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LOWER TOWNSHIP — Last month, a township music teacher was fighting for his job after he says he was unfairly dismissed days away from reaching tenure. Now, he says he will run for the Board of Education to increase transparency.

“I don’t think there’s really any recourse for me in terms of getting my job back,” David Morrison said recently.

As of this week, only a handful of candidates have submitted petitions to their county clerks in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties to run for seats on their local and regional boards of education. The filing deadline for school board candidates is July 29.

So far, eight candidates have filed petitions for the 66 open seats in Ocean County, eight for 55 seats in Atlantic County and seven for 42 seats in Cape May County. Seven petitions were filed in Cumberland County, but the number of open seats was not immediately available.

Morrison, 42, a music teacher for four years, lost his job in May due to what administrators deemed a series of unacceptable incidents. In June, the board held a public hearing where Morrison pleaded for his job before about 100 community members. After a 20-minute slide presentation where he presented his defense, the board voted 5-3 against Morrison being reinstated, with one member abstaining.

School officials declined to comment on the matter.

Morrison said he plans to submit his candidate petition to the Cape May County clerk, although he hasn’t done so yet. He said he has no other option but to run.

“I think it’s important because I think the community is the voice for the school. There should be a collaborative effort in terms of the school and the community, and I just don’t feel like it’s quite like that right now,” he said.

For Morrison, his motivation is transparency. Others running for local school boards have a variety of reasons to seek a seat on the all-volunteer panels. But finding candidates has not been easy in South Jersey, where last year 21 of the 82 school board races were contested and in 17 of the area races, there weren’t enough candidates for the number of open seats.

According to the New Jersey School Boards Association, which tracks the candidate rate for elections, the ratio of candidates per open seat last year was 1.34, up from 1.29 candidates per available seat in 2017.

Morrison’s wife, Nicole, is nearing the end of her first term on the Lower Cape May Regional Board of Education and also plans to run in the fall. She said that in her first election she was in a contested race, but that campaign efforts from candidates were low.

Nicole Morrison, 40, said when she first ran for the school board she was focused on students and incorporating parents and the community into what happens in the district. What happened to her husband has changed her perspective.

“I think my goal personally is to have better transparency on what’s happening on the school board and to learn as much as I can about all of the decisions that are affecting the students and the community,” she said. “I think a lot of times, at least from my experience, a lot of decisions are made that aren’t fully discussed with thoughtful conversation and debate.”

Candidates seeking school board seats have until 4 p.m. July 29 to file their nominating petitions at their respective county clerk’s office to have their name placed on the Nov. 5 general election ballot. This year, candidates can file a slate jointly for the same office, title and term, said Ocean County Clerk Scott M. Colabella.

In addition, candidates have the option of selecting a slogan of no more than three words to appear on the ballot under their name. The slogan selection is part of the petition.

Colabella said all candidates are required to file a Disclosure Statement with their petition and to provide an email address on their nominating petitions.

“It’s important potential candidates know the requirements in order to help the petition filing process go smoothly,” Colabella said. “It’s also important that candidates get their paperwork in on time.”

Contact: 609-272-7251 Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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