BOE Still Dealing With Decision to Move Elections

However board will not rescind earlier vote; may face action by some in the community.

In the month since the Millburn Board of Education voted to move school board elections from April to November, ending the public vote on the school budget, the issue has become one of the most heated in recent history.

Residents have talked with each other and with – both for and against the move. They’ve brought it up at subsequent meetings, hoping for a reversal. There have been and lots of questions asked.

And several representatives of We Love Millburn, that the law itself  creates a conflict of interest for board members who stand to benefit by extending their terms and it also violates their rights as property owners who pay taxes to support the budget.

They have said if the board did not rescind the vote and let voters decide, they would file an a complaint with the state ethics commission.

"It looks like that will be our next step," said Jeff Diecidue after Monday night's meeting, when no action was taken.

Proponents of moving the election – the resolution passed 6-3 – say it will save money and because the school board is bound to stay within a 2 percent state mandated cap when it comes to raising the tax levy, public approval on the budget is not necessary.

At Monday night’s board meeting, Board Member Jean Pasternak, one of the three who voted against the resolution, read prepared remarks, stating she had planned to make a motion to rescind the earlier vote, but realized she did not have the support for that.

“So instead, I want to say that I believe our behavior in this matter has undermined the public confidence in this board,” she said. “The benefits cited in favor of passing the resolution were marginal and the risks are substantial.  I think we owe it to the public to explain why this action was taken.”

Pasternak said she had heard from numerous residents who asked why the resolution was rushed through without time for discussion with the community or even much debate by board members and why the public had not been given much notice before it was passed on Feb. 13.

“I could not answer most of these questions,” said Pasternak, adding that the board could have easily waited and evaluated the new law while understanding the  “implications for our community—or let the community decide themselves.  But we decided to pass a resolution.”

At the Feb. 13 meeting, she said, all but one resident in attendance spoke in opposition, but the board ignored that community input, she said.

“People are confused as to why they were even asked for their opinions,” she said.

She brought up other districts that decided to wait including Chatham, Montgomery, Princeton, Ridgewood, West Windsor and Mountain Lakes and also said that Montclair opted not to move a municipal election to November because, after studying the issue, they said a November election that does not coincide with a presidential election will not bring out more voters.

She also took exception with the idea that a public vote is not needed on the budget because of the 2 percent cap.

“This year we have done a good job in overseeing the budget. But we also know that there are no assurances that future BOEs will be as responsible and do the same,” she said.  “Public oversight plays a valuable role.  ... The resolution we passed means that the community has lost control in having a real say in the priorities for our schools -- and their taxes.”

Board Member Lise Chapman, who also voted against the resolution, said she understands those concerns but board has voted and it’s time for board members to move on.

“We can revisit it in four years,” she said, adding that they will have plenty of information about the election and turnout by then.

In the meantime, she said, but board has a responsibility to remain under the 2 percent cap and make sound judgments regarding the budget. This year, the budget calls for a tax levy increase of only , well below that cap.

Board members say moving the election to November will not diminish their work at creating a sound budget or their goal of keeping tax increases minimal.

In addition, they say, the public will still have plenty of time to provide input during the budget process, as they always have.

Laura Griffin March 14, 2012 at 12:41 PM
I broke the meeting up into two stories. If you want more from the meeting, check here.Not trying to be overly sensational, just not overly long. http://patch.com/A-r76Z
M.Moore March 14, 2012 at 01:03 PM
I know that the majority of the people who speak at BOE members are those from WLM and that skews the reporting. But many in the community do NOT agree with them and sometimes Patch (and the Item as well) gives the impression that there are massive protests against the BOE, and that is just not true. For example, WLM had a letter published here asking for people to attend the meeting before this past one and complain about the board's decision to move the vote to November but that meeting was as sparsely attended as most are. I know it can be hard to count the silent majority, but it does seem that WLM gets a lot of attention on Patch. And that attention does sometimes seem sensational.
LDSF March 14, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Public Opinion in the 21st Century - Let's the people speak. Thank the patch to provide attention in the local media and by providing a wide range of platform for alternative viewpoints. Residents/Taxpayers/Public can use the platform to relay news updates, provide context to local voices to debate the implications of the situation or maybe in case of a crisis.
LDSF March 14, 2012 at 03:17 PM
The challenges face the board are to building trust in a diverse team. Model democracy is to practice inclusion, active listening, and balance speaking and listening rights and responsibilities. This is the progress to tolerance for those who disagree and also board member who listen to minority group to “bought-in” to the idea of the board. Are we stop listening and how satisfied are we with the quality of our communication?
LDSF March 14, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Here I quote from Effective Board Building - Self-managing means “self-correcting” – most important problems and challenges are open-ended, meaning that a perfect decision or solution is impossible. Sometimes members and the board must take their “best shot” – then solicit feedback from everyone affected. High-performing boards do make mistakes – but they correct them. They practice continuous improvement and lifelong learning.


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