Elections for local school board members will no longer take place in April this year. The board of education voted Monday night to shift the elections to November in an effort to save money for the district and increase voter participation.
The change also eliminates the public's vote on the school budget as long as the budget remains under the two percent property tax cap.
The resolution passed in a 4-1 vote, with board member Sandra Mordecai the sole dissenter.
"We don't quite know what this means. When we move it to November, we'll be locked for four years," Mordecai said, adding that she felt the move was "too rushed."
Mordecai's motion to table the resolution was denied as she only garnered support from board member Michelle Casalino.
Though not adamantly opposed to the change, Mordecai said the vote was too hasty as the legislation had just been approved.
The state Assembly and Senate passed a bill granting school districts the option of changing elections on the last day of the lame duck session earlier this month.
Board vice president Paul Petigrow vigorously argued in favor of the change, "It's not hasty. This has been discussed for years."
He also defended removing the public's vote on the budget. "There's no reason for the public to be voting for a budget that is under cap … there is no reason why there should be a difference between the town council or the school budget."
Having served 12 years on the school board, Petigrow said the "real issue" in approving the legislation was to spike voter participation. "Only eight to 10 percent of the people are voting in April. We can get more people out in November and get more people participating in the board of education."
Mark Kenney, business administrator and board secretary, said elections cost around $52,000 a year and estimated the move would save the district roughly $25,000 to $30,000 each election year.
He said that should the budget exceed the two percent tax levy, a temporary budget would be implemented while residents vote on the budget in November. Should the budget be rejected, the temporary budget becomes the final budget.
Kenney said that for the change to affect this year's elections, a resolution had to be implemented by the school board, town council or by public petition before the school budget is submitted to the county in March.
Come this November, two seats will up for grabs on the school board — Petigrow's and Casalino's.
Caselino made her intent to run for re-election clear and though she supported the move, was wary of being the first to experience the change, "I'll be honest with you, it's going to be a different race."
Where candidates could run with "not so much money" before, Casalino said, "a November election is a November election so I think it will be harder for candidates to have to come up with more campaign funds to run."
Resident Windale Simpson also worried the change would reduce the field of candidates. Though in favor of the change, he also urged the board to table the measure, "I don't understand the haste, the bill was just signed."
Residents mostly rallied in favor of the move.
"It's a better cross-section of the town when deciding on the vote," said resident Barry Geltzeiler. "A lot of people don't show up for an April election."
The following clause was also added to the resolution in an amendment approved by the board:
"The board of education is committed to the non partisan status of school board membership and the non partisan conduct of school elections and believes this principal will not be compromised by conducting board member elections in November."
To read the full resolution see attached agenda.