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School Budgets Up for Vote Tomorrow in Just Three Districts Statewide

Law now requires public OK only if spending plan calls for exceeding 2 percent cap on tax hikes

school board ballot

Just three out of the more than 500 school districts in the state will be asking voters tomorrow to exceed the state-mandated 2 percent tax cap, continued evidence that New Jersey schools are settling into the new reality of living within the caps.

The separate school-budget votes, part of the school board elections, are among the last remnants of balloting that once took place every April in every district. Now, as a vast majority of districts have moved their elections to November as permitted under new state law, the separate budget vote is only needed if districts want to go above the 2 percent annual cap on property tax increases.

Two of the three districts are seeking waivers to pay for new security personnel, while the third wants more funding for extracurricular programs.

“Living under the caps is becoming the norm, and people are recognizing the economic times that we live in,” said Larry Feinsod, executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association. “Boards have done an exceptional job running budgets under the caps.”

Feinsod said he didn’t expect the trend to change much, at least not in the near future, as districts continue to recover from the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath.

“The recession had an enormous impact on all seats of government in forcing them to keep costs down,” he said.

The three separate budget-waiver questions are the following:

  • Ridgefield (Bergen) – $140,000 to hire additional security personnel
  • Dunellen (Middlesex) – $100,000 for the hiring of two security officers and related expenses
  • Haddon Heights (Camden) – $175,516 to fund a number of student activities, including winter cheerleading, junior high co-ed track, varsity club, the Scribe newspaper, band instruments and supplies, and computer equipment.

Last year, two of the three separate cap-waiver questions passed. The votes on the separate questions are final and, if rejected, a district is not allowed to find money elsewhere for the specified items.

The budget questions are among seven separate school questions that will be on the ballot tomorrow in various districts. Three others call for a change in how the particulae district’s school board is constituted, while one is a school-construction referendum.

The other four ballot questions are the following:

  • Maurice River (Cumberland) – A proposed change from nine to seven board members
  • Orange (Essex) – A proposal to change from an appointed board to an elected one
  • Pleasantville (Atlantic) – Proposal to change from an elected to an appointed board
  • Westfield (Union) – Referendum seeking approval of spending $6.7 million for roof work in nine schools, making the district eligible for $2.7 million in state funds.

The composition of school boards continues to be in flux, with seven districts last year seeking to change their board’s makeup. Six of the seven proposals last year, all approved, called for reducing the number of members.

Indeed, it is not getting any easier to find people willing to serve on boards. Overshadowed by the gubernatorial and legislative races on the ballot, the school board elections are seeing the fewest candidates for each open seat since 1999, according to the school boards association.

In 501 districts with school elections on the ballot, a total of 1,853 candidates are running for 1,501 seats, according to the association, a ratio of just 1.23 candidates for each seat.

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