PLEASANTVILLE - A petition was submitted Monday to place a question on the November ballot asking voters if the school district should switch from an elected to an appointed board - just days before a special meeting by the school board to listen to residents' complaints.
Mayor Jesse Tweedle, accompanied by City Councilman Lincoln Green, visited the school district's business office to submit the more than 50 pages of petitions. The total number of submitted signatures, 556, is more than the 318 required, said Business Administrator Dennis Mulvihill.
In order to put the question on the ballot, the petition must include signatures of at least 15 percent of the qualified voters who voted in the last general election, said school district attorney Kim Belin. The petition will need to be sent to the Atlantic County Clerk's Office in order to be verified.
The petition should be filed 50 days before the election in order to be allowed on the Nov. 5 ballot, New Jersey School Boards Association spokesman Frank Belluscio III said.
Green said the petition was turned in well ahead of time to ensure time to counter issues that may arise in the process.
Belluscio said if the ballot item wins a majority in November, beginning the next school year the school board members whose terms expire will be replaced by a mayor-appointed member.
Tweedle previously said he wasn't sure exactly how the appointments would work, but he would have an advisory board set up to recommend appointees.
The supporters of the petition have said the school board has had numerous problems, some of which continue to repeat themselves despite a change in board members. The current board members oppose the move, saying the board is still young and dedicated to turning around the troubled district.
Tweedle has said the district has seen a steady turnover of school administrators, and the appointment of a state monitor and a focus by board members on campaigning over school issues has been troubling. Also, he said the board's infighting, lawsuits and the recent allegations by a state investigative agency that three current and former school board members lied on applications to get free school lunches for their children are interfering with focusing on the students.
"It is costing us a lot of money to keep changing superintendents," Green said. "It is taking money out of the budget that should be going to the children. Plus we have a state monitor getting money per day. We are getting sued for things and don't know sometimes how much money is going out in the lawsuits," .
"If we can get stability there then we can stabilize the community," he said.
But school board members and the superintendent have said previously that the district has had a troubled past and suffers from complex socioeconomic problems.
At a special workshop in July, Superintendent Garnell Bailey pointed out that a majority of students are living with families whose incomes are below the poverty level.
School board member Joanne Famularo asked how the appointments would work and what oversight would be used to ensure the process is not tainted. Board member Jerome Page said that the citizens will vote down the proposal because it takes away their voting rights in the matters of the school district.
The school board has invited residents of the district to a special meeting Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. in the cafeteria of the high school in order to hear their frustrations.
"We get $93 million, that's a lot of money. Lots of money has been spent frivolously," said board President Darleen Bey-Blocker. "This district is a failing district, but its hands have been tied. The (state- appointed) monitor keeps overturning everything (the board votes on)."
She said the group is young, having only been together for six months, and needs more time to succeed in turning the district around.
Bey-Blocker said rather than worrying about the disagreements, the focus should be on the kids. "Worry about these kids, worry about them dropping out, worry about the ones killing each other," she said.
The state currently has several county freeholder-appointed districts, mostly including vocational and special services, according to Mike Yaple, spokesman with the state Department of Education.
There are other mayor-appointed municipal districts in the state including in Atlantic County. As of November 2012, this included Brigantine, Corbin City, Linwood, Margate, Port Republic and Ventnor, according to a list provided by the New Jersey School Boards Association.
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Potential ballot question
Following is the text of the question the petition proposes to be on the ballot in November:
"Should the city of Pleasantville, N.J. public school district be reclassified from a Type II District to a Type I District, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:9-1 et. Seq. and N.J.S.A. 18A:12-5 et. Seq. which will require that members of the board of education be appointed by the mayor of the city of Pleasantville, N.J. instead of elected?"