On September 13 Paterson Education Fund’s Board of Directors unanimously passed the following resolution:
“PEF will educate citizens as to the process to move the School Board Election from April to November. This will include issuance of a timeline, Q&A and other pertinent information. PEF will recommend that unless there is a compelling reason to vote for the change immediately, the School Board wait for lessons learned from the first round of NJ November elections in November 2012 and take up the issue in 2013.”
Our board had a robust discussion of the issue and noted the following concerns:
- Open and free elections are a fundamental building block of our democracy. School boards are the closest elected representatives to the people of any community. Cost to run the election should not be a prime concern driving any decision regarding elections.
- The paramount reason for most boards of education to move their elections to November was to avoid a vote on the budget, often a contentions and costly experience with a district needing to spend money on a campaign to support the budget. However, Paterson does not vote on the budget because we are in takeover. There is no advantage in changing the election for us with regard to the budget issue.
- Moving the election to November will drive up the costs for candidates to reach Paterson voters. Currently a candidate may send a mailing to all previous voters in the last school board election by paying for 7,500 pieces. The voters list for all voting households in the November election is 25,000 pieces. At PEF we will see the mailing for our Educated Voters Guide to all voting households quadruple in cost to nearly $20,000 if the election is moved to November.
- While it is true that more people will go to the polls in November than April, it is not clear that more people will actually vote the school board portion of the ballot. Experience shows that the longer and more complicated the ballot, the fewer voters vote on the entire ballot. We need only to look at how many fewer voters cast their vote on public questions than candidates to see the attrition on the ballot.
- As this November is the first time New Jersey has attempted partisan and non-partisan elections on the same ballot, the state and individual communities have no experience with the issues such a change may provoke. In fact as of today, we were unable to view the proposed ballot to see how the county clerk positioned the two parts of the election. By law, the county clerk designs the general election ballot. Under the new law, the clerk has the “authority to determine the specifications for, and the final arrangement of, the official ballots.”
- While there is a prohibition on school board candidates running with a party affiliation listed on the ballot, candidates may be endorsed by political parties. We fear a November election will politicize what should be a non-partisan election in order to gain recognition and campaign funds.
- If the School Board votes to move the election to November and we find that there are negative consequences, Paterson will be forced to continue November elections for four years, presumably until 2017.
- The School Board has until mid February 2013 to make a decision regarding the 2013 elections.
For all these reasons, PEF believes that the prudent course is to wait to see the outcomes and issues developing from this year’s November school board elections to determine Paterson’s course.
Chronology of Key Dates of Moving
the School Board Election from April to November
January 17, 2012: The NJ Legislature passes and Governor Christie signs the legislation giving communities the option of moving the school board election from April to November.
January 25, 2012: The Paterson Board of Education tables a resolution to continue to hold Paterson’s School Board election in April. Voting to table until a later date: Cleaves, Guzman, Hodges, Irving, Kerr, Mendez, Rodriguez, Simmons and Taylor. Hodges votes against the motion.
February 15, 2012: The Paterson Board of Education votes to continue to hold Paterson’s School Board election in April. Voting yes: Cleaves, Guzman, Hodges, Kerr, Mendez, Rodriquez and Taylor. Absent for the meeting, Irving; Absent for the vote having left the meeting: Simmons.
September 19, 2012: The Paterson Board of Education proposes to vote on a resolution to move Paterson’s School Board Election to November, to commence in November 2013. Candidates elected in the November 2013 election will take office the following January 2014. Following an affirmative vote, the community would need to wait 4 years  before changing the election back to April.
November 6, 2012: First general election in NJ with partisan elections [President, Senator, Congressman and Freeholders], and non-partisan school board elections on the same ballot. All but 71 districts have moved their elections to November.
June 2013: TBA 4th or 11th. If Paterson moves the school board election to November, last day to file a school board candidate petition for a November school board election. The incumbents [Irving, Simmons and Mendez] would have served an additional 8 months to their 3 year term [2010-2013].
November 5, 2013: Potentially the first Paterson election with partisan elections [Governor, all NJ Legislators and Freeholders], and non-partisan school board elections on the same ballot.
January 2014: Newly elected Paterson Board of Education members take office under the new law.
2017: If Paterson moves the school board election to November, Paterson’s first opportunity to change the voting date back to April.
NJ Spotlight’s article highlights concerns about this year’s November school board elections. The article includes links to a list of districts continuing to vote in April.