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1-13-12 Alternative Press-Legislature Votes for Changes to School Board Election Dates and Budget Votes
(Read article for some specific information of this law.) "...Two years ago,New Jersey voters rejected 260 of 479 school budgets, even ones that includedsignificant cuts and were within the state cap. Accordingto Lynne Strickland, Executive Director of the Garden State Coalition ForSchools, which represents suburban schools, most of her districts support this bill. “School boards appreciate the fact that there’s an option,” she said.

Dr. JamesCrisfield, Superintendent of Millburn Township Schools, is one administratorwho sees the value of eliminating budget votes...Strickland has concerns about the options to initiate a change to November as detailed inthe legislation. The fact that a municipality can, on its own, make a resolution without support of the Board of Education, and vice versa, sets aprecedent. Strickland said she believes this raises a “governance concern.” She also mentioned that some people worry that school elections could turn partisan whenheld in November alongside major state and national contests..."

Alternative Press - Legislature Votes For Changes to School Board Election Dates and Budget Votes

By Sara Lazarus, Friday, January 13, 2012 • 6:17am
A measure to allow towns and school districts to move school board elections to November passed in both the State Assembly and Senate on the final day of the Lame Duck session, Monday, Jan.9.

Schoolbudget votes would be eliminated in any districts that approve the change toNovember, as long as the budget doesn’t exceed the state’s property tax cap,currently two percent. Any “second questions” for spending above the cap wouldstill require taxpayer approval, and be presented to the voters in November.

Districtsthat opt to move their elections from the previous April dates to the generalelection must then keep them in November for at least four years.

Thelegislation has been sent to Governor Chris Christie for his signature.

These bills(A-4394 and S-3148) were sponsored by Senator Donald Norcross and AssemblymanLou Greenwald, both Democrats who represent Camden. The bills passed handily,by a vote of 34-3 in the Senate, and 62-11 in the Assembly.

Thelegislation received the support of the state’s largest teachers’ union, theNew Jersey Education Association (NJEA.)

Proponentssay that holding the school board vote on the day of the general election inNovember will save money. By eliminating a spring election, there would be asavings of any costs required to open the polls for another day. It is alsoexpected that moving school board elections to the fall will increase thenumber of voters. Turnout for April elections has traditionally beenlow—between 10 and 15 percent.


“Politiciansand pundits have talked about doing this for years, but special interests andinertia have prevented progress on this important issue – until today,” saidGreenwald on Monday.
Greenwaldsaid he feels that other attempts to consolidate election dates in the pasthave failed in part because they mandated the switch.

This legislation makesthe change optional. Districts can choose to continue to hold April elections,or they can approve the move to November in one of the following ways:


1.   Adoptionof a resolution by a town’s board of education
2.   Adoptionof a resolution by a town’s governing body
3.   Bya petition signed by 15 percent of the legally qualified voters who voted inthe immediately preceding presidential election. That petition must be filedwith the board of education

One of thefactors prompting legislators to allow districts to submit budgets withoutvoter approval is that an election held in November is out of sync with thebudget year, and would force school boards to formulate budgets before theyhave the relevant facts and figures.
Allowingresidents to vote on school budget votes has been a political tradition in NewJersey for more than a century.

Yet becauseschool budgets are the only fiscal measures on which residents can vote, budgetelections frequently become the sole way taxpayers can take out their angerabout the difficult financial climate and high property taxes. Two years ago,New Jersey voters rejected 260 of 479 school budgets, even ones that includedsignificant cuts and were within the state cap.

Accordingto Lynne Strickland, Executive Director of the Garden State Coalition ForSchools, which represents suburban schools, most of her districts support this bill. “School boards appreciate the fact that there’s an option,” she said.

Dr. JamesCrisfield, Superintendent of Millburn Township Schools, is one administratorwho sees the value of eliminating budget votes. Crisfield says, “I do believethat a school board that works hard to provide a first-class educationexperience for the community, while at the same time capturing efficiencies suchthat they are able to keep the annual tax increase in line with the Governor’scap, should not have to expend the time and energy and money to also have avote. If we’re going to have a vote, why also have such a restrictive cap?Having one or the other makes sense to me, but not both.”

Strickland has concerns about the options to initiate a change to November as detailed inthe legislation. The fact that a municipality can, on its own, make a resolution without support of the Board of Education, and vice versa, sets aprecedent. Strickland said she believes this raises a “governance concern.”

She also mentioned that some people worry that school elections could turn partisan whenheld in November alongside major state and national contests. It might becomemore difficult and expensive for local school board candidates to have theirmessages heard, and they could find they need the financial assistance andpromotional abilities of political parties.


Crisfield feels torn about November elections. “On the one hand, I fully endorse gettingrid of the inefficiencies and added cost of having to gear up for anothervoting effort in April—it does cost time and money to get the polls up andrunning, and then when such a small percentage of the eligible voters participate,it really makes the whole operation seem wasteful. On the other hand, movingthings to November will inject partisan politics into the education sphere, andI strongly object to that.”

Thegovernor has not yet taken a position on the legislation.


After speaking with the Governor’s Counsel’s office last Friday, Strickland thinksthat Christie will eventually sign this bill. A change to November schoolelections was part of the Governor’s “tool kit” of education reforms. However,he expected a law that would apply to all districts, not one that would leavesome towns with elections in April and others in November.

Strickland has adopted a wait-and-see attitude, saying that "over time we'll have abetter idea of how this all plays out."


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828