Almost 90 percent of all elected school boards in New Jersey will move their elections from April to November this year, according to information filed with the state Department of Education by noon Friday, the last day to make the change this year.
Department officials said the list is not official, and may be missing districts that did not yet submit copies of their resolutions to the state. Statewide, 468 of 538 eligible school districts have notified the state that they passed resolutions to move their elections as allowed by a new state law. School board elections will now be included in the November general election, but will be placed separately on the ballots so they retain nonpartisan status.
Locally, only Atlantic City and Hammonton in Atlantic County and Bridgeton in Cumberland County did not submit resolutions to change their election months, according to the state list. All districts in Cape May County will move their elections. Twenty-seven school districts in Ocean County also approved moving elections to November. Districts with appointed school boards do not apply.
Under the law, the local Board of Education or the municipal governing body had the authority to move the election. Residents can also petition to move the election via a referendum on the November ballot.
Frank Belluscio, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said in most cases the change was made by the school board. He said in some cases there were dual resolutions from both governing bodies, and in a few cases the municipal governing body passed the resolution because the school board did not have a meeting scheduled before the deadline.
In Hammonton, the Town Council almost overruled the school board’s desire to keep the April 17 date. The Board of Education had passed a resolution unanimously opposed to the move. The Town Council, in a 4-3 vote at a special meeting Monday, opted to go along with them. Those who spoke opposed to the move said they were worried about the election becoming political and removing the ability of voters to have a say on the school budget.
Under the new law, residents would no longer vote on the school budget as long as the local property tax levy stayed within the state-mandated 2 percent cap. If the budget exceeds the cap, voters will get to vote on the extra funding.
Atlantic City Board of Education President Shay Steele said the board voted unanimously Monday to keep the election in April this year to see how the process plays out in other towns.
“We always have the option to do it next year,” he said. “But once we do it, we can’t go back for four years. We didn’t want to get locked in right away.”
He said due to the politically charged nature of elections in Atlantic City, there were concerns that the school board could get caught up in a partisan election in November.
Local school districts typically shared the cost of the April elections, which are run by the county clerks, and there are some concerns that with fewer districts voting in April, the cost to the remaining districts, typically a few thousand dollars, might rise. Steele said they thought about that, but since proportionally fewer poll workers will be needed countywide, they are hoping the cost won’t rise much for Atlantic City this year.
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