November school elections could save districts thousands

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In a tight budgetary climate, will the Ocean City and Upper Township school boards take advantage of an opportunity to save taxpayers some money?

Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation on Monday, Jan. 16 allowing school districts to move annual elections from April to the general election in November. The bill was passed with bipartisan support in the legislature and could save taxpayers in both districts.

According to Cape May County Clerk Rita Fulginiti, moving the election could save Ocean City taxpayers $18,453.59; Upper Township taxpayers could save $15,022.79.

Countywide, school districts could save more than $111,000, Fulginiti said.

“Times are challenging, but challenging times make things happen,” she said.

Fulginiti said she hoped to hear from districts countywide in the near future.

“This is the responsibility of individual school districts,” Fulginiti said. “If a school district holds an election in April, the school district pays for it. When the election is held in November, then Cape May County pays for it.”

While taxpayer dollars fund the election in either case, Fulginiti said it costs less for voters to go to the polls just once, during the general election.

“It’s good,” Fulginiti said of the potential to streamline the process. In addition, about four or five times the number of people turn out for the general election than a school election in April.

Last fall, Fulginiti put forth a proposal to consolidate some of the voting districts during the school elections to save money. Though it’s a moot point with Christie’s signing the new bill, Fulginiti said the work was not for naught.

“We were able to use some of the data to determine how much the districts could save,” she said. “During the process, we were able to open a line of communication between the county clerk’s office and the city clerks offices in various communities. It was wonderful to see everyone working together to save taxpayers money.”

A district that moves its annual school election to November would not require voter approval for a base budget, but any proposal to exceed the 2-percent tax levy cap would be presented for voter approval in November. School board members elected in November would take office at the beginning of January, she said.

After signing the bill, Christie issued a press release

“After decades in Trenton of fruitlessly discussing the idea of moving school district elections to November, leaders in this state today have again demonstrated that we can get things done for the people of New Jersey when we work together,” Christie said. “This bipartisan tool kit bill finally gives real pathways for school boards or voters to move district elections to November, providing the bright prospect for both local government savings and increased voter participation in the process. With this legislation now law, I urge school board members and voters in every one of our districts to act as quickly as possible to take hold of these benefits.”

Under the new law, there are two options for moving the date of a school district’s annual election. The first is upon the adoption of a resolution by the board of education or the governing body of the municipality to change the date to November.

The second is through a ballot question. If a petition is filed with the board of education, signed by at least 15 percent of the number of qualified voters, a ballot question would be presented to a school district’s voters for their approval in the subsequent November election.

Ocean City Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Taylor said the school board had not yet discussed the issue, but would consider it at the Jan. 25 meeting.

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