Just days after Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill allowing school boards to move elections to November and forgo a public budget vote, members of Manchester's Board of Education voted in favor of adopting the changes locally.
On Tuesday, Christie signed legislation into law that states a school board that moves its election to November no longer needs to present its budget for a public vote if it does not exceed the state's 2 percent tax levy cap, NJ.com reports. Should a district exceed the cap, a public vote on the budget would be held in November with the election of board members. Additionally, budoutgets will still require approval from the Commissioner of Education.
"In assessing the proposed law, at least in my opinion, the pros outweigh the cons," said Manchester Board of Education president Donald Webster.
Webster said that, although the board has "some reservations" with the law including how referendum votes will work and whether partisan politics could come into play, the changes should be beneficial.
Webster said that in 1903 school board elections were legislated to be held in April to avoid the partisan politics associated with the general election. Manchester's municipal government has been nonpartisan since 1990.
Last year, as has happened in years past, residents voted down the school district's $50 million budget. A weeks-long process involving meetings between the township council and board of education led to a $135,000 budget reduction. Under the new law, this can be avoided provided the budget does not exceed the 2 percent cap.
"This will be a big help for us," said Superintendent of Schools David Trethaway.
Webster read the resolution into the record since it was not originally included on the January 18 regular meeting agenda.
"The Manchester Township Board of Education has determined that the statutory restrictions on the local tax levy increase for annual school appropriations is appropriate and sufficient to control and maintain a thorough and efficient education for the children of Manchester township," the resolution states.
The resolution further says that the change "will save taxpayer dollars" and "attract a far greater number of voters than typically vote in November elections."
In 2010, township Clerk Sabina Skibo said 14,976 Manchester residents voted in the November general election, compared to the 6,540 who voted in the April school election.
The change must be in place for four years, according to the resolution.
Webster said that he and James Griffin will be the first board members up for election in November under the new schedule.
School elections cost Manchester about $42,000 last year, in part because the township has 39 voting districts.
"There is going to be some cost, but I think it will be a shared cost with the municipality," Webster said, adding that it remains unclear at this point what Manchester will pay for its school vote.
In the last general election, residents approved the move of municipal votes from May to November to save costs. The school board's change should save even more.
"Between the two, you're probably talking about $90-100,000," Webster said.
The budget creation process will remain the same, Trethaway said.
"It's the same timeline," he said.
Budget presentations still will be given to the public, a process that begins next month when school administrators deliver reports to the board assessing their needs.
"Our budget is still going to be due [to the county] on March 5. It will still go through the regular review process," said business administrator Craig Lorentzen.
Webster said that he realizes some residents may be unhappy that they can no longer vote on the school district's spending plan, but it was a move that Christie wanted municipalities throughout the entire state to adopt.
"We'll probably get some criticism for it, but the governor was pushing for it," he said.