With little comment, the Bernards Board of Education voted 6-3 Monday night to move school elections from April to November.
In doing so, the district can take advantage of new state regulations that says a school budget may not face the voters if school tax levy increases remain under two percent.
Board member Linda Wooldridge said that in a recent meeting, presidents of all school Parent-Teacher Organizations had said they are in favor of moving the school election to November.
"The PTO presidents said that it was harder and harder to get people out to vote in April," Wooldridge said. Even without a budget vote, she said the feeling is that there will be better voter turnout to select school board candidates at a general election.
Wooldridge added the PTO presidents also expressed same concern voiced by school board members at last month's meeting, saying that a school budget turned down by the public could negatively impact the school system for years. Rejected school budgets then go before the Township Committee, which selects an overall amount for the reduction of a defeated budget. Until now, the school budget has been the only local, county or state budget to be placed on a ballot in New Jersey.
With school elections are moved to November, residents would not vote on budget unless it exceeds the state-state imposed 2 percent cap, according to new state regulations. Board members have already said they do not intend for the budget to exceed the cap for the next school year, and Wooldridge confirmed that intention on Monday.
On Tuesday, Board President Susan Carlsson said that the district previously has spent about $16,000 per year to conduct school elections on which voters had considered both school board candidates, the annual tax levy to support the next year's school budget and any extra questions to be placed on the ballot.
With the move to November, the district will be charged only the cost of adding the school candidates and any additional questions to the general election ballot, she said. However, she added the school district has not yet been given that amount, so actual savings remain unknown.
Carlsson previously had said she opposed moving the school election from April to November for multiple reasons.
"It's a bad first year to start," she said on Tuesday, noting that the presidential election likely will dominate voters' interest. "We are going to be way at the bottom of the ballot."
Carlsson also said she feels there is no guarantee the governor will continue to allow a two-percent cap on spending for the next few years. If that tax levy ceiling is reduced, and the school district is forced to ask voters to approve additional spending in November, the school year would begin with no definite budget in place, she noted.
Other board members have said they feel the November election date will attract more candidates, but Carlsson said she wonders if potential board members will remember to file their candidacy by a new June deadline.
Board members who voted on Monday in favor of the moving the school election to November were: Wooldridge, Michael Byrne, William Koch, Robin McKeon, Priti Shah and Audrey Cohen Sherwyn.
Carlsson, and board members Elaine Kuse and Susan McGowan voted against. McGowan previously had said she feels more public budgets should be placed before voters, not one less.
The board had asked for public input at Monday's meeting before voting whether to move the election to November. However, Monday's public comment session was dominated by discussion of another topic, the rerouting of Ridge school buses to Cedar Hill Elementary School in the morning, as a way of reducing traffic at the main entrance to Ridge High School.