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School Board Elections Moved to November

Board of education approves measure in 4-1 vote

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.

wohopeful January 24, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Regardless of being under cap or not the public should have the right to vote on the budget and have a say in how our tax dollars are being spent. If the BOE is under cap but wasting a 2% increase on unnecessary items then we have little recourse but to vote out the BOE after the fact and are unable to say NO to the wasteful spending.
Gary Englert January 24, 2012 at 04:00 PM
@ wohopeful: As usual, start with a faulty premise (in this case, a couple of them) and you'll wind up with a faulty conclusion. The state-wide, 2% budget cap essentially allows for increases due to inflation which are beyond a school board or municipality's ability to control and most boards have already cut their budgets to the bone, given reductions in state aid and almost mindless political pressures. If you, or anyone else, can identify and make a case for something being "wasteful spending," that can and should be done at any public Board of Education meeting and surely during budget hearings. Continuing this annual pilloriyng of well-intentioned, unpaid school board members (who pay taxes like everyone else) and the budgets they agonize over serves very little practical purpose. Do keep in mind that school budgets are the only government/quasi-government expense package that have appeared on a ballot for some time, and that alone should give us all reason to pause to consider the cause and effect of it all.
MP January 24, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Just cut the extravagent salaries and benefits paid to municipal/BOE employess to reduce the taxes on people. This 2% is a joke because it doesn't include some other expenses supported by Democrats. We need to reduce the taxes, not increase by 2% or more. Christie did a good job of slowing down the growth but he needs to focus on cutting it now.
Gary Englert January 24, 2012 at 07:11 PM
@ MP: Both beauty and extravagence are in the eyes of the beholder. Most Democrats would opine that a $500,000 dredit line at Tiffany's is more than any mortal needs. Newt Gingrich (one of you Republicans of note) apparently doesn't agree and it's too bad Mitt Romney isn't a fundamentalist Mormon as he surely could afford a slew of sister wives. Frankly? I'm not at all sure that anyone on the municipal or Board of Ed payroll is being paid out of line with their education, experience and responsibilities.
wohopeful January 24, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Stripping the public of their right to vote on the WOBOE budget is undemocratic and obviously a reflection on those board members who voted in favor of this tyranny.
Ryan January 24, 2012 at 07:57 PM
The public doesn't vote on the town, county, state or federal budget. Is that undemocratic too? Do you advocate annual referenda in these cases woho? Why or why not?
Gary Englert January 24, 2012 at 08:37 PM
@ wohopeful: That's nonsense and you know it. First and foremost, this proposal was universally embraced (and enacted into law) by Governor Christie and both sides of the legislature. The Board of Ed budget already has a statutory cap on it, that's tied to inflation and the expenditure for education IS legally mandated and can't neither be eliminated nor crippled. People who vote against these budgets (like you) rarely have a complete understanding of what they contain and their expectations (for substantial reductions) are rarely met when they are defeated. Its nothing more than an exercise in misplaced rage. Referendums for significant expenditures will still need voter approval...still unlike much of anything else our tax dollars pay for. It's also not tyranny when you have the right to elect the people who vote for the expendures and you may make your feelings known to them...though the majority still rules.
MP January 24, 2012 at 08:39 PM
Ask the municipal employees/teachers to apply for a job in the private seector. They will be find out how well they are paid now (including pension and benefits) for the hours they work. There is no comparison.
MP January 24, 2012 at 08:48 PM
People should be suspicious of the farcical negotiation between unions and the Democrats elected by uinon votes. People should have the right to reject the budget for that reason alone.
Gary Englert January 24, 2012 at 09:10 PM
@ MP: FYI, I think you'll find that 2 of the 5 sitting Board of Ed members are registered Republicans and at least one of them must vote in the affirmative to ratify any contract negotiated with the teachers' union. Hindsight is always 20-20: Do you look back and wish you chose to become a teacher? Oh, well!
Cynthia Cumming January 25, 2012 at 04:08 PM
The BOE took advantage of what Gov. Christie's tool kit offered. If the budget exceeds 2% then taxpayers get to vote. This is now in place for 4 years. This will save taxpayers money in moving the elections to November. It perplexes me to continually hear about how teachers are overpaid and don't seem to know the meaning of the word work. That's certainly not what I see. What I think wohopeful is unhappy about is that since he's been part of the 'Say No the School Budget' brigade here in town for the past few years, he won't get to vote no, even if the budget only goes up a half or one percent.
WillRod January 26, 2012 at 04:27 PM
I would like someone to explain to me the business justification for removing the school budget vote. Moving the elections to November makes business and common sense, we save money and increase voter turn out. If we are already at the voting booth, why can't we officially record our opinion on the school budget. What we gain by voting on the budget is a measure of public opinion, what do we gain by removing the vote? Nothing. Im a democrat but Im so happy I voted for Christie. Prior to the cap, budgets were out of control. I know there are reasons for the increases over the years (population growth, special ed, etc.) but the cap has forced schools to do more with less. Thats not a bad thing, it promotes efficiency. The 2% is a great start, but it should not be treated as an entitlement in which every year the budget automatically increases that much. Now I know that hasnt happened yet, but Im afraid this is a move in that direction. As a taxpayer, I certainly hope not.
MP January 26, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Democrats in the statehouse don't want the public to vote on school budgets in November. This was done at the insistence of teachers unions. They are afraid people will vote the budget down.
Gary Englert January 26, 2012 at 04:51 PM
@ WillRod: Of necessity, Board of Educations have a fiscal year that does not lend itself to awaiting budget approval in November. Like it or not, providing a public education is a legal mandate that costs what it costs, 80-85% of said cost which is also mandated and/or contractually obligated in most districts. The idea that any property owner would see a significant reduction in his/her taxes as a result of a budget being defeated was always wishful thinking. Given the existing mandates and the cap now in place, there's really very little wiggle room in most every school system and the public's concerns have been more than reasonably addressed. Do you have the opportunity to vote directly on any other budget? Defense? Homeland security? Medicare? No. You elect people to safeguard your interests and make your feelings known to them. My only concern about moving Board of Ed elections to November is the difficulty that will accure to these local candidates (for unpaid office) getting their particular message and platform heard. I fear it will be lost in the money-media avalanche that accompanies state-wide and federal elections.
Cynthia Cumming January 26, 2012 at 05:23 PM
As a reminder, Gov. Christie put this together as part of his tool kit. I suppose you can complain to him. The teacher's union didn't make this call.
WillRod January 26, 2012 at 10:33 PM
@ Gary: I understand your point about awiting until November to approve a budgets but it appears that has already been taken into consideration by the board secretary, Mark Kenney "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." I also understand the folly of believing taxes would go down when a school budget is defeated. In the past, even when budgets were defeated, there were always extraordinary circumstances that allowed some increases to go through. In fact, thats true today as the 2% cap is not a hard cap in that certain expenses are exempted. The fact remains, healthcare and pension costs are crippling the system. Everyone is to blame, the polictians who knew pension assumptions were unreasonable, the public for not voting or getting involved, the union leadership and public employees for taking advantage of a flawed system. We are all to blame. Now lets fix it for everyones sake. Giving taxpayers less of a voice is not a step in the right direction especially since most of us have lost faith in our political leadership, democrat and republican.

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