The Maplewood Township Committee resolved last night that the Board of Education move its elections from April to November.
No action has been taken as yet by the South Orange Village Board of Trustees. The South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education will meet tonight to address the issue.
The Maplewood resolution was spurred by a new law recently passed by the state legislature. Although the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education is not covered by the law due to the peculiar configuration of the district which covers two towns but predates the separation of Maplewood from South Orange, another bill is being fast-tracked through the legislature to allow the new law to apply to South Orange-Maplewood.
If it decides to move its elections, the Board of Education will need to file its request with the Essex County Clerk by Feb. 17.
Committeeman Jerry Ryan introduced the conversation — before receiving a text from Board of Education President Beth Daugherty informing him of the fast-tracked legislation. Ryan began by posing the question: "Since the new law does not apply to our district, what should we do and what should we ask for?" Ryan said that the new legislation brought up three possible actions (although he cautioned against bundling the three):
- Moving board of education elections to November;
- Eliminating the Board of School Estimate and putting any budget on the ballot that exceeds the state-mandated cap; and/or
- Asking to change the status of the the South Orange-Maplewood School District from a one-of-a-kind anomaly to a regional district in order to avoid the necessity of special legislation.
The idea of moving the elections to November received unanimous support from all five Township Committee members who felt that the move would greatly increase voter awareness and turnout. Mayor Vic DeLuca noted that the elections were originally placed in April to avoid the partisan politics of November elections, but that "getting people caught up in education policy" would "far outweigh" that concern.
The questions of dissolving the Board of School Estimate likewise received great support. The BSE is a body made up of three South Orange elected officials and three Maplewood elected officials, as well as Board of Education members.
Ryan noted that, under the new legislation, school budgets would only go to a vote if they exceed the state-mandated cap, including exceptions and banked cap. Formerly, districts without a Board of School Estimate would have a ballot on the budget regardless. However, in Maplewood and South Orange, the BSE sets the school budget tax levy each year. The fast-track legislation would keep the Board of School Estimate, but it would come into play only for above-cap matters, with specific amounts for specific purposes to be voted "yes" or "no."
During a discussion of the Board of School Estimate's role both before and after the legislation, the Township Committee members evinced much confusion. "This is why the BSE must go," Ryan later told Patch.
Township Committee members agreed that dissolving the Board of School Estimate would lead to more transparency — "It would help people understand better how their taxes are arrived at," said Committeewoman India Larrier.
However, as pointed out by Township Counsel Roger Desiderio, more information was need on both the question of the BSE as well as changing the status of the school district before moving forward. The Township Committee directed Desiderio to research those two questions further.
Meanwhile, Ryan's resolution on moving the elections was adopted by a vote of 5-0.
The South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education will discuss moving its elections at a special meeting tonight.