Princeton public school children will be attending three additional days of school in 2013 — February 15, April 1, and June 20 — to make up for days lost during Hurricane Sandy.
In the event of more cancelled school days, the Board of Education has identified May 24, June 21, and June 24 as potential make up days.
In addition to approval of these dates, last week’s meeting of the Board of Education included a discussion of annual election dates. Offered the choice once before, the school board opted, by a five to four vote, to keep elections for new and returning school board members and budget approval in April. The Board’s discussion last week anticipated voting once again on the April-or-November question at its next meeting, on December 18. As they did before, members of the Board spoke to both sides of the issue.
Superintendent Judy Wilson offered some background on the question, noting that, for many decades, every public school district in New Jersey was required to hold April elections. Princeton was joined by about 70 other districts that kept April elections in 2012; she suggested that this year, “we may be the only district staying in April.”
By opting to move to the November general election Princeton would save about $40,000. The downside of that, according to some, is loss of the municipality’s ability to vote on the year’s proposed budget, and an overshadowing of educational concerns by other elections occurring at the same time. Ms. Wilson noted that only between nine and eleven percent of Princeton’s potential voters usually participate in the April election, and that the coming election will be the first time that Princeton voters will be voting as one entity, rather than electing Borough and Township representatives.
“I still believe that the public has a right to vote on any part of their tax bill, since we are up to 50 percent of the local property tax,” said Board President Tim Quinn, defending April elections. “It’s an exercise in democracy.”
Mr. Quinn pointed out that a particularly well-qualified candidate for the Montgomery school board was defeated in November because the excitement of the presidential election overshadowed an opportunity for the community to get to know her. Giving Perth Amboy as an example, Mr. Quinn also expressed concern about “the presence of outside groups” and “outside money” that have “tried to undo the action of duly elected board members.”
Noting that she is the last school board member to have been elected by the Borough, nine-year board veteran Rebecca Cox said that she would like to see the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) “look at each and every ballot and determine whether quality vs. quantity informs who is elected.” She suggested that being in a minority of districts still holding elections in April may make it difficult for Princeton to get the NJEA’s attention. Typically, she reported, the NJEA responds to arguments that November elections become “too political” by saying that most school boards are already “heavily political,” and being run by local machines. She said that NJEA regards the practice of staying in April as “quaint.”
Citing the cost savings and the fact that more voters turn out for the general election, Board member Dan Haughton spoke in favor of moving the election to November, “if we really want to encourage democracy,” while Afsheen Shamsi, spoke in favor of April elections, and focusing “solely on education issues.”
Mr. Haughton said that since recent budgets have been limited by a two-percent cap, the loss of the community’s ability to vote on the budget “won’t make a lot of difference; it’s pretty much a given what the budget is going to be.” Ms. Wilson and Ms. Cox countered by saying that maintaining the public budget vote (i.e., keeping the April election) is “risky,” because when a budget is voted down, it goes to the governing body. Dorothy Bedford seemed to support keeping an April election by suggesting that the Board wouldn’t “want the public to have the impression” that the Board is “cavalier” and budgets all the way up to the two percent cap. “We’re usually somewhat below,” she observed.
Ms. Cox worried, however,
that time spent promoting each year’s budget takes school officials away from time spent educating students.
Community input on the election question is encouraged, and comments can be made on school district’s website, www.princetonk12.org.
In other business at the Board meeting, Student Achievement Committee Chair Andrea Spall reported on Princeton High School Principal Gary Snyder’s request that asterisks indicating levels of achievement be removed from students’ names on graduation programs.