Members of the Washington Township Board of Education had mixed feelings about possibly moving school elections from April to November, after .
Political influence and a possible lack of focus on education were some of the reasons the board members did not want to make the move, while saving costs on an additional election and seeing a higher turnout were the ideas behind making the switch.
“The [school] election was put purposely in April to be separate from politics,” board member Kevin Daly said. “It’s separated for a purpose, and before we make a decision, we need to visit that purpose.”
Board member Kathleen Koop echoed those sentiments, pointing her worries specifically at the Long Valley community’s political battle zones.
“People come to Long Valley for the schools,” Koop said. “But what upsets me so much is the political character of this town. It can get very ugly in November, and I don’t want that to play a part in the school election. The focus in April is on education.”
Under the new legislation, if a school district moves its election to November, the public will not vote on a proposed budget, as long as it stays under the state-mandated 2-percent cap. If a proposed budget goes above the mandate, a referendum will be put on the ballot asking voters to approve or deny the increase.
In Washington Township, approximately 70-percent of property taxes funds the K-8 and West Morris Regional School districts.
It was the budget topic that stood out for some board members, including president Michael Rec.
“It’s easy–as a member of the public–to speculate that the board will create a budget at 2-percent or around 2-percent just because there won’t be a vote on it,” Rec said. “But our priority will be, as it always has been, to make an efficient budget.”
Rec pointed out that the previous three school budgets have decreased year over year.
“I think we can separate the political aspects if we move [to November],” said board member Perry Kwok. “I don’t think we’ll damage the process. We’ve been fiscally responsible in the past, and I think we’ll do the right thing by staying under the cap.”
The April 2011 election cost the Washington Township School District $6,500, according to board member Michelle Munley. The district only pays half of the total cost, as it is split with the West Morris Regional High School District.
“The November turnout is greater, and I think the back-door purpose of this move is to include more people in the vote,” Munley said. “But taking away the vote on a budget bothers me.”
Under the new law, any one of three groups can make the decision to move the vote: the school board, local voters (through a petition) and the municipal government.
“Before we make any decision, I think we need to be completely aligned with the Township Committee,” Rec said. “We should discuss the situation with them before making a vote.”
Public Wants to Be Heard
Long Valley resident told the board that moving the election to November is taxation without representation.
“I can’t believe you’re even contemplating taking any vote away from the residents that affects their pockets,” Leslie said. “If this isn’t disenfranchising the voters, I don’t know what is. Why in the world would you take the vote away?”
Township committeeman Tracy Tobin was also in attendance for the meeting, and agreed with some board members on the political nature of moving the election.
“I’m not in favor of making the change because of the political linkage,” Tobin said. “The process may become more politicized. What the legislature should have done was put this to a referendum question from the start.”
“You should let the public decide,” Leslie said.
The next Washington Township Board of Education meeting will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the on Tuesday, Feb. 7. The board will continue its discussion on the issue.