November Option for School Elections Opens Floodgates for Switch

February 8, 2012

 In what started as a trickle after a new law opened up the possibility, more than 230 New Jersey school districts have moved their elections to November and all but taken their budgets off the annual ballot, according to the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA).

With roughly a week to go before what state officials set as a loose deadline, the association predicts the number could top 300 districts, or more than half of all districts that have elections.

“I’m pleased to see it embraced by so many districts and look forward to seeing it embraced by even more,” said state Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D-Camden), one of the primary sponsors of the law.

“We’re controlling government spending and property taxes and increasing public participation in our democracy,” Greenwald said in a statement. “These are all good things."

Signed by Gov. Chris Christie last month after drawing bipartisan support, Greenwald’s law allowed districts to move school board elections from April to November, with the stated goal of increasing voter turnouts from what are typically only about 15 percent of registered voters.

The incentive for districts is the November election would not have separate budget votes, as long as the local school tax levy stayed within the state’s 2 percent cap. If above the cap, the extra spending would be put on the ballot as a separate question.

By and large, districts have opted for the November vote to take advantage of the budget exclusion, giving more stability and predictability to their budget process each year.

Those opting for the move spanned the state, with every county seeing at least one district adopt the necessary resolution, according to the association’s unofficial count. Monmouth and Hunterdon counties will see the most changes, with 31 districts opting to switch in Monmouth and 23 in Hunterdon.

On the other hand, a handful of districts have formally voted to maintain the April votes to continue to give local voters a say over spending, even if within the caps. Those included Emerson and Paramus in Bergen County.

And some districts said they needed more time. The Mountain Lakes board decided to keep the vote in April while it weighed the pros and cons of the move. One condition of moving the vote is it cannot be reversed for four years.

“We believe that one month is not enough time for us to carefully weigh all the potential benefits and liabilities of this legislation,” the board said in a statement to the public. “Nor will we be able to gain the informed, public input that we feel is necessary to make such a critical decision in this timeframe.”