ALJ Removes Revokes Tenure for a TeacherDecember 8, 2011
Rice’s DiscourtesyDecember 9, 2011
Assembly Bill 4394, which gives school boards, voters, and municipalities the right to move school board elections and budget votes to November, passed successfully through the Appropriations Committee yesterday. Here’s coverage from NJ Spotlight and the Star-Ledger; here’s the NJ Democratic Assembly press release. The bill seems likely to pass through the Legislature. It’s backed by NJEA and New Jersey School Boards Association, although NJSBA wants to remove the authority from municipalities. During a lame duck session that’s seen lots of education bills and little action, it’s an easy win for all sides.
The key to the bill is that if a school district moves elections to November then it gets to bypass a community vote on the school budget, as long as the budget stays below a 2% increase. Only 8 other states in the U.S., as Spotlight points out, have community referenda on school budgets. Yet school board members worry that November elections will politicize board elections. From Spotlight:
Still, school advocates had been hesitant to move the votes to November for a number of reasons. A main one was the concern that it would further politicize the process, putting school board candidates and budgets on the same ballot as those running for president and governor.
On the other hand, here’s Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, sponsor of the bill, on the impact of moving elections:
Politicians and pundits have talked about doing this for years, but special interests and inertia have prevented progress on this important issue–until today.
So, which is it? Do April or November elections taint the purity of school board member elections?
Here’s something to remember: some of the most highly politicized school boards don’t even choose their members through public elections. Here’s the lede from a Star-Ledger piece:
But a four-month investigation by The Star-Ledger, drawing on interviews, lawsuits and internal documents, shows [the Elizabeth Public Schools] can also be a relentless political machine fueled by nepotism, patronage, money and favors, using its nearly 4,000 employees as a ready-made fundraising base.
Nonetheless, it seems unlikely to me that many school boards will opt to move elections to November. The bill demands a four-year commitment (it wouldn’t work to have new board members sworn in after a November election and then others come in the following April) and board members tend to be cautious. The 2% cap allays community fears about profligacy, so budgets have a higher chance of passing anyway. The money saved by avoiding a special April elections is peanuts in proportion to the magnitude of school finances.
It’s a nice idea in theory. We’ll see if any board opts to translate theory into practice.