On April 13, a New Jersey Superior Court judge stopped the Essex County clerk from certifying the results of a school board referendum to change the appointed City of Orange Township Board of Education to an elected one, a process known as moving from a Type I to a Type II school district.
In July 2016, the Orange Township City Council adopted a resolution placing a referendum on the November 2016 ballot that sought to change the district’s organization from a Type I district to a Type II, with the first school board election to be scheduled for November 2017. The November referendum passed with 77 percent voter approval. Following this approval, as required by law, the school board conducted a special election in March to increase the size of the board from seven to nine members.
The court’s April ruling restrained the Essex County Board of Elections from certifying results of the special election, held March 28, 2017, in which two candidates were elected to board seats. The ruling also restrained the Orange city council from taking action in furtherance of the November 8, 2016 referendum.
The two individuals elected on March 28 were never sworn into office, because the election results were never certified, so there was no need to remove board members, according to a school district official.
While there are a number of distinctions between those districts classified as Type I and Type II, the primary distinction is that in Type I districts, the mayor annually appoints board members to rotating three-year terms, while in Type II districts, board members are elected to such terms by the electorate. However, another important distinction is that Type I districts have a board of school estimate which works in conjunction with the local municipality in order to secure funding for capital projects. Generally, in a Type I district, the board of school estimate will adopt a resolution seeking bonding for capital projects; the municipality will then adopt a bond ordinance supporting that project. However, in Type II districts, bonding for capital projects must be approved by public referendum.
While the board did not contest the city’s November referendum, it did file a complaint seeking to invalidate the results of the March special election and to prevent the city from taking any further action to implement the November 2016 referendum changing the district to Type II. In its petition, the board argued that the interpretive statement was misleading because it did not clearly set forth all of the ramifications of the change from type I to type II.
Specifically, the public question stated,“[s]hall the Board of Education of the City of Orange Township be changed from a board that is appointed by the Mayor, to a board that is elected by the residents of Orange, effective immediately, with the first school board election to be held during the November 2017 general election [?].” The interpretive statement read, “[p]resently the Mayor appoints members to serve on the City’s Board of Education. If changed to a board of elected members, the residents will have more control over who serves on the board of education.”
In opposing the referendum, the board argued that “the public was not informed that the school district would change from a Type I to a Type II district, that the Board of School Estimate would be eliminated, that future bonding for capital projects would have to be approved by public referendum, that future bonding for capital projects would be based on the credit of the district as opposed to the City, that the size of the Board of Education would increase from seven members to nine, and that the first election of members of the Board of Education would take place in March 2017.”
The court ultimately determined that both the public question and interpretive statement failed to include “sufficient information to enable voters to possess a basic working knowledge of the weight their vote carries.” As noted above, the court restrained the Essex County Board of Elections from certifying the results of the March 28, 2017 special school board election and restrained the city council from taking action in furtherance of the November 8, 2016 referendum.
At publication, the NJSBA is unaware of any plans to appeal this decision.