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West Deptford School Board to Weigh Options on Election Dates

A new state law allows the school board to move the school election from April to November.

A new law giving school boards the option to shift their elections to the November general election should be at the head of the discussions at one of the next few meetings, said board President Christopher Strano.

The new law provides multiple routes to moving the elections, and also strips away the requirement for a public referendum on the school budget for districts who go to a November school board election, as long as the budget doesn't increase by more than the 2-percent cap currently in place.

While Strano said there's been a certain amount of informal talk over the potential changes, it hasn't been discussed by the full board yet.

“We were waiting for the final word to come down,” Strano said.

Strano declined to talk about his specific views on the new law, given the potential for biasing other members of the board, but said any debate over whether to move West Deptford's elections will take place in the school board's public session. That could come as early as the next meeting, on Jan. 23.

“This will be something that's an open discussion,” he said.

The law allows a move to a November school board election via three routes:

  • By the school board passing a resolution changing the date.
  • By the township committee passing a resolution changing the date.
  • By a public referendum, if members of the public can bring a petition with signatures from at least 15 percent of the voters who voted in the last Presidential election.

Frank Belluscio, a spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA), said there have already been calls into the association from superintendents, school board members and business administrators across the state, looking for information about switching to the November general election.

"It's more than I would have thought," he said.

While there's no exact deadline for moving to this year's November election, districts have to get moving on the change soon, given budget deadlines looming next month, as well as the announcement for filing deadlines for school board candidates.

That announcement came on Jan. 19 last year in West Deptford, ahead of an early-March filing deadline.

Even if districts don't move to a November election this year, the option is always open, but under the law, once a district moves the school board election to November, it can't be changed back for four years.

"This leaves the decision in the hands of districts and communities to decide what's best for them,” Belluscio said. “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."

Proponents of the move to November, like West Deptford Mayor Ray Chintall, point to the savings from consolidating elections, as well as the potential for increased voter turnout.

Despite eight people running for three open school board seats last year, , as opposed to the November election, .

Chintall said he sees the good outweighing the bad when it comes to moving the school board election to November.

“It's a good start to get more involvement by the voters,” he said.

Though the move to the general election would remove a vote on the school budget if it remains below the 2-percent cap, any budgets that go over that cap would have to be approved in a ballot referendum, as all budgets are now.

Both the NJSBA and the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) supported that provision, noting that the budget has to go through state scrutiny already.

“Nowhere else do voters get a direct say in the budget by voting for it,” said NJEA spokesman Steve Baker. “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."

John Hayden January 19, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Once again, NJ voters have a choice between "bad" and "worse". The complaint that everyone has about the school votes being in April is low turnout. So the solution to this problem is to move the vote to November, to improve turnout, but to make all of those votes worthless by removing the vote for the budget? No wonder the WD BOE is anxious to look into this. It gives them a way to increase the budget, year over year, and never run the risk of it getting voted down. President Strano said, in the budget working session last year, that it would be in the board's best interest to increase the budget every year right up to the cap. Now he'll have a way to do that without even having to ask permission from the voters. The new law apparently says that the budget still can be put up for a vote if it is under the 2% cap. I think that the tax payers of WD deserve to retain the right to vote down every school budget, no matter how small the increase may be.
Highly Educated January 20, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Great idea John. Lets vote down every budget, hire the worst teachers, cancel all extra-curricular activities, and have schools that suck. Great advice.
John Hayden January 21, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Way to setup that strawman, you anonymous fool. I didn't say that we should vote down every budget, but we should have the ability to do so. It's our money. If you think that we shouldn't have the right to decide how our money is spent, then come up with a good justification. Otherwise, you're not Highly Educated, you're just an Anonymous Fool.

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