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Millburn School Elections Moving to November

BOE votes 6-3 to switch voting date after public debate on change that takes school budget off the ballot.

Local school elections are moving to November. That was the decision Monday night of the Millburn Board of Education, which voted to 6-3 on the change, a move that effectively takes the budget off the annual ballot.

The move, a four-year commitment, is expected to save about $30,000 annually and increase voter turnout.

About two dozen residents attended the meeting, most drawn by the opportunity for public discussion on the issue. Opposition to the move ran about 7 to 1, with most speakers urging the board to let the issue be decided by referendum in the fall.

A motion by Lise Chapman to do just that was denied by the full board, again along the same 6-3 vote.

Chapman was joined by Regina Truitt and Jean Pasternak in opposing the elections move, the trio maintaining voters should have a say over spending.  “We have a right to vote on where our money goes,” Chapman said.

Board President Michael Birnberg, and members Sam Levy, Eric Siegel, Jeffrey Waters, Rona Wenik and Mark Zucker voted in favor of the move.

Every municipality in New Jersey must decide whether to keep school board elections in April, or move them to the November general election. Signed to law last month by Gov. Chris Christie, the districts will not have separate budget votes as long as the local school tax levy stays within the state’s 2 percent cap.

Those opting for the move span the state, with every county seeing at least one district adopt the necessary resolution, according to the New Jersey School Boards Association. Livingston, West Orange and Cedar Grove in Essex County have also opted to move elections to the fall.

On Monday, the impasse with teachers’ contracts and the looming school budget battle played a role in Millburn’s debate over moving the election to November.

So did a decision by Princeton Public Schools, which last week voted against the switch. Princeton’s decision was based, in part, on its support of legislation that would give voters a choice on charter schools, with some Princeton board members believing it was "hypocritical" to take away the public’s vote on a budget while at the same time supporting the charter school reform bill.

Waters said he was “baffled” by Princeton’s decision, saying that board was comparing apples to oranges. “It may be apples to oranges,” Truitt countered, “but they’re still fruit. Both issues are about choice. This is about choice."

State officials set a loose deadline for this week for decisions by school districts. The New Jersey School Boards Association predicts the number could top 300 districts, or more than half of all districts that have elections.

School boards electing to move the vote have said the change will save money and increase voter turnout, said Pastnerak, who read from information supplied by association. Districts opposing the move have said there hasn’t been enough time to plan and that the BOE candidates will need to fight for exposure among municipal candidates. Most significantly, some districts have criticized the lost of local control over whether their budgets are approved or denied.

The debate in Millburn was at times heated on Monday night. After the vote, the former school board president Abby Kalan ripped sheets of the BOE's handouts,  calling the outcome “garbage.”

During the public hearing, Kalan protested that moving the election date -- and budget vote -- would  “take away the role of the people.”

“The heart and soul of this community is the schools,” Kalan said. Newcomers don’t move here because of municipal services like trash collection twice a week. “They move to this community because they think the schools are wonderful.”

The board members voting against the move said they didn’t believe the switch would increase voter turnout, calling that a “misconception.” Typically, about 14 percent of Millburn’s electorate vote in school elections. The number is higher for the general election, up to 7,000 voters in non-presidential years vs. 4,000 voters in April, Chapman said.

Residents will continue to have a say in the budget process, which typically begins in January and runs through April, when the numbers are due for the county’s superintendent review. Millburn Superintendent James Crisfield has said he will continue the budget presentations held with small groups and the larger board meetings.

Monday night’s meeting, for instance, included a discussion on the $77.5 million spending plan for the coming school year. Local taxes account for about 95 percent of the budget and the board restated its position to come under the state mandated 2 percent tax levy.

While voters will no longer have a say on the budget as long as the Millburn BOE stays within the 2 percent cap, any extra spending would be placed on the ballot as a separate question during a November election.

The wildcard in this year's spending plan is the pending teachers’ contract. The district has yet to settle a contract with teachers, who have been working for the first 100 days of school without a new agreement. The two sides have reported they are close to a settlement and have just a few words left hanging. But those are “meaningful words” that have not yet been resolved, Zucker said on Monday night.

