On January 17th, Governor Chris Christie signed into law a bill authorizing the movement of the date of the annual school election to November. This is a bill that was pushed through the legislature during a lame duck session without enough attention to detail— such as how it will impact school governance--since new candidates will be sworn in in the middle of the school year and at the 11th hour of budget planning; how they will reconfigure the electronic ballots to fit both general election and board election candidates as well as referendum questions; and how the election board will pro-rate the costs of these making these changes. We don’t even know where the school board candidates will be placed on the ballot or if they will have to use separate machines. The state is essentially asking us to fly blind.
The suggestion that this will be a major cost-saving measure flies in the face of a recent report from the New Jersey Office of Legislative Services; pointing to the the fact that districts spend a fraction of one percent of their budgets to pay for April voting, the report concludes, “There will be no fiscal impact in a school district that does not change the date of its annual school elections.”
Therefore we must weigh the small cost consideration of moving the elections against the very real risk of further politicizing a process that should remain nonpartisan. Moving the election to November will make it very difficult for individual candidates to run against candidates who are heavily subsidized by local political machines that draw campaign contributions from vendors, contractors and other outside interests who in turn want a return on their investment. Bloomfield needs board members who are not accountable to outside parties.
School board elections are sufficiently important to warrant their own day to give voters the time and space away from general elections to familiarize themselves with the BOE candidates, the educational issues and the school budget. On any given year, a November ballot will be overly crowded with federal, state and/or municipal elections and their added questions. More importantly, moving the election to November will disenfranchise voters by depriving them of the time-honored tradition to vote on the biggest share of their tax bill.
Finally, moving the election to November is a four-year commitment, so if a district discovers that it wreaks havoc on the budget planning process or discourages committed individuals from running, there’s no turning back. It is shortsighted to disempower voters or politically unaffiliated candidates whose only goal is to improve student achievement.