Last night at a special meeting, the South Orange-Maplewod Board of Education voted down a resolution to move its elections to November this year.
However, the Board's vote may be moot if South Orange passes a resolution in favor of the move at its Feb. 15 meeting, as Maplewood passed just such a resolution on Feb. 7. The new legislation says that the elections can be moved if either the Board of Education votes to move them, the affected municipalities' governing bodies vote to move them, or voters can pass a public question that is presented to them at the November General Election. Board of Education President Beth Daugherty indicated that South Orange Village President Alex Torpey believes there is support among the South Orange Board to move the elections.
The five members opposing the move stated many reasons for their opposition, but an over-riding factor seemed to be timing, as the Board subsequently passed a resolution supporting the state legislation and the option to move its elections in 2013.
Three Board members voted in favor of making the move this year — Wayne Eastman, Lynne Crawford and Board President Beth Daugherty. Daugherty cited the cost savings to the school district of at least $35,000 but also the increased voter turnout that fall elections enjoy. In voting against moving the elections this year, both David Giles and Dr. Bill Gaudelli said they worried that the election would become less concerned with issues of education and get lost in the larger issues of a November election. Mark Gleason worried about partisanship leaking into the process and the added costs to campaign in a crowded fall election season.
Gleason did, however, say that he agreed with the more direct accounting to the electorate from the Board of Education that such a move would create. "It requires a shift from us," said Gleason, noting that the Board would have to think more in terms of taxpayer advocacy as well as education advocacy.
Both Gleason and Sandra Karriem expressed concerns about the rush to make a decision for this year — districts must file with the County Clerk by Feb. 17. Gleason and Karriem said the timetable did not allow for sufficient public feedback. Daugherty pointed out that two weeks' notice had been given for this meeting on the topic and virtually no members of the public appeared to comment or attend; in fact, she pointed out, 80 people left the room immediately following the end of the previous discussion concerning middle school and high school restructuring.
Jennifer Payne-Parrish did not comment and abstained from the first vote.
On the second vote in favor of the legislature's bills — A2310 and S1328 — and giving the Board the option to move the election next year, seven Board of Education members voted in favor, one opposed (Payne-Parrish) and one abstained (Crawford).