Moved School Elections Saved Nearly $1M in NJ
Cost to promote school budgets not necessary, dropping campaign spending, ELEC says.
For the first time in New Jersey’s history, many municipalities had school board candidates on the General Election ballot this November after Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation in January allowing school boards to move their voting times.
The move, it seems, has paid off big time locally, according to an analysis by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC).
The law gave school districts an incentive to move elections by not having to post their budgets for public vote as long as it fell within the 2-percent annual tax cap. More than 86-percent of the state’s districts moved their elections from April to November this year, the report said.
All school elections and budget votes were previously held in April only.
The report said it was the lack of budget votes that created the major decrease in spending by the New Jersey Education Association, a heavy promoter of school budgets.
The School District of the Chathams was among those districts which chose to keep their elections in April after overwhelming opposition from residents. According to information from Peter Daquila, the district's business administrator, the elections cost the district about $11,500.
"We pay the election workers, we have to pay the county charge for the election and we have to pay for the voting machines," Daquila said, "and that does not include the district [newsletter]," which is mailed to every household.
For many residents who attended a public hearing on the issue in February, the main reason to keep elections in April was to protect their right to vote on the budget every year.
Under the law, school budgets which raise taxes within the state-mandated cap do not need to be voted on by the public, making the policy on school budgets similar to the policy for municipal budgets. Districts which kept their elections in April must have their budgets approved each year.
Residents at the February meeting cited the district's history of passing the budget each year without fail since 1988, and said they did not wish to be stripped of their right to vote on the budget.
Others expressed concerns over the wording of the bill passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Christie. The bill reads school budgets must be within the cap, but does not specify the cap amount. The cap is currently at two percent, but is subject to change.
Michelle Clark of Education Counts said she is wary of what the law could mean if the tax levy cap is further reduced or if state aid goes down.
"We're not always sure what state aid we're getting," she said. "We do not typically get a lot of state support in funding. ... I feel like we're putting ourselves in a really difficult situation."
Cathy Kellstrom said the state legislature does not always think about what is best for districts such as Chatham.
"I have so little trust in what goes on in Trenton and how it affects us in the suburban districts," she said. "I have this niggling feeling that they're trying to shove something under the carpet, that they're trying to hoodwink us in some way," she said.