Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill last week that gives school districts the ability to move elections from April to November and to pass some budgets without seeking voter approval.
The Ocean City Board of Education will discuss the potential election changes at the public meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 25, according to School Business Administrator Tom Grossi.
Under the new law, there are three ways by the school elections can be changed:
- By passage of a resolution by the Board of Education.
- By the passage of a resolution by City Council.
- By referendum, if a petition to place it on the ballot is signed by at least 15 percent of the number of voters in the last presidential election.
The new law does require voter approval for budgets that exceed the state’s 2 percent cap, but budgets that fall under the cap would not go to voters. Under the current system, voters have the power to reject school budgets but have no say how or by how much — that task usually falls to municipal government.
The law’s supporters say moving the vote to November could increase voter turnout, which was just 10.71 percent for Ocean City's uncontested elections in April 2011.
The move could also save the district the cost of running a separate election in the spring — typically more than $15,000.
A couple other considerations:
- If the board acts before Jan. 31 (a rumored deadline to make the changes effective this year) and the election is moved, current board members whose seats were supposed to expire in April would remain on the board until the end of the year. Candidates who would have appeared on the ballot in April would now appear on the November general election ballot.
- Critics of the change argue holding school elections in November would inject partisan influence into the campaigns.
"NJEA supported this legislation because it offered local districts the option of moving the election or leaving it as is, as the school board sees fit," NJEA spokesman Steve Baker said. "We also support removing the budget from the election. Nowhere else do voters get a direct say in the budget by voting for it. School boards set the budget based on their individual community and school needs — that's what they're elected to do and that's what they should be doing."
"Voters do not get to vote on municipal or county budgets," New Jersey School Boards Association spokesman Frank Belluscio said. "School budgets often bear the brunt of voter dissatisfaction."
Belluscio reports a lot of phone calls from superintendents, business administrators and board members interested in making the change to a November election.
"It's more than I would have thought," he said.
Administrators are trying to find more information because if they want to make the change, it must be quick. While there is no firm deadline from the state for changing to November elections, there are several significant school budget-related deadlines in February approaching, including announcing the election and filing deadlines for school board candidates.
The first district in New Jersey to enact the change to November was Jackson Township in Ocean County.
If school boards don't make the change this year, they can do it at any point in the future.