For all the uncertainty this week will bring for New Jersey public schools, throw in a truly unprecedented event: school board elections as part of Tuesday's national ballot.
The question now is how many people will notice.
It will be a wild week in general for New Jersey’s schools, with close to half of them finally opening on Monday, according to the state Department of Education. In all, 255 districts out of 590 statewide have reported they will be open, many for the first time since Hurricane Sandy slammed into New Jersey and New York.
Unsurprisingly, school districts across the state are making last-minute adjustments to their calendars, with many taking take advantage of the canceled New Jersey Education Association convention normally held this Thursday and Friday.
Now factor in the school board votes slated for Election Day, the first to be held in November since a law enacted last winter gave districts the option to move to their ballots in return for not needing a public vote on the school budget.
In all, 468 districts will hold board elections on Tuesday, with less than 80 remaining with April votes. Overall, there will be 1,813 candidates vying for 1,448 open seats, according go the state’s school boards association, a slightly smaller ratio than usual for April elections. A little more than half of the candidates are incumbents, a slight increase.
But while the move to November was meant to boost turnout in school elections that usually hovers in the teens, several observers wonder how many more people will actually cast local votes on what will is already a crowded ballot.
“Just because you may get 60 percent to 70 percent turnout for the presidential race, it doesn’t mean all of them will vote all the way down the ballot,” said James Madden, a political consultant with the Gallowglass Group in Wood-Ridge.
“There will be a bump, but it is hard to predict by how much,” he said.
Madden and others said the races had barely made a dent in the political landscape before Hurricane Sandy, and they will surely be fighting harder for attention after it.
“There would be low knowledge of the races beforehand and even less now, with all the campaign signs being blown over,” said Patrick Murray of the Monmouth Polling Institute at Monmouth University.
“I think there will be a lot of people surprised when they walk into the polling booth and even see [a school race] on the ballot.”
If they can find it, that is. Local races are separated on the actual ballot from the national and state races. Depending on the county, the local races will be listed to the side of the ballot or at the very bottom.
“Some may not even see it, given its place on the ballot,” Murray said.
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