Low voter turnout in the Annual School Election has resulted in public comment by legislators about changing the date of the Annual School Election and other election/budget processes.
Since 1979, the Annual School Election has taken place in April. Prior to that, school elections occurred on two Tuesdays in Februaryone date for regional school boards, the other for all other elected boards of education.
Consistent voter turnout for the 2006 election, 15.7%, represented a slight increase from last year’s 13.2%. The figure is consistent with the voter participation rates recorded since NJSBA began tracking the statistic in the early 1980s.
The drop in budget approvals last Tuesdayto 53.4%, from 70.7% last yearalso resulted in calls for action on property tax reform and the state’s school finance system. Nonetheless, several legislators said the situation warranted a look at school election dates.
Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts: This year’s school elections could rekindle legislative interest in eliminating school budget referendums and changing the annual date for electing local school board members, Roberts noted in an April 18 statement. Roberts might make school election reform a component of a legislative package aimed at property tax savings through shared services and other efficiencies.
Senate Education Chair Shirley Turner: Turner said she would schedule committee hearings to identify an election cycle that would prevent “dismal turnouts.” Hearings could begin over the next two months and would weigh several proposals.
The senator is sponsoring S-1546, which would move school board member elections to the November General Election. The bill would also eliminate the need for voter approval of proposed school district base budgets within cap.
Another Senate proposal, S-708, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance (R-23) and Senator John Adler (D-6), would move board member elections to November. However, it would leave the school budget approval process intact.
Senator Anthony Bucco: The Senate’s assistant minority leader called for movement on S-858, which would eliminate the budget restoration process. That option allows school districts to apply to the state Commissioner of Education for restoration of cuts that municipalities make to defeated school budgets (as well as cuts made by boards of school estimate in districts where voters do not act on proposed budgets).
Last year, only three districts applied to the commissioner for restoration. S-858 (Bucco, Bark) is in the Senate Education Committee. Identical legislation, A-405 (Bodine, Chatzidakis, Merkt), is currently in the Assembly Education Committee.
Association Policy NJSBA policy supports elimination of elections on the portion of the proposed budget that is within cap. (Municipalities and counties, which also function under budget caps, do not have to undergo the additional layer of voter approval.) Based on support for the current process of non-partisan school board elections, NJSBA policy opposes moving the election of board members to the November General Election.