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(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Lou Greenwald, Paul Moriarty, Wayne DeAngelo and Troy Singleton to give municipalities a choice to move April school elections to November was released Thursday by an Assembly committee.
The bill (A-4394) provides two methods by which municipalities may move their school elections from April to the November general election.
“Politicians and pundits have talked about doing this for years, but special interests and inertia have prevented progress on this important issue–until today,” said Greenwald (D-Camden), the budget chairman and incoming Assembly majority leader. “Empowering towns to move their school elections to November will give voters better control of their local finances while saving property taxpayers the costs of holding yet another local election.”
“April’s school elections have become a costly charade,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex), a resident of Hamilton Township, Mercer County, where the district budget has been voted-down, only to have the election overturned by state education officials. “Ultimate fiscal responsibility and accountability should rest with a school board elected in November by a majority of voters.”
“November school elections would offer increased accountability while reducing unnecessary election costs,” said Moriarty (D-Gloucester/Camden). “This solution would be a step toward controlling government spending and property taxes and more public participation in our democracy. Those are all good things.”
“This bill is long overdue common sense,” said Singleton (D-Burlington/Camden). “Finally opening the door to moving school elections to November is the right thing to do for property taxpayers and voters. Quite simply, it’s the right thing to do.”
The bill would establish two procedures for allowing a school district to move its annual school election to the November general election.
The first procedure would be via a question presented to the voters in a November election. The referendum would be prompted by a petition signed by not less than 15 percent of the voters who voted in the district during the last preceding presidential election.
The second procedure would allow the election to be moved to November upon the adoption of a resolution by the board of education or governing body of a municipality. Regional school districts, like local school districts, can move their school elections to November through a simple vote of the regional school board.
If the district’s annual school election is moved to November, then the district’s board members would be elected in November and take office at the beginning of January.
“A 2011 report estimated that, on average, only about 15 percent of New Jersey voters participate in school elections,” Greenwald said. “With school finances by far the largest portion of a property tax bill and education among the top quality of life concerns for our residents, we need to empower more voters to make decisions on issues that directly impact them and their communities.”
Additionally, if a district moves its election to November voters would not be required to vote on the district’s base budget, or a budget with a proposed tax levy that does not exceed the 2 percent levy cap. Any requests for spending above the district’s tax levy cap would be presented to the voters in November.
Still, a school district that moves its annual school election to November would continue to be required to submit its budget to the Commissioner of Education for approval.
If, however, a district determines when it is preparing its budget to seek voter approval for additional funds over its tax levy limitation, that district would submit a temporary budget to the commissioner.
If the voters approve the proposal for additional spending, the board of education would submit the resulting final budget to the commissioner and the tax levy for the school year would be recertified to reflect the additional amount.
If the voters disapprove the proposal for additional funds, the district’s temporary budget would be its final budget for that school year.
The bill would not alter the process for the approval of budgets for school districts which conduct their annual school election in April.
The bill also would not alter budget approval in districts in which the board of education submits the district budget to a board of school estimate for approval.
If a district moves its election to November, the district would not be permitted to change its election back to April until at least four annual school elections have been held in November.
The bill was released by the Assembly Budget Committee chaired by Greenwald.