For the first time in New Jersey’s history, many municipalities had school board candidates on the General Election ballot this November after Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation in January allowing school boards to move their voting times.
The move, it seems, has paid off big time locally, according to an analysis by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC).
The law gave school districts an incentive to move elections by not having to post their budgets for public vote as long as it fell within the 2-percent annual tax cap. More than 86-percent of the state’s districts moved their elections from April to November this year, the report said.
All school elections and budget votes were previously held in April only.
The report said it was the lack of budget votes that created the major decrease in spending by the New Jersey Education Association, a heavy promoter of school budgets.
Both Washington Township and West Morris Regional School Districts voted to move their elections to November, but neither board was unanimous in its decision.
For those opposed, it was about taking away the right to vote on where their tax dollars were headed.
“I’m reluctant to take away the right of taxpayers to vote anywhere two-thirds of their property taxes go,” said James Button, Mendham Township representative on the West Morris Regional Board of Education who voted against the move.
“I’ll wave the flag and pass out the apple pie,” said Marcia Asdal, Chester Township representative to the regional board who also voted against the move. “I’m opposed to taking away the ability to vote. We should be able to go a different route than taking away votes.”
For then-board President Cristen Forrester, it was about the numbers.
“[April] gives us about 12-percent turnout,” Forrester said. “There is between 30 and 50-percent turnout during midterm and general elections.”
In the Chester K-8 district, the board voted to move their electon to November. Residents and board members discussed their thoughts on the issue which was put on video and posted on Patch at the time.
In Mendham, the decision to move was split. The Mendham Borough K-8 district made a similar move, changing their election to November as well. Mendham Township made the decision to keep their election where it was, despite the fact that there could be potential cost savings.
“I don’t want to be on the side of people taking the right to vote away from the constituency,” said board member Carter Abel. “And so I don’t want to be in the first group that moves the election to November. I see no reason to.”
By staying in April, the Township is allowing voters to continue to vote on the schools budget, regarding of whether or not it is over or under the state-mandated 2-percent cap. Unlike the four-year commitment required to switch, the Board can revisit the option for next year.
Under the legislation, once a board moved its vote, it could not be overturned for four years.
What do you think? Did the school boards make the right move to add elections to the November ballot? Do you think it made a difference?