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PART TWO: School Officials Answer Questions About New Legislation

New legislation could move school board elections from April to November, and eliminate a direct vote on school budgets.

Gov. Chris Christie signed new legislation at the state level a few weeks ago, which Board of Education . 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 ) 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.

We began with the public at our , and will continue those opportunities (at our meetings in) February and March.

The process is incredibly transparent, if residents are interested and willing to attend a meeting and allow their voices to be heard. At our , we had only two residents (in attendance). There is a time period for the presentation, and ample time for questions.

 

Click to read part one of this series, featuring state-level breakdowns of the legislation.

Shirley February 01, 2012 at 08:57 PM
The school tax represents the largest percentage of my property taxes. I'd like to vote on the school budget.
Loretka February 02, 2012 at 06:23 AM
It is totally unfair to not allow taxpayers to vote on the school budget. The school tax constitutes the largest portion of our property taxes. We do get to vote on bond referendums regarding state, county and municipal expenditures which, in essence, affect our taxes. We have the right to vote on the school budget .
Sean Andrew February 02, 2012 at 12:12 PM
We also get to vote on bond referendums involving the schools, referendums impacting taxes. That vote has not been touched.
Joe February 02, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Ms. Tiberi, are you this enraged that you do not have the opportunity to vote on the municipal budget, or the County budget, or the State budget? If you truly believe that the board of education is being irresponsible with your tax dollars I suggest you voice your opposition by voting them out of office each November. I would wholeheartedly disagree funds are being spent irresponsibly but if you see (saw) it differently you are certainly entitled to your opinion. Our BOE has been very lucky to have the support of the community over the years but the fact remains that the traditionally low voter turnout makes it easier for groups to band together to defeat a budget. And when the school budget is defeated the only people who suffer are our children because 75% to 80% of the budget is contractual in nature and unavoidable. As such, the only cuts to be made are to educational programs. Be sure you understand that this legislation does not mean that districts can suddenly start spending millions of dollars without voter say-so. BOE's are still limited to a 2% cap, most of which is eaten up by contractual obligations, i.e. salaries/benefits. Any increase over the 2% cap would go to the voters each November. I understand how you feel about voting on budgets but the fact is that I trust our BOE with my tax dollars far more than any other entity. At least I know how those dollars are being spent AND that they are being spent right here in Collingswood.
Kevin February 04, 2012 at 12:18 PM
Joe, why would you trust anyone with your tax dollars? What government agency has every been responsible with public money? If they were responsible the cost of educating a child would not be at the insane levels they are now with the low results dollar for dollar with other districts, and compared with other countries.
Joe February 05, 2012 at 03:14 AM
Kevin, in a perfect world I would not have to trust ANYBODY with my tax dollars; however, taxes are a fact of life. Since I do have to pay taxes, there is no other entity I trust more with those dollars than my BOE. Even without a vote under the 2% cap, we still have far more control over how those dollars are spent than at any other level of government. As for your responsibility comment, do you have an example of how, in your opinion, the BOE has been irresponsible with your tax dollars?

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