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4-17-12 Over 70 communities are holding regular school elections today-Remember to go to the polls if your school vote is tomorrow
Star Ledger - In Bergen County, nearly 1 in 3 school districts keep April school board elections

Wall Street Journal - Mayoral Fight Seen in N.J. School Race

Star Ledger - School budget voting approaches for N.J. districts that opted out of new education law

NJ Spotlight - Spring’s No Break for Tuesday’s School Vote Holdouts…With most districts opting for move to November, a handful of voters head to polls

Star Ledger - In Bergen County, nearly 1 in 3 school districts keep April school board elections  Published: Tuesday, April 17, 2012, 8:46 AM Updated: Tuesday, April 17, 2012, 8:47 AM

By S.P. Sullivan, NJ.comNJ.com

BERGEN COUNTY — It's school election day in New Jersey, but only if you live in one of the handful of districts statewide that opted out of a new measure that allowed towns to roll their school elections into the November general election.

According to The Star-Ledger, 87 percent of school boards statewide have moved their school elections to November, and data released by the New Jersey School Boards Association shows that a few counties — Burlingtonm Cape May and Union — have entirely moved elections.

In Bergen County, though, 20 districts opted out of moving their elections, more than twice as many as any other county and accounting for almost one third of its districts.

They include: Cliffside Park, Closter, East Rutherford, Emerson, Englewood, Englewood Cliffs, Fairview, Garfield, Hackensack, Harrington Park, Lodi, Midland Park, Norwood, Oakland, Palisades Park, Ramsey, Ridgewood, Rutherford, South Hackensack and Wood-Ridge.

The benefit of moving school elections is economic: Rolling the cost of April elections — where turnout hovers between 10 and 15 percent — into the general election, where turnout is much higher, saves money.

The argument against the move, some towns told The Star-Ledger, is that because of the time change for school elections, where most towns also hold votes on their municipal budgets, they are no longer required to put their budget proposals up for a vote as long as they stay within a mandatory property tax cap.

Some critics also say that combining school elections with the general election unduly politicizes them, and Bergen County Clerk John S. Hogan told NJ.com earlier this year that he was taking pains to segregate the two on the November ballot.

More coverage

School budget voting approaches for N.J. districts that opted out of new education law

Bergen County municipalities split on moving school board elections to November

Related topics: cliffside-park, closter, east-rutherford, emerson, englewood, englewood-cliffs, fairview, garfield, hackensack, harrington park, lodi, midland-park, oakland, orwood, palisades-park, ramsey, ridgewood, rutherford, south-hackensack, wood-ridge

 

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Wall Street Journal - Mayoral Fight Seen in N.J. School Race  By HEATHER HADDON

A school-board election on Tuesday that most years would be sleepy is shaping up to be a hotly contested affair in Jersey City, as some see the race as a proxy war between mayoral candidates in the state's second-largest city.

Jersey City Councilman Steven Fulop, a Wall Street trader who left his job last month to campaign for mayor full-time, is backing a slate of three candidates for the Jersey City Board of Education. They are facing a slate supported by Mayor Jerramiah Healy, who is seeking a third, four-year term in 2013.

While the big issues for the school system include searching for a new superintendent, the budget and dealing with the high school dropout rate, the broader issue is one of old versus new: Mr. Healy's group includes three current or former public employees, while Mr. Fulop's includes two people who work in the private sector and haven't been openly involved in local politics.

"The stakes are huge," said Mr. Fulop, 35 years old, a city resident since 2000. "It has the backdrop of 2013 in it."

The Jersey City race promises some of the only drama on what will be an unusually quiet school-election night. About 87% of the Garden State's 537 school districts took advantage of a state law passed earlier this year and moved their contests for school board to November.

Districts don't have to hold a budget vote if their spending plans fell within a 2% tax cap passed by the state. The law change was intended to save money and boost voter turnout, which had been just 16% on average for April school elections.

Political undertones are rare but not unheard of in New Jersey school-board races, said Mike Yaple, a spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, a membership group.

"Traditionally school board races have been very local affairs," Mr. Yaple said.

On Tuesday, Jersey City's 122,690 registered voters will also decide on whether to approve a 2012-13 school budget of $661.3 million for a public school system with about 35,000 students.

But most of the focus will be on the nonpartisan election for the nine-member school board.

Mr. Fulop, who was elected to the City Council in 2005 when he was 28 years old, has backed slates of winning school board candidates in 2010 and 2011.

He faces a tougher challenge this year. Mr. Healy's group of candidates is also supported by the powerful teachers union, the Jersey City Education Association, and two state assemblymen.

"We have endorsed the slate of candidates who we think are going to provide the best leadership for our public schools in the very important mission of educating our young people," said Mr. Healy in a statement.

Mr. Healy said the mayor's race is still a year away, and he doesn't view the contests as being directly related. There are also two candidates who are independent of the slates backed by Messrs. Healy and Fulop.

The two sides are employing sophisticated get-out-the-vote efforts. The union has sent out mailings and used its extensive phone bank to call residents.

