The Board Of Education (BOE) held a special meeting on January 31st to discuss the possible permanent move of the BOE election from April to November. The move would save the BOE at least $13,000 in costs currently associated with the April election but the change would also remove the public vote on the BOE budget unless it went over a 2% tax levy cap. Even then, the vote would be on any amount over the 2% and not the entire school district budget.
Alex Balaban spoke first and he supported the measure, “It’s gonna provide a better consensus because mainly at the April election we sort of have the school community and maybe a little bit of the outside public, the percentage is quite low every year, and that’s statewide . . . I think in November you’ll get a better sense of the community as a whole coming out.”
He added that the voting hours would be more convenient since the election would be held between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. as opposed to the current hours of 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The discussion turned to the economics of keeping the election in April. Superintendent Patrick Spagnoletti mentioned that out of the 26 school districts in Union County, only five, including Roselle Park, remain in April. The cost for the election would be shared fully by those who do not change their election date. The cost for the election board would have to be incurred as well as printing costs – with Roselle Park Roselle Park being 1 of 7 communities that require Spanish & English printing of the ballot.
Scott Nelson offered his thoughts on how the BOE election, a non-partisan election, might turn political, “That was my concern. The idea of saving a great deal of money is appealing but I also was thinking about some of the, perhaps, drawbacks. Nothing is always 100% wonderful. My concern was that . . . this will lead to a greater politicization of the election with certain candidates running for the Board appearing on certain people’s lawns along with Democratic placards and certain candidates appearing on Republican voters’ lawns.”
BOE President Roseann Rinaldi echoed that concern in mentioning, “I don’t know if I would have run in November. I would have shied away.”
Troy Gerten was also concerned on the politicization of the BOE election and suggested that the Board not rush into changing the election, “In my opinion, wait a year, see what happens, and then we can take it up next year.”
Loren Harms asked Board Superintendent Spagnoletti to confirm that if mayor & council take up the resolution and pass it, the BOE has no say. The superintendent confirmed that was correct. Mr. Harms proposed the question about what happens after four years and the BOE decides to go back to holding its election in April, can the BOE do that on its own without approval from the municipality governing body.
The superintendent stated that the BOE can simply pass a resolution after four years but there is nothing in the current legislation that does not allow the municipality from passing another resolution for another four binding years.
Mr. Gerten interjected, “I’m questioning what is the motivation for the municipality to be doing that. How do you keep the politics out of the Board Of Education? I’m concerned that three years from now, it may be slightly different.”
Mr. Spagnoletti explained that he was contacted by Doreen Cali, the Borough Clerk, and she notified him that mayor and council planned to discuss the move of election date on the February 2nd meeting. The municipal governing body invited the BOE to attend as a joint meeting to discuss and possibly take action.
“My answer was that anytime the town council extends an opportunity for a joint meeting on a decision that affects all of its members is a good thing,” Mr. Spagnoletti commented.
Jeff Parrell asked if the Board knew the total county figures for BOE elections. The superintendent stated that he was not given that amount by the county but that he had requested them. He went on to estimate that with Elizabeth and Plainfield moving their elections, the amount per district staying in April would be more like $20,000-$25,000 instead of $13,000.
“There are a lot of unknowns,” Chris Miller said in his comments, “It’s a four-year commitment.”
He added that there was not even a sample ballot that the BOE could review to see how it would change the landscape of the general election. He added, “We’re going on a whim. Why rush? Give it a year. We can always jump in next year. I want to save us as much money as possible but sometimes if we have to take one step back to take three to four steps forward, I’m in favor of that.”
Members continued to discuss the probabilities of removing the right of the people to vote on a budget if it falls under the 2% cap. Alex Balaban said that if it goes over, it will not remove the right of the people.
Troy responded, “We, as a district, held at 0% [ increase]. The taxpayers of Roselle Park have held this board to 0% over the last few years . . . So automatically granting a 2%, does that mean that the Board is going to hold at 0% next year or the year after or the year that?”
The superintendent asked Mr. Gerten if he felt that the temptation would be to automatically use 2% as the gauge for the BOE budget instead of doing as diligent job as possible and start at a 0% increase.
“If there is no safe guard, whether it be 3 years or 5 years, you start getting 2%s every year, “Mr. Gerten replied, “So now the 2% annual becomes the 0% norm.”
“I don’t disagree with what you’re saying,” Mr. Harms stated but he stated the Board has to communicate with the residents in order to keep them informed of the budget process until November instead of April when they could vote on the budget in previous years.
Dr. Parrell gave his thoughts on that, “It’ll be hard to keep the people’s interest. We can barely get them to come out to the April election what makes you think you’ll have knowledgeable, informed voters come November?”
Mr. Harms answered, “We need to keep [them] more informed because they don’t have the right to vote for the budget unless we’re going over.”
The discussion returned to the influence of politics and how BOE candidates who are elected might be pressured to pay back favors from municipal elected official who supported them during the election season.
“If that happens in Roselle Park, then I think that the 13,000 people – or at least 1,000 people – gotta start coming to the Board Of Education meetings and start telling us, hey this is wrong, you can’t do that,” Mr. Harms, himself a former municipal councilman, “It’s their town, it’s their store. We’re just trying to run it.”
Board members then talked more on the 2% tax levy cap. Mrs. Rinaldi stated that it is the responsibility of the BOE to question the administration when it comes to any budget increase, “That’s our job to make sure if we do go with 2%, it’s legitimate.”
The superintendent added that the county requirements for budget reporting are more strenuous than before because they will gauge spending against the state average.
After the discussion, the BOE closed the meeting without voting on the possible move. There was no action or voted taken during the meeting but it was a precursor to the meeting which will be held on Thursday during a special joint meeting of the BOE and the municipal governing body.