Most local school boards will have enough candidates running for election in November to fill all vacant seats, according to petitions filed with the county clerk’s offices in Atlantic, Cape May, and Ocean counties by the June 4 deadline.
But several seats were left vacant in Cumberland County townships, leaving the field open for write-in candidates.
A bill that would push the deadline to file to early September was approved by the state Senate Education Committee on Thursday. Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Altantic, sponsor of the bill, said he believes it is a compromise that would give people a little longer to file, while still giving county clerk’s offices enough time to prepare ballots for the November election.
“If we move it back a little, we might get more interest,” he said.
If passed, the law would take effect for the 2014 election. Candidates would have until the 64th day before the general election to file their petitions.
All but 41 school districts in the state have moved their elections to November, including all districts in Atlantic, Cape May and southern Ocean counties. Only Bridgeton in Cumberland County still holds its election in April. A bill signed into law last year allowed school board elections to be moved to November starting in 2012. The decision is voluntary and can be made by the school board, the local municipal governing body or local voters.
The New Jersey School Boards Association supports pushing the filing deadline closer to November to increase participation. Its research found that in 2012 there were 1.25 candidates for each open seat, the lowest ratio since 1999 when there were 1.23 candidates. There were 1.38 candidates per seat in the April 2011 election, and 1.44 candidates per seat in the April 2012 election.
More of the candidates in November were incumbents, possibly because they were more aware of the earlier filing deadline.
NJSBA spokesman Frank Belluscio said that since school board elections are nonpartisan, candidates do not need months to coordinate campaigns.
“We really see no reason not to move the deadline closer to the election,” he said.
In addition to saving money, holding school board elections as part of the November general election was designed to increase voter turnout, which it did in 2012, when 67 percent of voters went to the polls. While not every voter cast a ballot for school board members, many more did than when elections were held in April. NJSBA data show voter turnout averaged about 14 percent statewide in April school elections over the past decade.
Locally, Altantic City and Hammonton will hold school board elections in November for the first time in 2013.
According to petitions filed with the Atlantic County Clerk’s office, only the three incumbents, Kirk Dooley, Walter Johnson and Nynell Langford, have filed to run for the three open seats in Atlantic City.
In Hammonton, Linda Byrnes is running along with three incumbents, Barbara Berenato, Robert W. Bauers Sr. and John E. Lyons.
Hamilton Township has 11 candidates running for three seats, the most of any district. Superintendent Michelle Cappelluti said this is a negotiating year for the teachers’ contract and there has been more community interest.
Eight people are running for three seats in Upper Township, and nine candidates have filed for three seats in both Barnegat and Lacey townships.
In Pleasantville, the eight candidates include three incumbents, Doris Rowell, Paul Moore and Ethel Seymore, plus five former board members, including three who were just voted out last year, Doris Graves, Johnny McClellan and Melanie Griffin. Geraldine Hayer and Harriet Jackson are also running.
In West Cape May, where last year no candidates filed, two people, Robert Cwik and Christopher Wood, will run for the two three-year seats. But no one filed to run for the one-year term, the only seat left vacant in Cape May County.
West Wildwood, which also got no candidates last year, has two this year for the two open seats, John Green and James Perloff.
In Cumberland County, several townships have vacant seats that can now be filled by write-in candidates. Township school boards with at least one vacant seat include Deerfield, Greenwich, Lawrence, Maurice River, Stow Creek and Upper Deerfield.
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