Mr. Fulop is relying on 200 volunteers and a computer app that helps track whether voters have gone to the polls in real time, he said. Volunteers are deployed to encourage stragglers to get to the polls.

In an unexpected twist, several-hundred voters last week were mailed incorrect information about where they are supposed to vote. Residents will be allowed to cast provisional ballots at their old polling places.

Write to Heather Haddon at heather.haddon@wsj.com

A version of this article appeared April 17, 2012, on page A19 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Mayoral Fight Seen in N.J. School Race.

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Star Ledger - School budget voting approaches for N.J. districts that opted out of new education law

Published: Monday, April 16, 2012, 9:00 AM Updated: Monday, April 16, 2012, 9:14 AM

By Jessica Calefati

TRENTON — School boards looking to boost spending on expensive classroom technology or high school athletics will no longer need taxpayers’ blessing to do so.

Under new legislation signed by Gov. Chris Christie in January, voters in all but a few dozen districts have been stripped of their right to cast ballots on local school budgets. Only districts proposing budgets that exceed a mandatory property tax cap are still required to put their budgets up for a vote.

Many communities have welcomed the chance to cancel budget votes and move school board elections to November — another provision of the law — because it eliminates the cost of holding an election in April, one in which only 15 percent of the voters participated in last year. So far, 87 percent of school boards statewide have opted to enact the law.

But officials who represent the 73 districts where voters will head to the polls on Tuesday said they chose not to abandon the budget votes out of respect for their taxpayers and confidence in the spending plans they have prepared.

"While our residents have a strong history of support for budgets, in the end it has been their collective will that has made the determination over the direction of our district," Pequannock school board president William Sayre wrote in a recent letter to the town council.

"It would be unfair to remove this right and responsibility from them especially in light of their prior faithfulness to our children," said Sayre, who is running for re-election.

Among the districts holding elections Tuesday are six in Essex County, eight in Morris County, four in Middlesex County and a total of six in Hunterdon, Somerset, Sussex and Warren counties.

Haddon Heights, Hawthorne and Greenwich Township will also ask voters to approve so-called ‘second questions’ about proposed education spending that exceeds the property tax cap.

Towns that elect to cancel budget votes and move school board elections to November must stick with their decisions for at least four years. For that reason, Edison school board president Gene Maeroff said he would need more time to weigh the law’s repercussions before endorsing it. School boards can vote to switch to a November election at any time,

"There was a fairly limited amount of time to consider this, and we did not want to be rushed into such an important decision," Maeroff said. "This year, we are taking the tax levy down by $55,000 and we want to give the public a chance to confirm that what’s going on now is pretty good."

Last year, nearly 80 percent of school budgets earned voter approval — the highest approval rate in a decade — but in 2010 a record number of spending plans were defeated at Gov. Chris Christie’s urging. Edison’s budget was among the nearly 60 percent of budgets statewide voted down by taxpayers frustrated with increases in school spending during a recessed economy.

The large numbers of districts opting to cancel budget votes is a testament to the property tax cap’s success and a pledge by local school officials to "budget smartly," said Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie.

Another reason some school boards have not acted on the new law is fear that a November school board election will turn a traditionally non-partisan contest into one that’s saturated with local politics, said Frank Belluscio, a spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association.

"Some on principle felt that the budgets should still go before the voters, but many had concerns about the partisan nature of November elections," Belluscio said.

In Metuchen, voters have approved 14 consecutive school budgets. Fran Brennan, the board’s vice president, said success can be attributed in part to the absence of politics. Though voter turnout would likely increase for a November school board election, Brennan said this might not be a good thing.

"People who come out to vote for school board elections in April tend to be the most informed," said Brennan, who is running for re-election. "If we move our election to November, voters will be less informed about the candidates and the issues."

NJ Spotlight - Spring’s No Break for Tuesday’s School Vote Holdouts…With most districts opting for move to November, a handful of voters head to polls

By John Mooney, April 16, 2012 in Education|Post a Comment

The sudden move this winter by a vast majority of New Jersey school districts to November elections has drawn much of the public’s attention, but don’t tell that to a handful of districts still heading to the polls this Tuesday.

Related Links

More than 70 districts have opted to stay with April elections -- at least for this year -- putting their budgets and school board members up for vote tomorrow, just as they have for decades before.

They are the clear exception to the rule this year, with more than 460 districts taking advantage of a new law that allowed the switch to November school board votes and the exemption of a budget vote altogether if property tax increases stay within state caps.

That leaves no districts at all voting on Tuesday from Burlington, Cape May and Union counties. Another six counties will each only have a single district go to the polls. Bergen County is one outlier, with 20 districts -- almost a third of the county -- still voting Tuesday. No other has more than eight.

Under the new law, a district moving the election to November cannot move it back to April for four years.

In Bergen County, Ridgewood, among the districts voting tomorrow, is trying to sell a $86 million budget that is within the 2 percent property tax cap after the board decided to hold back a switch for now. To move this year, “the notification to voters would have been really late in the process, and the board decided that it would have been better to just revisit it after this election,” said Daniel Fishbein, the district’s superintendent.

