educational Foundation Board, the Hillside Hose Ladies Auxiliary and the Mansion in May committee. She is a member of the Junior League, too.

Pedalino has taught in Hanover public schools for the last 16 years, starting as a third-grade teacher, and now as a media specialist. Her three children attend the Frelinghuysen Middle School and Alfred Vail Elementary School.

Susan Pedalino. Photo: Marcel Studios of Ridgefield Park.

A daughter of first-generation immigrants–her mother was born in Colombia and her father, in Ecuador–Pedalino said she wants to help the district’s mission of “continually raising the bar while simultaneously closing the achievement gap.  I want to ensure that every child in our community has equal access to a free and high quality education.

“My husband and I are so proud that our children are part of such an ethnically diverse, academically enriching and innovative school system. It would be my privilege and pleasure to serve this exceptional school district,” Pedalino said.

Crean is an emergency room physician with two sons attending the Frelinghuysen Middle School. One of his sons has autism, a situation that motivated Crean to run for election.

While he and his wife are pleased with the way the district has addressed their son’s unique needs, “we know our board as it is currently constructed has very little understanding and experience with issues that parents with children with special needs face.

“I feel having someone on the board that can speak to these issues will only strengthen the quality of education in this district,” Crean said.

In 2017, Meredith Davidson campaigned vigorously in a three-way race for two Morristown seats, and ousted incumbent Teresa Murphy, a board member for more than a decade. On the Township side, incumbent Leonard Posey fended off a challenge from Kenneth Sharperson that year.

This story has been updated with comments from Michael Rogers, Melissa Spiotta, Susan Pedalino and Chris Crean.

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