School Elections: There Was More on Tuesday’s Ballot than the Midterms

John Mooney | November 9, 2018 | Education
In 500-plus districts across the state, voters weighed in on who would take seats on school boards. In districts with referenda, spending on security was the dominant issue

school bus school kids
While the top of the ballot of the congressional midterm elections got all the attention on Tuesday, local school board elections and questions at the bottom of the ballot provided some interesting results as well.

Nearly 530 districts held elections of their school boards, with 2,099 candidates vying for 1,566 seats. That was not much of a change from recent years, where scores of seats have gone uncontested overall.

But for the first time under a new law, candidates were permitted to run as slates, albeit officially nonpartisan, complete with not so subtle slogans like “Make Brick Great” and “Drain the Swamp.”

And it was a big year — and generally good year — for districts seeking voter approval on separate ballot referenda, with 25 districts posing questions to residents for school construction projects, governance changes and tax-cap exemptions for specific spending. State property-tax limits require public votes on spending exceeding the 2 percent levy cap. Eighteen of the 25 were approved.

Eleven of the proposals were plans for school-security upgrades, from redesigned entrances in Bergen County’s Waldwick schools to additional officers in Stratford in Camden County. Seven passed.

“It was interesting to see how many dealt with school security, by far the biggest category,” said Janet Bamford, spokeswoman for the New Jersey School Boards Association.

“This is obviously something that is a concern to districts, and the public was supportive,” she said.

The details

The following is the list of ballot questions and their results, according to the association:

  • Ho-Ho-Kus (Bergen County) — REJECTED: $450,000 to restore co-curricular clubs, hire an additional teacher, hire a security aide, and pay for technology equipment costs.
  • Saddle Brook (Bergen County) — APPROVED: $450,000 to enhance school facility security, including security vestibules and other upgrades.
  • Waldwick (Bergen County) — APPROVED: $625,000 for new security design upgrades.
  • Stratford (Camden County) — APPROVED: $76,000 for two school resource officers.
  • Caldwell-West Caldwell (Essex County) — APPROVED: $600,000 to implement a full-day kindergarten program.
  • Verona (Essex County) — BOTH APPROVED: $215,000 for the expansion of the existing kindergarten program to a full-day program; $550,000 for the expansion of mental-health services.
  • South Harrison (Gloucester County) — APPROVED: $120,000 to enhance school security through the upgrade of the phone system and other technology improvements.
  • Manalapan-Englishtown (Monmouth County) — REJECTED: $160,000 to install impact-resistant safety film on windows at all of the district schools.
  • Matawan-Aberdeen (Monmouth County) — REJECTED: $400,000 to hire up to seven security staffers.
  • Florham Park (Morris County) — APPROVED: $120,000 to enhance the district’s school security program, including additional security staff.
  • Netcong (Morris County) — BOTH REJECTED: $33,000 to hire a part-time social worker; $35,000 to hire security staff.
  • Jackson (Ocean County) — APPROVED: $411,611 for the expansion of the existing school security program, including funding for six new full-time school security officers.
  • Point Pleasant Borough (Ocean County) — APPROVED: $198,000 for four full-time municipal police officers to provide security at all four schools during the normal school day.
  • Quinton Township (Salem County) — REJECTED: $64,000 for additional courtesy busing.