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Districts Continue to Shift School Board Elections Into November

Over 90 percent of all districts have made the move, but races can get lost on same ballot as state and national elections

school ballot

New Jersey school board elections, remember those?

Overshadowed by the state and U.S Senate races, nearly 1,900 candidates for their local school boards will be on the ballot November 5 in more than 500 school districts.

That’s the largest number yet of districts having November school races, continuing the wave that started with state law three years ago that blew up the century-old tradition of April school votes.

Just 41 districts are still holding their school board elections in April, along with school budget votes.

But the new election date hasn't meant more attention, not with the governor’s and legislative contests on the same day -- and the special election last week for U.S. Senate. It was pretty much the same story last year, with the presidential election hogging the attention.

Still, more and more districts are moving their elections to November. The few dozen that made the shift this year brings the total to over 90 percent of all districts.

The big lure, of course, is that the new law eliminates budget votes if the election is held in November.

“After the first year, a lot of districts wanted to see what would happen, and more and more have continued to move,” said Frank Belluscio, communications chief of the New Jersey School Boards Association.

“And I think we will see even more still,” he said.

While the November date was meant to generate interest in the school board elections, it hasn't worked out that way. There will be barely enough candidates running to fill all the open seats.

A preliminary count of 20 of 21 counties by the NJSBA indicates that 1,853 candidates are running for 1,455 open seats, a ratio of roughly 1.3 candidates for each vacancy or four candidates for every three seats.

The ratio is actually up slightly from last year, but still has left many races noncompetitive.

For instance, there are only 51 candidates for 48 seats in all of Cumberland County, and 55 for 49 seats in Passaic. The dearth of candidates is not all inclusive, however. There are almost two candidates for each seat in Middlesex and Hudson, according to the NJSBA.

Belluscio and others said one of the big obstacles remains an early filing deadline in June. A bill sponsored by state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic) seeks to move the date to late August.

The November races continue to bring some logistical challenges. One is how the ballots will look with the school board candidates listed, especially since these are nonpartisan races and don't fit under the traditional Democratic and Republican umbrella.

Burlington County heard concerns last year when they put the school races in the same columns as the party candidates for president, prompting some to worry that the school candidates would come off as party candidates.

This year county clerk Timothy Tyler moved the school races to their own spot at the bottom left corner of the ballot, totally separate from the state races.

On electric voting machines, the school election is in its own section at the bottom of the screen.

“Taking everything into account, we wanted to make it as easy to use as possible,” Tyler said yesterday. “The candidates are putting it out pretty clearly that these elections are nonpartisan, and the new design of the ballot helps with that.”

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