By Ben Giovine
Toms River School Board
Earlier this year, Governor Chris Christie signed a bill passed with bi-partisan support that allows school boards to move their elections from the typically low-turnout April date to November.
Supporters of the bill say the November election will increase voter participation, while detractors fear the non-partisan nature of the races will be tainted by the mainstream November partisan politics.
Both arguments make a solid case for and against moving the election, which is why it is important for each school board to decide which model suits them best.
Toms River Regional Schools is a unique district. Our district boasts one of the largest budgets, bus fleets and suburban student enrollments in the entire state. Like most New Jersey municipalities, Toms River’s $200 million school budget exceeds the Toms River $98 million municipal budget.
Besides the financial implications there are livelihoods at stake. The Toms River Regional School district is the largest employer in Toms River. April’s election decides how our tax dollars, school policy and district oversight are handled. All these issues and more should not be shoved into an already issue-packed November election.
Coming back to the budget, it should be noted that with a move to November, the voters would lose their right to vote on the school budget. As long as the school budget increase falls beneath the state mandated 2% cap, the budget will no longer be on the ballot.
Simple math will tell you that a 2% increase on a $200 million budget is an annual $4 million tax increase—but the devil is in the details.
The 2% cap has so many loopholes that we could see increases as high as 10%. For example, the recent municipal budget in Toms River fell within the 2% cap, while the actual taxes increased from $57 million to over $61 million—a 7.6% increase.
Voters in Toms River should demand to keep their right to vote on future budgets to ensure fiscal accountability.
Taking our district’s uniqueness into account, it remains a rare bird that will not be better served by November elections. A district that affects the tax burden of 110,000 residents in four towns deserves its own election and focus should be given to those issues.
When I decided to run for the Toms River Board of Education in 2011, the April election allowed the issues of all candidates to be heard and debated. I ran with a bi-partisan team whose concern was to better the Toms River educational system. All the political rhetoric and election noise in November would only dissuade new candidates from running and not give educational issues the attention they deserve.
Lastly, given our size, perhaps our district should not be the first ones to jump in the pool. Most educational reforms from Trenton prove to be disastrous to local governments and boards, so why should we be the first large system to make such a move now? In a Presidential election year, there may be too many cooks in the kitchen to inform the public of election issues via the press or public debates.
The Toms River School Board will vote to move the election this Thursday at a Special Board meeting at Toms River High School South at 6:30pm. I ask all residents of our district to come to the meeting and express your concerns—for or against a move to November—but looking at the big picture, I say we should keep our elections in April.
Ben Giovine is a Member of the Toms River School Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org