Noreen Brunini February 14, 2012 at 10:41 PM
In essence the Legislation gave the decision rights to whichever group = BOE, Township Comm or Community members = elected to first pass such resolution. And once passed, the issue is settled for 4 years notwithstanding what the other 2 entities think.
Noreen Brunini February 14, 2012 at 10:43 PM
For anyone wanting to view the NJSBA FAQ re moving elections to Nov: http://www.njsba.org/PI/specproj/faq-novelections.pdf?w=413
LDSF February 14, 2012 at 10:45 PM
The State gave an option even the deadline was imposed on the School Board. It is not about the deadline, it is about the wish of the public. The authority and power are imposed by the board to misrepresent public interest.
LDSF February 14, 2012 at 10:54 PM
"only 2 members were appointed to this Negotiations Committee. Sorry but that is not a "power grab" by Levy and Zucker (or Birnberg). And I am certain the full BOE is being updated by the Negotiations Committee on a regular basis" This is truly OFF BASE!!! AGREE
LDSF February 14, 2012 at 11:19 PM
Levy and Zucker should call to end the term in April. Their votes on Bill A4394 is claimed to be recalled due to the conflict of interest : eliminating voters rights on budgets and contract negotiation involved with budget consensus. Their time of voting decision on Bill A4394 is unreliable due to twice voting on issues when they violate the ethnic rules on conflict of interest on taxpayers voting right and contract negotiations.
MarkDS February 15, 2012 at 12:45 AM
Its not as if a no vote on the budget really means all that much - all that happens is that it goes to the municipal authority and state for review. Any cuts from the original budget are usually quite small, especially if the tax rate increase is 2% or under. And there is no re-vote after that. So really this is much about not much at all.
Noreen Brunini February 15, 2012 at 12:57 AM
Honestly, I don't agree. As a former BOE member, I know public pressure plays a huge part in setting past budgets -- and note that can mean to spend more in addition to less. Now as long as no increase of more than 2%, BOE can turn a deaf ear to public pressure. Honestly I just think it would have been best validation to put to public referendum. I think public might very likely have approved of moving the date but that is a much different statement than BOE unilaterally deciding to move the vote with a divided BOE.
LDSF February 15, 2012 at 01:07 AM
It is the time to visit the town hall to reassess the property tax. That will start to make sense. The arrogant of the board needs to change.
LDSF February 15, 2012 at 01:11 AM
4 years 'lock up' is still risky. We should be able to vote 'YES'.
Noreen Brunini February 15, 2012 at 01:23 AM
And I will be very impressed if anyone can find a community which managed "A petition signed by at least 15 percent of the number of voters who voted in the district in the last presidential election to place such a public question on the November ballot. " before their local BOE usurped community their community's voting perogative.....
LDSF February 15, 2012 at 01:33 AM
I will visit BOE and find that person to place a petition to such a public question on the November ballot.
Carolyn Most February 15, 2012 at 02:11 AM
Considering the BOE did in fact turn a deaf ear to those that spoke out 8 to 1 at the BOE meeting opposing this vote, why should we expect any different in the future? At least until we can replace the BOE. It will be very interesting to see if any current BOE members who voted for this run for re-elciton or run for any other elected office in this town. I would imagine that - as Josh Sharf eloquently stated at the meeting - this vote will haunt them.
Hedley February 15, 2012 at 03:24 AM
Why will this vote haunt them? Because the 6 people who oppose everything they do no matter what will care? Most people don't even vote in the BOE election so why would those who don't vote care when the election is?
msh February 15, 2012 at 12:21 PM
This is a must read, thank you Caroline for taking the time to highlight these issues. http://millburn.patch.com/articles/letter-to-the-editor-tsk-tsk-children
sms February 15, 2012 at 12:51 PM
Over the last few years, we have been looking at cuts to full day kindergarten, teams at the middle school, busing, and world language to name a few. As economic times become tougher, the community should play more of a role in the budget process not less. The only real voice the community has is its vote on the budget.
LDSF February 15, 2012 at 01:08 PM
Not to give in something important so easily for little money. Voting on budget is a priviledge even the Governor opt in the insight. There were people paid blood for not having that chance.
LDSF February 15, 2012 at 02:05 PM
If you don't have time to visit your parents, it doesn't that you should not. If you don't have time to clean your house, it doesn't mean that you don't have a home. In fact, I owe a house, I don't own, and I have responsibility to take care and pay off the property. Eliminate the voting right is voters decision and this can't make compulsory. The Governor gave us options. JURY duty is mandatory; why not voting? The idea seems vaguely un-American. Maybe so, but it’s neither unusual nor undemocratic. And it would ease the intense partisan polarization that weakens our capacity for self-government and public trust in our governing institutions. Thirty-one countries have some form of mandatory voting, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. The list includes nine members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and two-thirds of the Latin American nations. More than half back up the legal requirement with an enforcement mechanism, while the rest are content to rely on the moral force of the law.
LDSF February 15, 2012 at 02:09 PM
What happen was one day your housekeepers told you that you were no longer have the right to keep the key of the property.
