3-10-14 Education in the News
The Record - Number of North Jersey school districts with April elections continues to drop

NJ Spotlight - State's ‘One Newark’ Plan May be Facing Tough Audience in Trenton...Some legislators have already made displeasure known -- critics, union members, community organizers to be on hand

The Record - Number of North Jersey school districts with April elections continues to drop

Sunday March 9, 2014, 4:47 PM BY JOHN C. ENSSLIN STAFF WRITER

The number of school districts opting to hold their elections this spring in Bergen and Passaic counties continues to dwindle. In Bergen County, elections officials say nine school districts will hold elections on April 23. That is down from 20 districts two years ago, when state law gave local school boards the option to move their balloting to the November general election.

 The towns holding elections that day are Cliffside Park, Emerson, Fairview, Garfield, Hackensack, Midland Park, Oakland, Palisades Park and Ramsey. In Passaic County, the decrease is even more dramatic. Two years ago, seven districts stuck with spring elections; this year, it is down to two: the borough of Totowa and the city of Passaic.

 “It’s the cost of the election and the turnout,” Passaic County Clerk Kristin Corrado said Monday. Corrado said some districts, however, will hold special elections on improvement questions, like one in Bloomingdale scheduled for Tuesday.

 The numbers in North Jersey mirror a statewide trend of fewer districts opting for a spring vote. When the New Jersey School Boards Association surveyed districts in February 2012, they found 413 of the 538 districts that elect trustees had moved their elections to November. This year, that number grew to 514 districts. When the law changed two years ago, it allowed school districts to lower their election costs. Voters still chose trustees, but districts no longer had to put their tax levies up for a vote, provided that the increase stayed within a 2 percent cap.

Another aim of the law was to increase voter participation from the spring elections, when historically less than 15 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. But Bergen County Clerk John Hogan said designing a November ballot that includes school board candidates has been a challenge. In the first year, Hogan said, the county placed the school board elections under the public questions. But there were complaints that too many voters failed to get that far down the ballot. Moving them to the right side of the ballot also was problematic, he said. Hogan said his staff is researching the possibility of placing the school board elections in the upper right-hand corner of the ballot, if possible, in the fall.

“However we can convince more people to vote in school board elections, we’re going to try,” Hogan said. Veronica Bolcik McKenna, president of the Hackensack school board, said the board had not talked much about moving the election, in part because of the city’s history and circumstances. Until the early 1990s, the city had an appointed board. She said that changed when voters overwhelmingly approved an elected board and won the right to approve school budgets. She said the city has a non-partisan form of government, and holds municipal elections in May rather than November. “We’re in a unique situation,” she said.

Email: ensslin@northjersey.com

NJ Spotlight - State's ‘One Newark’ Plan May be Facing Tough Audience in Trenton

John Mooney | March 10, 2014

Some legislators have already made displeasure known -- critics, union members, community organizers to be on hand


The controversial One Newark plan for reorganizing New Jersey’s largest school district has not been short of public forums, with local meetings around the city sparking acrimonious debate for months.

Now the plan that calls for the closing and consolidation of a half-dozen schools and the potential layoff of hundreds of teachers will get its formal hearing in Trenton -- and maybe before no more sympathetic an audience.

Related Links

“One Newark” presentation (February 2014)

Seniority Waiver Request

The legislature’s Joint Committee on the Public Schools will host a hearing on Tuesday morning to hear testimony on the One Newark plan.

It will be the committee’s first meeting of the new session, with the chief order of business to name officers and various subcommittees.

But the One Newark discussion will be the highlight event, with a number of critics among the invited guests, and committee members already raising questions and concerns.

The committee has invited a range of speakers, including the chair of the local School Advisory Board, Antoinette Baskerville Richardson. It will also hear from union leaders and academic and legal experts who have been critical of the state’s operation of the district.

The hearing may be short of defenders of Anderson’s plan. Officials of the state Department of Education are not expected to testify, and a spokesman for state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson could not confirm whether she or her staff would attend.

At the center of the debate has been the extensive plans laid out by Anderson this winter to drastically reorganize the district, including the turnover of four schools to charter operators.

More recently, Anderson sparked a new furor with her request to the state to waive seniority rules in the layoff of as many as 1,000 teachers in the next three years to address shrinking enrollments.

The district provided a copy of the full waiver request last week.

The plans have already drawn intense protest from state legislators, including members of the joint committee. State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) has led the push-back in the Legislature against Newark’s planned school closings, sponsoring a bill that would add an extensive public process to any closure statewide. Rice is the past chairman and leading voice on the Joint Committee.

And state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) has crafted a resolution that passed both the Senate and Assembly objecting to the waiver request as counter to the state law that protects seniority rights. Ruiz is also a member of the Joint Committee.