Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lame Duck Alert: Moving School Board Elections to November

The Daily Record is reporting a sudden upswing in interest among legislators regarding two bills that have existed in Statehouse Purgatory for several years, either buried in committee or relegated to someone’s back burner. One bill would require school districts and municipalities to participate in county purchasing programs. The second would move school board elections to November and eliminate school budget elections for districts that strike budgets under the 2% cap.

Who can argue with the first bill? Anyway, many districts already participate in joint purchasing agreements for various commodities, sometimes in consortia with other districts and sometimes with municipalities. It’s a no-brainer. Just don't get bogged down on the local control angle among home rulists. Please don't encourage them.

Moving school board elections to April is more controversial, or at least it was the last time it was seriously considered in 2009. Then, its sponsor, Sen. Shirley Turner, couldn’t even get it to a vote within the Education Committee – but its time is nigh.

November elections are opposed by NJEA and NJ School Boards Association, or at least they shared that stance a couple of years ago, and for pretty much the same reasons. (A moment of silence, please, for the era when NJEA and NJSBA were more often than not reading from the same talking points.)

At the time both lobbying groups posited, “This move would politicize what is currently a non-partisan election process.”

[Cue kerfaws of hysterical laughter. Can anyone say that with a straight face anymore? Note that not all partisan politics is defined by major political parties; for illustration, see latest from Hamilton School Board.)]

But it’s a good and proper bill, compliant with the sense of man and God that voting is a November activity. Compartmentalizing school board member and school budget elections to an arbitrary date in April (last year it was a Wednesday, not a Tuesday) encourages low turnout (typically about 10%) and accommodates special interest groups. From a Record editorial on this bill in a previous incarnation:
[C]urrently, the teachers union appears to have more financial involvement than political parties do in school board elections, according to a report by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission. Statewide, about 9 percent of school board campaign contributions were from political parties, compared to 40 percent from donors with ties to the NJEA, the commission found in 2002.
The other portion of the bill that eliminates votes on budgets that come in under cap is a lovely carrot to the stick of state legislation, and a boon to school districts that no longer will have to spend months marketing their finances. And eliminating a special election in April will save money!

Dear Legislators: you are faced with some complex education bills this session that deserve your full attention and analyses. These two regarding school board and budget elections are easy as pie. Pass them.

1 comment:

kallikak said...

Please don't lower school boards to the level of municipal councils!

('Cause that's what will happen when the real money starts flowing in November).