Galloway schools move elections to November, end budget vote

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GALLOWAY – The Board of Education voted 7-1 Monday, Jan. 23 to move its election from April to the general election ballot in November and eliminate a public vote on the budget if it stays under the 2 percent cap.

Board member Rich Dase voted no. Another member, John Knorr, was absent.

Legislation signed into law last week by Gov. Chris Christie allows for the action and had already been adopted by 20 school districts.

Switching to the new process was not mandatory, but could be achieved in three ways. The school board could vote to do it, the Township Council could vote it in or a public referendum could move the election date and end voting on school budgets that remain under the cap.

Once the decision has been made, the district must stay with the new procedure for four years. After four years, it was unclear if any one of the methods could be used to return to previous practice.

What if the school board and the council disagree?

Board member Robert Iannacone said not to worry about details; there will be changes in four years.

Iannacone complained about council’s oversight after the most recent budget election.

“Our budget was defeated by less than 1 percent,” Iannacone said. “But the council members want to be heroes. They reduced our budget by $300,000.”

Board President Ernest Huggard said school budgets are the only government budgets in the United States that the public votes on directly.

Not anymore, at least not for four years in Galloway.

“We needed to be proactive,” Huggard said. “The Board of Education felt it was in our best interest. Based on all the facts, we had a lively discussion and we felt it was in our best interest.”

He said the change would benefit the schools.

“More citizens will participate,” Huggard said of moving the election date. “It will foster a positive interest in our public schools.”

The item was only listed on the agenda for discussion, but a unanimous voice vote by the board members moved it to be voted on as a resolution.

According to Dase, father of Freeholder Richard Dase, the school board vote would become politicized if it coincides with municipal, county, state and federal elections.

“Politics and children should not mix,” Dase said before the vote.

Huggard dismissed that concern after the vote.

“We don’t believe that will be the case,” he said. “It’s a valid concern. I’ve heard that same concern, but we don’t feel that will be the case.”

Mayor Don Purdy said that the election might be more political, but that’s all right.

“It’s the better way,” Purdy said Tuesday morning. “Things have changed on local and state levels. People need to come out and vote; it’s one of the great rights we have in this country.”

The public should give more attention to school elections, he said.

“I’m up in air on budget,” Purdy said. “I’ve always felt uncomfortable overseeing their budget. Now, if residents are not happy with the school budget, they can look to change school board representation.”

People need to focus more on where tax dollars are spent, he said.

“This is a way for the people to have accurate input. Instead of 300 people voting at a school election, there will be 5,000 people voting,” Purdy said. “If the budgets aren’t what the public thinks are in line, you vote the school board members out.”

He said people would and should be more involved with the schools.

“I urge people to get involved,” Purdy said. “Get involved even if you don’t have kids in school. Accountability will be left more on the school board and what they’re elected to do. It’ll be on their shoulders.”

Board of Education Vice President George Schwenger said the changes would help end divisiveness in the community.

“This will be a big thing off our back,” Schwenger said. “It’s pit young vs. old in the township. People who are mad at the property tax take it out on the school budget.”

The law was signed by the governor Tuesday, Jan. 17.

If no decision was made this year, the change could have been made next year or in any subsequent year by one of the same three actions. In 2015, the process would remain the same unless action to change back is taken at that time.

The budget can now be approved by the Board of Education following its normal springtime schedule and doesn’t need public approval as long as it remains under the cap put in place by Christie last year.

If it goes over the 2 percent cap, only the part of the budget over the cap would be voted on in the November election. The fiscal year is unchanged.

Until now, residents voted on school board members and the budget in April.

If the budget were defeated, it would then go before council, which could pass the budget as proposed or make cuts. Council cut $362,000 out of this year’s proposed budget after it was defeated.

In December, residents voted down by eight votes a referendum for roof replacement at Smithville, Arthur Rann and Roland Rogers elementary schools, fire alarm replacement for Smithville, Roland Rogers and Reeds Road, and a drainage system and parking lot improvements for Arthur Rann.

That referendum is scheduled to go back before the public March 13.

Dase, Iannacone and Eileen Kasunich are up for re-election this year. No council seats are up for re-election on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

A large turnout is expected since it is a presidential election year.

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