TRENTON – Next year’s school board elections would coincide with the November general elections under a bill sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner and approved by the Senate Education Committee today.
“Vibrant, successful schools require public support and strong community involvement,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer and Chair of the Committee. “This involvement must begin with the ballot box, getting more people engaged in the decision-making process of our schools. Our children are too important to leave the selection of a school board in the hands of a small minority.”
Senator Turner’s bill, S-1546, moves all future school elections to the date of the general election in November instead of the current day in the third week of April. Elected school board members would take office the following January. The bill would also require that the names of candidates for the school board appear separate from the candidates running for other offices.
“Voter turnout is dismal, with barely 15% of registered voters coming out last month,” explained Senator Turner. “Media coverage of school elections is often very light and candidates have modest budgets for reaching out to voters, resulting in only a limited number of people knowing the date of the election or anything about the candidates. A November election addresses this problem, overcoming voter ambivalence.”
The bill also would amend current law to eliminate budget votes for school districts that submit an annual budget that is at or under the spending cap. School districts wishing to exceed their spending cap would be allowed to submit a public question for voter approval at the November election for the amount over the spending cap.
“New Jersey holds far too many elections every year. School elections are costing districts a great deal, both in dollars and in the time of administrators,” added Senator Turner. “In times of skyrocketing property taxes, districts can ill afford the tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of personnel hours that go into these elections. These are resources that can certainly be better spent improving the quality of the education our children receive.”
The bill would go into effect for the 2007 school elections. Current school board members’ terms would be extended by 8 months to coincide with the new election calendar.
“The current election system supports the status quo in our schools. For our schools to continue to succeed, we need to think outside the box and begin to take action,” said Senator Turner.
The bill passed the Committee by a vote of 3-1. It now goes to the full Senate for their consideration.