The South Orange - Maplewood School Board of Education voted to adopt a resolution to move the Board of Education (BOE) elections from April to November at its monthly meeting on Monday.
The resolution moves the elections from the third Tuesday in April to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, the date of the general election.
The resolution passed 7-1, with Bill Gaudelli voting against. (See the entire resolution attached to this article as a PDF). Previously, the Maplewood Township Committee (TC) had voted in favor of the move; while the South Orange Board of Trustees declined to take any action and the Board of Education voted against.
"I believe that we would have a better discussion in the community with a special election for BOE," said Gaudelli in an email interview with Patch. "My thinking is that candidates would be more carefully vetted by voters who would not have multiple elections to consider simultaneously but could focus on a single race."
Gov. Chris Christie recently signed a bill that paved the way for the board's vote. SOMSD has been the only school district of its type in the state that has a Board of School Estimate (BSE) as the ultimate taxing authority on school budgets, rather than having a public vote on budgets. The bill eliminates the BSE approval of budgets except for proposals to spend above cap.
In effect, the move makes the BOE the final taxing authority on school budgets.
"I applaud the Board of Education for voting to make this change," said Maplewood Township Committee member Jerry Ryan. "Part of the change is that budgets are handled slightly differently. The BSE will now only be involved in school tax rate questions if the board wants to exceed cap. I think that's appropriate. The BSE will continue to be involved in voting on the capital budget."
"I do agree that the BOE should take full responsibility for its own budget and the tax levy it creates, which is required with this change, though there was no way to parse that piece of the legislation out while maintaining the election date in April," said Gaudelli. He also cited reported problems with ballot placement in prior elections, as well as the fear of injecting partisan disputes into the issues as reasons for his vote.
The BOE's vote also in effect extends the terms of the current board members until January 2014, the date of the board's annual reorganization meeting.
"I think it's problematic for a sitting Board member to extend (his or her) own term, though I realize we were put into this position by the legislature and that no one currently on the Board voted with this intention," Gaudelli said.
Ryan has long been in favor of moving the BOE elections, which he said would "dramatically increase the turnout and make the election more representative of the will of the overall electorate."
Ryan said he would like to see the BSE eliminated entirely and have the public vote on the budget as a ballot question, as other towns with an elected school board do.
Patch reached out to BOE President Beth Daugherty for comment and will update this article as necessary.