Earlier this month the South Brunswick School District, like hundreds of other districts around the state, voted to move the annual school election from April to November. Officials estimated this could save the district $36,000 and the township $14,000 on the cost of running the April election.
By moving the election, the legislation eliminates a budget vote entirely for spending that falls within the 2 percent tax cap.
This also moves the vote on board of education candidates to November, who will now be elected along with political seats ranging from the township council to the President of the United States. Ballots would include school board candidates in a separate section of the general ballot, and candidates "will not be aligned with any political party or partisan candidates," according to the DOE.
The state's rationale for eliminating a budget vote is that the districts that keep within the 2 percent cap are budgeting responsibly, so there is no need to put the budgets to a public vote.
By moving the school election to November, the district has also committed to having November elections for the next four years.
Superintendant Gary McCartney said the district would still be holding public hearings on the budget as they had in previous years. Dr. McCartney said he was in favor of the move because if a budget that falls within the 2 percent cap were to be defeated, that budget base would be lowered for the following school budget election.
"If you have a series of budgets that fail you can never make that up," he said earlier this month. "That affects students and teachers."
South Brunswick voters approved the 2011-12 school budget by a margin of 2,161 to 1,546. Taxpayers approved a $95 million general fund levy that carried a 12.2 cent tax rate increase, which raised the school tax rate to $2.802 per $100 of assessed valuation. A township home with an assessed value of $200,000 saw an increase of about $244 in school taxes under the approved budget ($20.33 per month) and a home assessed at $300,000 saw an increase of about $366 ($30 per month).
Critics of the move have said eliminating the budget vote takes away the public's right to choose and inhibits their role in the process. Critics have also said it affects transparency in the process. There are additional concerns about the move to November turning school board elections into partisan politics.
Proponents have said the move makes obvious fiscal sense and the public doesn't have the right to vote on other budgets, such as the municipal budget.
What are your thoughts on school elections moving to November? Do you think it removes the right to choose for South Brunswick voters? Or do you think during a recession this is the right move to save money and reward districts that fall within the 2 percent cap?