In a hotly contested race haunted by the Ritacco scandal, two Toms River Regional School Board incumbents fell to challengers campaigning as reformers under the "Clean Slate" banner.
Joseph Torrone and Ginny Rhine, who campaigned together as the "Clean Slate" team, had the most votes, defeating incumbents Jack Reuther and Gus Kakavas and challenger Charlotte Ford Spillane. Rhine and Torrone would serve three-year terms.
The unoffical results, with 96 percent of Toms River districts reporting:
- Charlotte Ford Spillane, 7,820 votes, 18.48%
- Gus Kakavas 8,840 votes, 20.89%
- Ginny Rhine 9,918, 23.44%
- Joseph G. Torrone 9,033, 21.35%
- John Reuther 6,598, 15.59%
- Write-In 104, 0.25%
- Total: 42,313
South Toms River challenger wins
Longtime incumbent Jamie Jubert lost by 57 votes. Challenger Gidalty "Gigi" Esparza took the one seat representing South Toms River.
The school board, a regional one, has a seat for South Toms River, Pine Beach and Beachwood.
Gigi Esparza, 458 votes, 53.26 percent
Jamie Jubert, 401 votes, 46.63 percent
Write-in: 1 vote
860 votes total.
"Clean Slate" takes school board majority
With a victory of Torrone, Rhine and Esparza, the so-called "Clean Slate" team has a majority on the nine-member school board. Last year "Clean Slate" candidates Ben Giovine, Loreen Torrone and Alex Pavliv won.
The three are sometimes the lone dissenting votes on board matters, such as a vote on administrator contracts. But for 2013 the six board member will have a majority, leaving longtime incumbents Tom Baxter, Ed Gearity and Mike Jedzeniak as the minority.
Ritacco scandal remained an issue
The "Clean Slate" team of Torrone and Rhine campaigned strongly on "Ending the Ritacco Era," a message continued from a campaign last year that saw the election of current members Ben Giovine, Alex Pavliv and Lorreen Torrone.
Torrone and Rhine said many of the professionals and attitudes are still in place from the "Ritacco Era," referring to former superintendent Michael Ritacco, convicted of tax evasion relating to bribery in the school district for inflated insurance contracts and kickbacks.
Incumbents said the two years since Ritacco's arrest they have pushed for important reforms, such as ousting the old auditor and insurance broker.
Challengers Torrone and Rhine pushed for stronger reforms and more transparency, hoping to televise or videotape school board meetings and create subcommittees along for more community and school board oversight.
Candidates focused on improving district in vardied ways
Spillane positioned herself as an experienced former administrator who worked with superintendents before Ritacco, and wanted to restore many programs since canceled, such as in-school suspension and a physical space for the Toms River Schools Hall of Fame.
Kakavas and Reuther said that they worked with Ritacco for a mere 10 months on the board and often disagreed with the man. Kakavas said it was unfair for challengers to say they were part of the "Ritacco Era."
Challenger Rhine, 32, said she ran because she saw an atmosphere of corruption that exited for years under Ritacco and continued today.
"I decided to run because I realized there were problems in our district. But not until, I started running did I realize the extent of our problems. I am shocked and appalled at the way our district has been managed both before Ritacco was indicted and since," said Rhine, who is a homemaker and former Advanced Placement teacher.
During the campaign, Reuther said he was apalled to find himself blasted as part of "The Ritacco Era," when he and Kakavas felt there pushed hard for reforms.
"It has been frustrating to be labeled the 'Ritacco Era' board member. Gus and I were on for 11 months when the FBI raided Superintendent Ritacco’s house," Reuther said.
Reuther ran for a second term because "There is still important work to be done. I have promised my wife that if I am re-elected I will serve 3 more years then pass the torch on to others."
Torrone, who is married to current board member Loreen Torrone, is a former superintendent of the Brielle district. He pledged to bring that experience to Toms River Regional, to both increase community participation in the district and also create better education, with a strong eye toward eliminating waste created in the "Ritacco Era."
First year of November elections
With longer voting hours and coupled with national race turnout, this was the first November voters saw a school board race on the ballot.
All Ocean County School Districts, with the exception of Lakewood, opted to move their School Board elections from April to November as a result of a bill signed into law by Governor Christie in January, which then Toms River Regional voted to move the election locally.
Usually polls in an April race opened later in the day, but moving the election to November also increased the number of polling hours.
It was the first year the Toms River Regional School District didn't have to work to ask voters to approve its school budget and tax levy.