SOMERS POINT — The school board here is facing an unprecedented election this November, as no candidates have filed to run for five open seats on the board.
“I represent a number of school districts, all I do is education law, and I’ve never seen that happen,” said Louis Greco, solicitor for the Somers Point school board since the early 1990s.
By the July 30 filing deadline, no candidates had submitted the required nominating petitions to the Atlantic County clerk to seek the three three-year seats and two one-year unexpired seats.
The lack of board candidates has been an ongoing problem in New Jersey with, on average, only one candidate running per open seat, according to New Jersey School Boards Association data.
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This year, there are several open board seats across South Jersey with no candidates to fill them, including in Absecon, Galloway Township and Weymouth Township in Atlantic County.
Would-be incumbent Somers Point Board President Todd Fath said that after serving one term he is not running because he is pursuing his master’s degree and plans to move out of the city soon. Fath said longtime board member Karen Broomall also announced at the last school board meeting that she would not seek re-election.
After 28 years, “she said it was time for her to step down,” he said.
Fath said he could not say why no candidates filed to run, but speculated some members may not be seeking re-election due to the arduous process of hiring a new superintendent and a new school principal, as well as putting in place a redistricting plan over the past few months.
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“It was a tough process,” he said. “We were working for months and months.”
Board member Jennifer Panas, whose term ends in December, said she still plans to run as a write-in candidate. She was appointed to the board over the winter to fill a seat vacated by resignation.
“There were some medical issues in my family, and I missed the deadline,” said Panas, reached by phone Saturday.
Board members Nicholas Wagner and Anthony Zappile, who are also up for re-election, could not be reached for comment.
Former Board of Education member Wes Kazmarck declined to speculate on why there were so few candidates but did add he had never seen anything like it before.
“Every time I ran, it was contested. There was never a free seat,” he said. “You always had to run and beat somebody.”
Kazmarck served on the board for four years before resigning in January, along with his wife, Darcy Brown, who was also a board member, as they moved to nearby Ocean City.
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In New Jersey, Title II school districts are required to have nine school board members who serve three-year terms. Three seats are up for re-election each year, either during an April election or as part of the November general election.
As part of state law, a board cannot bring a meeting to order unless five of its nine members are present. Greco said that although the board will technically only have four members at the start of its January reorganization, he expects that any new members elected through write-in votes in November will be sworn in before the meeting begins.
Greco said if there are no write-in votes, the county superintendent of schools by statute has the authority to appoint board members to achieve a quorum.
“I would expect that once it becomes knowledge in the community, there probably will be some people stepping up to do write-in campaigns,” he said.