Princeton voters will continue annual school elections in April after the school board on Tuesday unanimously rejected a proposal to change elections to November.
The rejection was based on two points; the board wants voters to approve or reject a budget each year and they fear moving the election will encourage partisanship.
They also heard from students who want to vote in elections as seniors, but generally aren’t eligible to vote until the spring.
The board retains the option to move the election to November in future years if it so chooses.
Gov. Chris Christie recently announced districts could move to November elections, eliminating the annual vote on the school budgets as long as a district stays within the state-mandated percent tax cap, currently set at 2 percent.
More than 200 districts have already voted to switch to November elections for the next four years, according to the New Jersey School Boards Association.
Princeton’s Board of Education voted 9-0 on Tuesday against changing the election date, although they agreed the proposal has benefits.
With local, state and federal offices also on the November general election ballot, the move would likely boost voter turnout, which averages about 14 percent of Princeton’s registered voters each April, Superintendent Judy Wilson said.
Moving the election would also save the district money, because the district spends about $40,000 each April, but moving to November would mean costs would be shared among other local, state and federal entities.
Some board members worry the move would make school elections partisan, even though the state has promised board candidates would be included in a separate section of the ballot and candidates not aligned with any political party or partisan candidates.
That was not enough to assuage Princeton’s concerns.
“I understand that for financial and administrative reasons, it overwhelmingly makes sense to move to November, but I do feel afraid that the election of board members in the future will not be partisan so much, but that it will be political just by its nature by being in November,” Board Member Mia Cahill said. “I fear this could be the first step in a downward spiral in making education more political than it already is.”
The board’s decision came down to the issue of local control. Currently, voters approve or deny a school district’s budget, something board members did want to give up.
“I think it’s healthy for us to have to present our budget to our neighbors,” said Board Member Charles Kalmbach, who chairs the finance committee. “I think the citizens should have a direct say in how we spend their money.”
Board Member Andrea Spalla she said she understands the cost savings and ease of a single election, but believes the risks outweigh the benefits.
“Democracy is not easy and it’s not cheap,” she said. “It’s not cost effective sometimes, but it’s important. We see it being eroded, in big ways and in small ways.”
Board Member Dan Haughton was absent Tuesday.