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Princeton School Elections Will Move to November

The Board of Education approved the move on Tuesday. The first election will be in November, 2013.

 

Princeton’s annual school elections will move from April to November effective in 2013, the Board of Education voted on Tuesday.

The Board vote was 6-1. Molly Chrein voted no. Dorothy Bedford and Afsheen Shamsi were absent.

The school district is now committed to November elections for a minimum of four years.

A move to November voting means residents lose their opportunity to approve or deny the school budget, so long as the district stays within its 2 percent mandated tax cap.

Last year, only 70 of the nearly 600 school districts across New Jersey chose to stay with April elections, including Princeton.

Princeton Board members have since had a change of heart.

“While I continue to have concerns about denying members of the public the opportunity to have a direct vote on what comprises half their property tax bills, I have found the argument against spending between thirty and forty thousand dollars on an April election to be sufficiently compelling to consider changing my vote,” Board President Timothy Quinn said.

Special referendums on school construction- like the one approved by Princeton voters in September- cannot be part of November elections because state law prohibits it, Quinn said.

Chrein voted against November school elections out of concern they could become politicized.

Board Member Andrea Spalla said she changed her vote because November elections because it will likely increase voter turnout. But she echoed Chrein’s concern.

“Fundamentally school boards are not political bodies,” Spalla said. “Our job first and foremost is to make decisions on what’s in the best educational interests of our students.”

The school district will continue to host public budget forums board members stressed the district’s budget process will continue to be transparent.

“…I’ve seen several comments in online forums insinuating that this board opted to continue with an April vote in order to suppress turnout in favor of passage of a spending plan not in the public interest,” Quinn said. “Frankly, I find this notion absurd and not supported by the facts. In my time on the board, we have always balanced the public’s desire for excellent public education with a deep sense of stewardship of taxpayer funds.

“Voters who have taken the time to follow our budgeting process know it to transparent and reflective of community values. This will continue to be the case no matter when our elections are held.”

David Keddie December 19, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Excellent! What reason was there for the original law mandating that school elections take place separate not only from the general election but also from the primary election? What reasoning dictates that school bond issues still be voted on at a special election only for them? We vote on bond issues at the November election, why are school bonds separate? Surely Mr. Quinn can see how these rules give the appearance of special interest lobbying by the teachers unions to have school funding voted on in low turnout elections. Perhaps I'm missing something? As a parent of young children who I expect to send to the Princeton schools I'm thankful for such an excellent school system. However, as a taxpayer the size of Princeton's property taxes is shocking. I grew up in an excellent school district (State College, PA) that someone managed to remain excellent despite spending far less per pupil than Princeton. The school district is nearly half our property tax burden and the board needs to explain why it can't deliver an excellent education more frugally, lest all middle-income residents be driven out by astronomical tax rates.
Simon December 19, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Ms. Spalla, unlike the vast majority of Princeton voters, for more than two decades I have taken the effort to vote in the April school elections. When you say that these elections aren't politicized, I think that you are insulting my intelligence. Beyond that, I have ears and eyes. Furthermore, spending outrageous amounts of funds that continue to cripple financially what little remains of the middle class in Princeton does not necessarily serve ALL of Princeton's students. Considering that the school budget is 50% of our staggering, total property tax bill, I am still at a loss as to why the vast majority of Princeton voters elected to skip the April school elections each year. Some have responded, "well, they're just going to manipulate the system and get their way anyway, so why bother?" Even in the rare instances when the school budget was defeated (twice in 22 years?), they DID indeed "get their way anyway", so maybe the vast majority was right, and I was just wasting my time by making the effort to vote after all. I had good intentions though.
Maria Juega December 19, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Godd decision!
Charles Tibbets December 20, 2012 at 05:13 AM
Congratulations to the School Board for doing the right thing -- finally. Unfortunately, some of the members did not show a lot of grace in arriving at their long-overdue decision. Mr. Quinn, the Board President, appears to be particularly thin-skinned in insisting on his spurious argument that spending $40,000 on April school elections is done "with a deep sense of stewardship of taxpayer funds." So state law does not allow school bond elections to be held at general election time? Well, I suggest Mr. Quinn show some leadership instead of whining and approach the NJ Legislature with a request that school bond elections, like every other government entity's bond questions, be placed on the general election ballot. As for the crocodile tears shed by a couple of board members over the "politicization" of school board elections by a move to November, suffice it to say that there is no more politicized governmental entity in Princeton, except maybe for Borough Council, than the Princeton School Board.
Marv December 20, 2012 at 03:05 PM
It was not just a few who saw the special school elections as voter suppression. This was a very common view. Having the vote in November will obviously increase turn out, and the board could not have been unaware of that in the past. And disagreeing with the conclusions of the school board, including the school budget is not being political.. One could equally argue that not encouraging public input to the board is political or worst. People who have the power of decision-making always claim their process is in "the public interest". All decision-making needs monitoring. For those who have forgotten that is called democracy. I have seen schools that have signs ouit - big signs - announcing the school board meeting and welcoming the public attendance.

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