The Lacey Township School District voted to move its board elections to November, which will eliminate the budget vote if spending plans remain under the state-mandated 2 percent tax levy cap.
“It’s the feelings of the board that this is the right thing to do,” President Jack Martenak said. “It saves us money in budget expenses and hopefully it will increase voter turnout for school board elections."
The school board joined many across the state in the switch, which will save the district approximately $20,000 in election costs.
The vote, which was unanimous, moves elections to the first Tuesday in November. Those board members who are up for re-election this year will remain on the board until November.
"It takes the issue of the school budget off of elections, which is the only budget that voters are allowed to vote on in the realm of federal, state, county, municipal and school budgets,” Martenak said.
A budget referendum will only be necessary if the board's budget exceeds the 2 percent tax levy cap. The move allows for more planning without the concern of a budget outcome, Martenak said.
But Martenak does not see that part of the law as much of a change as the school district proposed a zero percent increase in the tax levy for the last two years, he said.
The budget process will remain the same, Martenak said. A special meeting for the submission of the preliminary 2012-13 budget will be held on Monday, March 5 and the budget will be made available at a public hearing on Monday, March 26. Both meetings will be held in the high school's lecture hall at 6 p.m.
According to the law, moved to November, acting as filing officer for nomination petitions, ruling on objections to nominations and designing the set-up of the ballot.
A non-scientific Lacey Patch poll held in January revealed that 65 percent of readers supported the move.
Even though residents will not have the option to vote the budget down if the board remains under the cap, Lacey resident Tim O’Connor thought the move would be beneficial to the township.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “The object is to control the board members. With more people involved [on election day], we’ll be able to do that.”
With greater voter turnout, residents will have ability to essentially control the budget by whom they vote in, he said.
Lanoka Harbor Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization President Carolyn Roselli previously said she does not have a firm stance on the issue but it may be beneficial to start with a budget in November with the same staff rather than issue a budget in April, as the school year comes to an end.
“[The board should do] anything that would be more beneficial to the students and would be helpful to the district in getting the things that the schools need,” Roselli, a teacher at a local preschool and parent of four children, said.
Central Regional, Manchester districts weigh in
Lacey is not the only area district that jumped at the chance to move its elections. Barnegat, Central Regional and Manchester have done the same.
"We don't have to go to the towns," said longtime member at her board's Jan. 19 board meeting. "That was so agonizing."
"It will give us a little more flexibility," board President Keith Buscio said. "In that respect, we gain a little more control that we had in the past."
Central Regional Schools Superintendent said that the 2012-13 budget will be tight. Parlapanides had already begun gearing up to get the budget passed in April.
"We didn't know if this bill was going to pass or not," he said. "We've already scheduled 42 meetings with the senior communities and PTAs."
Business Administrator Kevin O'Shea said he didn't anticipate the district would go over a 2 percent increase for the budget's tax levy. That would help the district avoid repeats of last year's battles when the budget went down by 106 votes, requiring the governing bodies of all five of Central's sending towns – Berkeley, Ocean Gate, Island Heights, Seaside Heights and Seaside Park – to hammer out a tax cut all could live with.
Manchester Board of Education President Donald Webster said that when it came to an Election Day shift, "the pros outweigh the cons."
Webster said that although the board has "some reservations" with the law including how referendum votes will work and whether partisan politics could come into play, the changes should be beneficial.
Webster said that in 1903 school board elections were legislated to be held in April to avoid the partisan politics associated with the general election. Manchester's municipal government has been nonpartisan since 1990.
Last year, as has happened in years past, the Manchester school district's $50 million budget. A weeks-long process involving meetings between the township council and board of education led to a .
"This will be a big help for us," said Superintendent of Schools David Trethaway.
Based on several polls, the majority of Patch readers in Barnegat, Manchester and Toms River support moving board of education elections and forgoing the public vote on the budget. In a query on this site, 71 percent of respondents said they agreed with the move. A similar poll in Manchester showed 77 percent agreed. In Toms River, the margin was smaller – 57 percent said they would be OK with a November school election.
Breaking down the new school elections law
What it is: Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill that would allow school districts to move their board and budget elections to November and eliminate budget votes entirely for spending that falls within the new 2 percent tax cap. While the law makes such a move optional, it is arguably the most significant change to the way New Jersey residents have voted on school taxes since such a system was first enacted in 1903. The option is effective immediately, and a spokesman of the school boards association said it expects a "good number" of districts to take it.
The lure: The big attraction is that if a district moves the vote to November, it would eliminate school votes entirely for those budgets within the cap, taking away the uncertainty that grips most budgets each year when its fate — no matter the increase or even sometimes decrease — rests on a few voters.
The exception: Even if moved to November, voters would still have a say on budgets when they exceeded the cap. Districts would have to propose that excess spending as a separate ballot question, with no ability to appeal in the case of rejection.
The trade-off: The reluctance comes in the politics of moving school board elections to the prime time of November. With state and even federal offices also on the ballot, that brings a lot more voters to the polls, addressing the notoriously low turnout of April elections. But it also could make them far more partisan, raising concern that the election would be even more political than they are. There has also been opposition from some quarters to eliminating the school budget vote for even those within cap, claiming the voters should still have a say on what is the largest piece of their tax bill.
Catherine Galioto, Graelyn Brashear, Gregory Kyriakakis, Patricia Miller contributed to this report.