The odds are still good for the Ridgewood budget, where voters have approved 14 of the past 15 spending plans. But while a majority of his peers will sit the election week out, Fishbein has had extra work -- and uncertainty -- on his hands to get the word out to voters through newsletters, phone calls and the like.

The superintendent said there was some confusion to overcome from those residents who had believed all districts went to November votes after the law permitting the change passed this winter. Gov. Chris Christie, who signed the law, had pressed for the changed to be required but settled on making it an option.

“What we heard a few times was people thinking it was a statewide decree that [there be] no more votes in April,” Fishbein said. “Even those who follow school issues thought it was over. So we have put out press releases, and will do a [town] all call to remind people.”

Harrington Park is another district staying with the April vote for now, and also worried that fewer and fewer people may know to vote as they see their neighbors moving to November.

The district stepped up its efforts to get out the vote through both traditional and more innovative means, including its Facebook page.

“We are really trying to tap into those things,” said Adam Fried, the Harrington Park superintendent. “It’s a way to reaching kids who may be in college, with now it being so easy to just download an absentee ballot. We’re hoping the online component will make a difference.”

Harrington Park’s proposed budget of nearly $11 million includes a tax increase of 1.8 percent, slightly below the cap. That seems to be the norm, with the state school boards association estimating that a majority of districts voting tomorrow are below cap. Of course, that also leaves them in a position where budgets may be leaner and still face further cuts if rejected.

“That has been a source of frustration in the past, and hasn’t gone away,” said Frank Belluscio, the school board association spokesman.

Three districts also will propose second questions for spending that is above the cap. They are Haddon Heights, the only district voting in Camden and asking for an additional $208,000 to restore sports and other extracurricular programs; Hawthorne in Passaic County, seeking $625,000 for eight new teachers; and Greenwich in Warren County, seeking $157,000 to reinstate two technology teachers.

 

Triboro-Patch - Column: Vote Tuesday, If You Still Can…Most in New Jersey lost that right, but 10 Morris County municipalities are still holding April school elections.

·         ByColleen O'Dea

School elections are April 17 — in some towns.

|Search Patch Archive

This is a column about how important it is for everyone to go out to the polls tomorrow to vote for candidates for school boards and to vote on local school budgets.

But it’s not very relevant for the vast majority of adults in New Jersey because most people will not get the chance to pick candidates or accept or reject the proposed tax bill for their local schools.

In Morris County, only 10 municipalities will hold school elections tomorrow, and because some of those towns are in regional districts, it means only eight budgets are up for a vote. (In Patch-covered towns, votes will be held in the School District of the Chathams, the Morris School District, and Mendham Township — that's it).

The bill that Gov. Chris Christie signed at the beginning of the year to end the practice of the April school election in many towns was wildly popular, with close to 9 of 10 districts eliminating tomorrow’s vote. This year, most school board seats will be filled in November as these positions appear on the same ballot with the president, U.S. senator and municipal council slots. In those cases, the ballot on school spending is gone for good, or at least for four years, when officials could choose to go back to an April ballot.

Most school superintendents and board members have never liked that budget vote. When voters say no, the municipal governing body (such as a town council) gets to do the cutting. It typically winds up shaving only a penny or two off any increase in the tax rate, but no one likes being told how to spend his, or the taxpayers, money.

So now, districts that don’t raise school tax levies by more than 2 percent (or thereabouts, as this is not an airtight cap) don’t have to go for a vote.

Sadly, almost universally, the people who have been disenfranchised don’t seem to care. Few have complained about the loss of the vote. That’s probably not surprising, given the annual voter turnout in April is usually only 10 percent or so.

Still, in 10 communities, voters can and, hopefully, will go to the polls and enjoy their right to vote.

Unfortunately, in all but two of those communities, there’s no contest for board of education seats unless there’s a write-in campaign. Hanover has four people seeking three three-year terms. Pequannock has the biggest race, with six vying for three seats.

But that still leaves the question of the budget. Voters don’t get the chance to have a direct say over municipal or county spending, so the school budget vote has often been a place for them to vent any frustrations they have—one reason school boards have always given for the unfairness of the school budget vote.

Yet last year, every budget in Morris County passed, at least in part because school boards were frugal during very tough times, and that trend is continuing.

In the School District of the Chathams, the proposed tax levy increase is 2.3 percent, estimated to cost the average borough home owner about $307, $122 in the township.

Under the Morris School District’s budget proposal, the average Morristown property owner would get a $71 tax break, while the typical bill in the township would rise $135. The district’s total budget proposal for next year is actually smaller than the current budget.

Hopefully, voters who do get the chance to vote tomorrow know that, have learned something about those candidates who are running and the budget plans and will use the opportunity they were given to pat their elected representative on the back for a job well done, or scold them.

As for those who lost the right to vote tomorrow, they will at least get a chance to vote for new school representatives in November. And that wouldn’t be too early to express their feelings, by voting for candidates who support – or oppose—the April elections.

Colleen O'Dea is a writer, editor, researcher, data analyst, web page designer and mapper with almost three decades in the news business. Her column appears Mondays.

This column appears on Patch sites serving communities in Morris and Sussex Counties. Comments below may be by readers of any of those sites.

 


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