Gov. Chris Christie signed new legislation at the state level a few weeks ago, which Collingswood Public School District Board of Education voted in favor of. Changes could move school elections from April to November, and eliminate a direct school budget vote from ballots.
Here, Collingswood Superintendent Dr. Scott A. Oswald clears up questions surrounding the legislation.
What does this new legislation mean for Collingswood voters?
In basic terms, the legislation allows the election to be moved (via resolution) by the board of education itself, a resolution by the municipal governing body, or by a referendum by voters.
If a board approves a resolution (as Collingswood Board of Education did earlier this month) to move the election, and the school budget remains under (the two percent cap), our school board candidates will appear on the November ballot. But the budget itself would not be subject to a direct vote unless it exceeded the two percent cap set forth by law.
The budget must still be approved by a vote of the board and by the executive county superintendent, even if it remains at—or under—the two percent cap. Last year, the Collingswood tax rate increased by about one-half of one percent.
What benefits could this new legislation yield?
The upside of this decision is that more people pay attention, and vote, in the November elections. So this should result in larger turnout for our school board elections.
Voters should investigate the issues and vote for candidates that share their values and priorities. Just like an election for president, governor, or mayor, voters should listen to the positions of the candidates and support those who share their priorities be they taxes, programs, or other issues.
Moving the vote to November should also save the district money, as we (would no longer) have to pay for our own, special April election. While not wildly expensive, there is a cost involved (with April elections).
Finally, the decision will allow for longer-term planning. There will be fewer “what if the budget is defeated” questions, which will allow for planning—with confidence—over the course of several years.
What negative effects could this new legislation yield?
The biggest downside of the resolution is removing the vote on the budget from the ballot. I'm sure this will upset some voters, because this is their only chance to vote 'no' on a budget in a direct manner.
Herein lies the problem—no matter what the school district does, if folks are upset with taxes from the federal level, state level, county level, or municipal level, the only place they can voice their frustration directly is on the school budget ballot.
My question is, “Is that fair?” I think it would be fair if the president, governor, county freeholders, and mayor let me vote directly on their budgets. They do not.
Year after year, we hear from people who vote 'no,' simply because it is the only direct 'no' vote they're afforded. And year after year, I talk to people who tell me, without hesitation, their kids have a great education in Collingswood and they think we do a good job—but they just can’t afford a penny more in taxes.
I understand this, but folks must remember that we are not the only taxing body, and it is inherently unfair to direct every ounce of anti-tax sentiment at the schools. Educating kids—all kids—is expensive. We have volumes of state and federal mandates we must honor, and that is also expensive.
Our school board members work hard to hold the line on tax increases, and have been successful in recent years. Our board members are residents who pay taxes, too. Despite the fact that they spend an incredible amount of time addressing district needs and planning programs, they never lose sight of the impact increased taxes have on the community.
I think the community can rest assured that the members of Collingswood Board of Education—their neighbors—share their concern over increased taxes.
Overall, what is the school board's collective opinion of this legislation?
The school board believes adopting this system, with the cap, will allow for longer-term planning, and should result in efficiencies over the long term.
If our state aid remains consistent this year, I think the voters and tax payers of Collingswood will be pleased with the budget we will present.
The process is incredibly transparent, if residents are interested and willing to attend a meeting and allow their voices to be heard. At our January 2012 meeting, we had only two residents (in attendance). There is a time period for the presentation, and ample time for questions.
Click here to read part one of this series, featuring state-level breakdowns of the legislation.