Carolyn Most February 15, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Hedley: this is not about six or any number of people that regularly attend BOE meetings. Maybe half the people that spoke against this vote and those that did not speak but attended, do not regularly attend. Many people in the community are upset about this. Even if they choose not to vote, that is their choice. Most folks feel it is just undemocratic to take voting rights away, especially when they have no say in the process. And as far as the those "who oppose everything the BOE does, it is not a question of opposing everything, it is in fact a question of asking for the information, documentation, and an explanation of the process used to make decisions, it is asking that the BOE use quantifiable data, best practices research, and tools like community surveys to develop policy as opposed to relying solely on administration recommendations and the personal opinions of the BOE members. The idea that asking this of our school district administration and BOE is somehow an imposition is ridiculous. It is their responsibility and if they are unwilling or unable to do it, they should not serve. The folks that attend regularly are giving voice to those that either cannot attend or simply have given up because they are routinely subjected to rude and disrespectful behavior. I have heard this specifically from more than 30 individuals in the community with whom I have had discussion about attending BOE meetings in the past year. Clearly anecdotal but not insignificant.
M.Moore February 15, 2012 at 03:02 PM
@Carolyn, read Caroline's op-ed. It's not just the board - the behavior from certain members of the audience is appalling. I have seen/heard them heckle, make fun of the chosen careers of certain BOE members, talk so loudly that others cannot hear, insinuate wrongdoing by the BOE and administration with nothing to back to up, insult members of the public who ask them to lower their voices, it's absolutely ridiculous. What happens when you don't like the municipal budget? We vote out the members of the town council. I don't see the difference here - our budget vote is really pro forma, if it fails the town council cuts a few things and we don't get any say when that happens. And I don't agree that we've lost public pressure - the ultimate pressure is voting them out after all.
Carolyn Most February 15, 2012 at 03:24 PM
M.More - I do not disagree with your assessment. Though I would also say the BOE members set the tone and it spins out of control from there. Having said that, Caroline is right, civility is lacking and I am guilty and have made a personal commitment to do better. However, again, the critical issue for me - and this is my personal perspective - is that 6 people in this town made a decision to take away the rest of the community's voting rights. They were not elected to do this, it is not in the scope of the responsibilities of the BOE, It was arbitrarily granted to them by the State after they were elected. Also, as someone stated at the meeting, it is not democratic practice for elected officials in office to unilaterally extend their own terms. This is what dictators do. In a democracy, at the very least, you put it up to a vote. While I like the idea of a November election, I am wary of giving up public oversight of the budget process.
M.Moore February 15, 2012 at 06:34 PM
I'm not sure how long you have been attending BOE meetings, but this obnoxious behavior by certain members of the public goes way back - and it precedes many members of this BOE. It's the reason I don't attend many BOE meetings. Quite frankly, I don't find the sarcastic remarks some BOE members make helpful, but I also don't think it's all that surprising. And it really doesn't bother me much. I think in some ways our expectations of "civility" are very female based and speaking as a woman with a son in the schools, our schools are not tolerant of the differences in behavior between men and women. Having said that, there is a limit and while I know that some BOE members go too far sometimes, I have seen much worse behavior in the audience from certain people. I don't believe that they speak for the community at large, they certainly didn't when their ticket was defeated soundly a few years ago.
LDSF February 15, 2012 at 07:37 PM
15% of 9430 voters who voted in Millburn district in 2010 November Geneal Election is 1,415 signature. I have notified the BOE about this petition to be filed. No format is restricted by collecting sigbature. The law instructed to file the petitiom 60 days before the NOV election. We can extend the time to place the question on Nov election ballot. By doing this, does this remain April election?
LDSF February 15, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Does the petition save the April Election? This could be a good practice started with this new law.
Noreen Brunini February 15, 2012 at 08:41 PM
Quoted from NJ School Boards Assoc FAQ on their website: Can a board (or municipality) switch back to April elections once it has made a change? Yes, but not too quickly. Once a district changes from April to November, the election must remain in November for four years. Under the law as it is written, after four years of conducting November elections, the election can be changed back to April through any of the same means by which it was moved to November; a resolution passed by the board or municipal governing body, or through a voter question. In cases in which the election is moved back to April, the law contains no restriction on how long it must remain there before it can be moved back to November. In the absence of any statutory limitation or official guidance to the contrary, it is reasonable to conclude that the election may be returned to November the following year. end quote
Millerman February 15, 2012 at 09:26 PM
340 out of 520 districts in NJ have voted to move the elections, so far. The deadline for the decision is on Friday. Many more are expected to move to the November option.
Hedley February 15, 2012 at 09:39 PM
Most people couldn't care less about voting on the BOE budget as evidenced by the pathetic turnout every year. Further, you have a say in the process by electing representatives to the BOE, just like you have a say in the Township budget by electing representatives to the Town Council. You don't get to vote on the Township budget. You don't get to vote on the County budget. You don't get to vote on the State budget and you don't get to vote on the federal budget. So why is voting on the BOE budget such an inalienable right? Even if you do vote on the BOE budget (against it of course) you can and will be overruled by the Town anyway so what purpose did your "no" vote really serve?
Ummm February 15, 2012 at 10:27 PM
To LDSF. I don't know a polite way to say this. I've read all your comments and I've figured out the "LD" part of your name, what does the SF stand for?
LDSF February 15, 2012 at 11:11 PM
New language learned: democracy = civility = mandatory = care less anyway.
John O'Neil February 17, 2012 at 09:29 PM
Catching up on this, I don't have a comment directly on the election change, but wanted to say this: Noreen, I just want to say how much I appreciate your comments on this and other threads -- you always bring important facts to the table as well as your perspective as a board "ex.''

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