District to reconsider Nov. vote

| 18 Oct 2012 | 01:04

— The West Milford Board of Education will vote for the second time on whether they will move the board of education elections from April to November. The board will vote on Monday, Oct. 22, at its regular meeting in the Westbrook School media center at 7:30 p.m.

The state recently gave the option to New Jersey school districts to move school board elections from April to November, incorporated with political elections. The intent of the bill was to increase voter participation in school board elections and potentially save money on election costs.

It would also eliminate the public vote on budgets that are at or below the state mandated 2 percent cap; the public would only vote on the budget if it exceeded the 2 percent cap or if there was a separate question to exceed the 2 percent tax levy.

Previous board discussions and vote

The vote shuffle was brought up for discussion in three previous public meetings in December 2011, and January and February 2012 . The board voted 7-2 not to move the elections to November.

Trustees Greg Bailey and Barbara Carter voted in favor of the move to November; with John Aiello, Matt Conlon, Jim Foody, Wayne Gottlieb, Donna Richards, Marilyn Schultz and board President Dave Richards all voting to keep the election in April.

There are two new members of the school board since that vote; Aiello and Carter are no longer on the board.

Tuesday night, Dave Richards commented that he has changed his previous position and will vote to move the school board elections to November.

He explained that it became evident to him that in light of the recent township revaluation and many residents and businesses being hit hard by the subsequent increase in taxes, the public is outraged and he doubts that a school budget, even with a zero tax levy increase, would pass for this upcoming election.

“I heard it today at Christie’s town hall meeting,” said Richards, referring to Gov. Chris Christie’s meeting in West Milford Tuesday. “I feel that this board has been very careful with funds. We are always concerned about the spending. Barbara (Francisco, business administrator) does a great job, but I will be supporting this on Oct. 22.”

Richards added that if a budget fails, the town council would then have to set a dollar amount for cuts to be made by the school district.

Conlon said he has changed his position on the matter as well, but for different reasons. He said he first felt moving the election would stifle the public’s right to participate in the democratic process.

“After doing a lot of reflection on this, you are still electing your three board of ed trustees each year in November. Ultimately those individuals are responsible to hire a superintendent who hires an administrative team who puts together the school budget.

“So the public still does have a very active voice in determining how the school district is going to run as they currently have with the April election,” he said.

No change for otherss

Gottlieb and Schultz want the vote to remain in April.

Gottlieb said for West Milford to vote on this, just before the first round of November elections for the other districts that made the change in the spring, without getting feedback first is inappropriate.

He said those who moved their vote to November are just going through their first cycle of elections and recommended West Milford wait to see how it turned out for them.

“From what I’ve seen, some of these people are getting a rude awakening as to what these elections are really like when you have a ballot that is so crowded with candidates that the school board candidates are reduced to the lower right hand corner Siberia area of the ballot,” said Gottlieb.

Some districts, he added, made the change because they have accepted the 2 percent tax increase.

“I think we can do better than that,” Gottlieb said.

Bailey is sticking by his original vote to move the election to November. He said he has confidence that the voters will be informed and not be confused by a crowded ballot.

What do you think? Go to westmilfordmessenger.com and be part of the discussion.