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New law gives New Jersey school board candidates until July to file

Potential school board candidates in New Jersey now have more time to file a petition with their county clerk; a move many hope will generate more interest in local boards of education.

A new law, signed by Gov. Chris Christie Friday, Dec. 27, changes filing deadline from the date of the June primary election to the last Monday in July and revises the procedure for filing for a school board vacancy.

The move was supported by New Jersey School Board Association, who lobbied that the change would encourage more people to run for spots on their local school boards.

The filing deadline became an issue for some last year after the date of the school board election was moved from April to the November general election. School officials hoped to generate more interest in the normally sedated school board elections with the move. In addition to moving the date, the state allowed school boards to automatically pass a school budget if the increase on taxation was less than 2 percent.

Fulginiti said the issue was discussed by county clerks statewide, and as a group, they supported the change.

However, the election date change required a change in the nominating petition filing deadline. The June date did not produce as many candidates as some were hoping for.

While most Cape May County school districts had a full slate of candidates on the November ballot, Ocean City had only two candidates file by the early June deadline to fill three open seats. The third seat was filled by write-in candidate Jon Batistini in the November general election.

“It was not on anyone’s mind to file a petition in June,” Cape May County Clerk Rita Fulginiti said. “So this bill came about to move the deadline, and moving it farther out works out with our other deadlines.”

Fulginiti said moving the deadline from the first week of June to late July provides a better timeline.

“I understand the school folks wanted the deadline extended even further, to September,” she said. “That would be difficult because of all of our other deadlines.”

Fulginiti said county clerks are busy in the early fall, as mail-in ballots must be prepared and in the mail 45 days prior to the November general election.

The July deadline, she said, was a compromise.

“I have been very active in letting everyone know about the dates, about the deadlines,” she said. “Overall, throughout Cape May County, we had few open seats, with no petitions filed. Only the one in Ocean City was open.”

Fulginiti said that the interest was there in Ocean City, as evidenced by the aftermath of a board member resigning in late August. Greg Donahue’s departure left potential candidates just a few days to submit a petition to fill his one-year, unexpired term.

“In Ocean City, there were three, three-year term seats available and only two candidates filed. Yet when that vacant seat to fill a one-year, unexpired term became available, 13 people filed.

“So in the fall, the open seat got a lot more attention. There is just too much going on in June. We are really hoping that the July deadline helps. People will have a little break and then they will start thinking about school issues again and get the petition filed if they choose to run.”  

The bill also addresses vacancies and unexpired terms, determining the length of service of a board member who is appointed to fill a vacant seat. It gives explicit authorization for placement of referendums to create new regional districts on the general election ballot.

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