More School Districts Move Elections Into November

John Mooney | February 20, 2013 | Education
The chance to remove school budgets from the ballot continues to attract districts statewide

A year after the initial migration, New Jersey school districts continue to shift their school elections to November.

The list is not yet official, but the New Jersey School Boards Association said press reports and confirmations indicate that at least 25 more districts have decided to move their April board votes into November, to coincide with the general election. Districts ranged from one of the state’s largest in Jersey City to one of its smallest in South Hackensack.

In turn, the change in dates lets these districts remove their school budgets from the ballot entirely, as long as they stay within state caps.

Changing the date of the school board vote is intended to boost the turnout for these elections, which traditionally attract few voters.

Last year, when the new law was enacted, nearly 470 districts made the jump from April to November. If the associate’s count is accurate, that brings to total to 492 districts thus far.

That leaves just 49 districts staying put in April, including a few that considered a change and opted against it — Metuchen and Paterson being among them.

But a spokesman for the association said after the first year on the new date, the prospect of a November vote and an exemption on the school budget vote continued to be attractive.

“Many districts were taking a wait-and-see, and observing how it went for other districts,” said Frank Belluscio, the association’s communications director. “And after a groundswell last year, it was no surprise that it continued.”

Belluscio said a number of factors proved pivotal for districts, chief among them the exemption of the budget from a popular vote. But he said other factors arose as well.

“One is the money saved,” he said of the cost of holding separate elections. “For a medium to large district, that could be a sizable amount of money.”

He also said concerns remained about the more partisan nature of November votes, especially with the governor and entire Legislature up for re-election this year. Complaints also arose over where the nonpartisan elections were placed on the ballot, which made it hard to distinguish them from local, state, and national tickets.

“But even so, the positives [moving to November] outweighed the negatives,” Belluscio said.

Among those making the change was Glen Ridge, where the school board last year in April saw its lowest turnout in history.

“We decided that nothing terrible has happened to the 80 percent of districts who switched to November last year,” said Elisabeth Ginsburg, the school board’s president.

“Our process here is truly nonpartisan and Borough Council members already run that way in November with no partisan interference,” she said in an email. “We didn’t really see a downside.”