Enacting new state legislation may mean moving school elections from April to November, and possibly eliminating a direct vote for school budgets.
A separate section of November’s school election ballot will be set aside for school board candidates, and the county clerk will now be in control of the school board elections, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) said on Thursday, Jan. 26.
The school district will also save a significant amount of money by moving elections from April to November.
The NJDOE released answers to the frequently asked questions concerning its new policy—which Collingswood Board of Education at its January meeting—that allows it to move school board elections from April to November, and to pass its budget without going out to vote.
School board elections will remain non-partisan, and the county clerk will design the ballot, the state said.
Under the new law, the clerk has the “authority to determine the specifications for, and the final arrangement of, the official ballots,” said the state, and “the school board candidates will not be aligned with any political party or partisan candidates.”
"NJEA supported this legislation because it offered local districts the option of moving the election or leaving it as is, as the school board sees fit. We also support removing the budget from the election," said Steve Baker, New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) spokesman. "Nowhere else do voters get a direct say in the budget by voting for it. School boards set the budget based on their individual community and school needs—that's what they're elected to do and that's what they should be doing."
Both the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) and the NJEA support the legislation, because it leaves the decision in the hands of individual districts.
"There are many variables that differ town-to-town, and communities should be able to decide whether April or November elections work better for them,” said NJSBA spokesman Frank Belluscio.
Both groups were also fine with the provision taking budgets off the ballot, noting voters don’t have a say on municipal or county budgets. According to Belluscio, school budgets “often bear the brunt of voter dissatisfaction.”
“School boards set the budget based on their individual community and school needs,” said NJEA spokesman Steve Baker. “That's what they're elected to do and that's what they should be doing.”
The new law allows three ways to move the election and remove budgets from the ballot (one can’t be done without the other): by referendum (if 15 percent of voters from the last presidential election sign a petition), a resolution by the school board, or a resolution by the municipality.
Regardless, it's still a local elected body doing what they think is best for the town, Baker says.
Under the new legislation, budgets will remain as fiscal year, not calendar year. If a school board moves to a November election, any board member whose term would have expired in April will now expire in December. If a district opts for November, their reorganization will be in the first week of January.
School boards who do not make the change this year may do it at any point in the future. The process can be done by either school boards adopting a resolution at a public hearing to make the change, or by the town government or a voter petition.
According to New Jersey School Boards Association Spokesman Frank Belluscio:
Why is NJSBA against the provision that allows municipal governments to change the election to November?
"Municipal governing bodies are separate entities from school boards. There are many municipal governments that have nonpartisan May elections—no school board can take a vote to change that. I'm not sure how it's fair to give a municipal body the authority to change a school board election either."
Will voters have a say in school budgets?
"Voters do not get to vote on municipal or county budgets. School budgets often bear the brunt of voter dissatisfaction."
Have superintendents and school boards seemed open to moving their elections?
"It's more than I would have thought." Administrators are trying to find more information because if they want to make the change, it must be quick. While there is no firm deadline from the state for changing to November elections, there are several significant school budget-related deadlines in February approaching, including announcing the election and filing deadlines for school board candidates.
Why has NJSBA supported this legislation overall?
"This leaves the decision in the hands of districts and communities to decide what's best for them. There are many variables that differ town-to-town, and communities should be able to decide whether April or November elections work better for them."
Why is NJSBA fine with removing voter approval from school budgets, provided the budgets stay within the state-mandated cap?
"Budgets undergo review at several levels and the state Department of Education has redline authority. Voter interests are represented through the process already."
Click to read part two, Patch's in-depth interview with Collingswood Public School District Superintendent Dr. Scott A. Oswald about the new legislation.
Patch editors Anthony Bellano, Lauren Burgoon and Rob Scott contributed reporting to this piece.