TRENTON, October 19, 2012—When Gov. Chris Christie signed a measure into law earlier this year that allowed communities to change their school election from April to the November General Election, one reason cited was increasing public participation. While more people may vote in November, the New Jersey School Boards Association discovered a slight decrease in people running for their board of education.
The April school elections – in which voters in over 90 percent of school districts elected board members and decided school budgets – have typically attracted about 15 percent of voters. This year, communities that moved their board member elections to November no longer have to put their annual budget to a vote, as long as the spending plan stays within the state's 2-percent tax levy cap. In the end, 73 districts still have April elections, while 468 communities will hold their board-member election on Nov. 6 this year.
While the November elections attract a far greater number of voters – especially in years with a presidential race – there has been a slight decrease in school board candidates this year.
An average of 1.25 candidates is running for each open school-board seat in the November 2012 elections. That's a slight decrease from the April 2012 elections, which had 1.44 candidates per seat, and the April 2011 elections, which saw 1.38 candidates per seat.
The ratio of candidates per vacant seat is the lowest in the past 14 elections, according to NJSBA statistics. (In 1999, there were 1.23 candidates for each vacancy.)
That decrease is more likely affecting challengers, not incumbents, according to NJSBA. Of all school-board candidates running in November, 52.2 percent are incumbents. In April 2012 and April 2011 elections, incumbents made up 50 percent and 47.7 of the candidate pool, respectively.
One likely reason for the decrease in the pool of school-board candidates may be the early filing deadline for school board races. School board members were required to hand in their nominating petition – the document that places their name on the ballot – a full five months before the election.
A bill introduced in the legislature would move the filing deadline to 64 days before the General Election, which would match the filing deadline for nonpartisan municipal elections. The measure, Senate Bill 2086, is sponsored by Sen. Jim Whelan. Had the measure been in effect this year, school board members would have been able to submit their paperwork on Sept. 4 instead of June 5.
Open seats: 1,448
Total candidates: 1,813
Ratio of candidates to available seats: 1.25
Incumbents as percentage of all candidates: 52.2%
Open Seats: 221
Total candidates: 318
Ratio of candidates to available seats: 1.44
Incumbents as percentage of all candidates: 50%
Open seats: 1,612
Total candidates: 2,222
Ratio of candidates to available seats: 1.38
The New Jersey School Boards Association is a federation of 586 local boards of education and includes more than 75 charter school associate members. NJSBA provides training, advocacy and support to advance public education and promote the achievement of all students through effective governance.