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School Districts Sign on to Move Board Elections to November

Breaking with century-old tradition, nearly 60 districts opt to hold their contests on Election Day.

With the law barely a week old, nearly 60 schools districts in New Jersey have already signed up to move their board elections to November and effectively end the annual public vote on their base budgets.

The state’s School Boards Association is keeping a running tally of the districts that have adopted the necessary resolutions on their websites, with the number clicking to 56 late yesterday.

“And there are quite a few more that are taking it under consideration in the next month,” said Frank Belluscio, the association’s spokesman.

He said many boards had yet to meet since the law was signed.

In new guidelines released by the state yesterday, districts are encouraged to make a decision on the vote by February 17, so that election officials have enough time to plan and potential candidates receive proper notice of the voting date.

The changes arises out of a law signed by Gov. Chris Christie a week ago that significantly revamps how communities vote on their school board members and budgets, a system first adopted a century ago.

Under the law, districts have the option to move school board elections to the general election date in November and, in turn, not need hold budget votes at all if they stay within the state’s 2 percent cap on property tax increases. If the budget exceeds the cap, only the specific spending above the cap would be put to the voters to decide.

Those staying at the April date would still see their base budget – or specifically its local tax levy -- up for vote, with municipal councils entitled to cut the budgets if voters reject them.

A small handful of districts have adopted resolutions to stay in April -- Emerson and Nutley, to name two. But the majority are making the jump to move the board elections, Belluscio said.

Not surprisingly, districts historically hard-hit in the budget votes seemed more inclined so far to move the elections, he said. For instance, about a quarter of Ocean County’s districts have voted to move their elections, according to the association’s preliminary count.

The state Department of Education late yesterday sent out guidelines to districts considering the measure, including a sample resolution to adopt.

The department sought to answer many of the questions about logistics that have arisen since the law passed, from when candidates would file for November (the date of the June primary) to whether they are affiliated with political parties (no).

“The school election will be on a separate section of the ballot,” read the guidelines. “The school board candidates will not be aligned with any political party or partisan candidates.”

Acting education commissioner Chris Cerf said in a cover letter to districts that he hoped they would take the option.

“Over the past year, I have heard from many of you that it is unfair for the school budget to be the only governmental budget placed on the ballot and, furthermore, that the new levy cap greatly diminishes the need for the budget vote,” Cerf wrote.

“The passage of this bipartisan law provides both school budget savings and increased voter participation in the process.”

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