By Steve Gunn
A total of 468 districts have moved their school board elections to the November general election, under a deal with the state that allowed districts to drop the requirement for voter approval of school budgets, according to NJSpotlight.com.
Fewer than 80 districts have maintained April school board elections.
The idea behind the move is to get more voters to participate in school board elections, which historically draw very low numbers. Frequently the only groups interested in the races have been local teachers unions, which make sure to endorse a slate of friendly candidates and get their voters to the polls, to guarantee domination of local school boards.
When unions elect union-friendly boards, they have a much easier time sucking money out of public school budgets.
Education reformers across the nation have called for November school board elections, largely to end that type of union domination.
The concern in New Jersey, on the eve of the election, is whether voters will notice or care about school board races after voting in many more high-profile contests. November voters tend to be more motivated by presidential and statewide races and may have little interest in local issues.
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In some New Jersey counties school board candidates will be separately listed on the side of the ballot, while in others they will be listed at the bottom, according to the news report. Statewide there will be 1,813 candidates vying for 1,448 open seats.
“Just because you may get 60 percent to 70 percent turnout for the presidential race, it doesn’t mean all of them will vote all the way down the ballot,” James Madden, a political consultant with the Gallowsglass Group, told NJSpotlight.com. “There will be a bump, but it is hard to predict how much.”
We hope New Jersey voters prove to be patient and knowledgeable enough to cast millions of votes in the school board races. A large participation number will demonstrate for other states that people will take notice and vote in local races, even in the shadow of high profile contests for major offices.
The more people learn about their public schools and participate in their elections, the less power the unions will have over the schools. That could only be a good thing.