The Bridgewater Township Council weighed in Thursday on an impending decision concerning moving the school board elections to November—but they did not come to a consensus.
If changed, residents will only have the chance to vote on the budget if it goes above the 2 percent cap, but they will vote on new board members during the general election.
A decision to move the elections this year must be made by Feb. 17.
“The reason it’s on the agenda tonight is because, in the next week or so, there will be some votes taken either by us or the school board as to how this would go,” said council president Allen Kurdyla.
Three entities—the governing body of the township, the school board itself or a petition from 15 percent of the township’s registered voters who voted in the 2008 presidential election—have the power to decide whether or not to move the election to coincide with November’s general election.
Members of the council said they have mixed feelings about the possibility.
“If we do move it, we take away [the voters'] rights to vote on the budget, which some people hold very near and dear to their hearts,” Councilman Matthew Moench said. “Generally, I haven’t received an outpouring of support, one way or the other.”
Councilman Filipe Pedroso said he thinks the move could entice more people to vote.
“I like the fact that it would increase voter participation if it was moved," he said. "If you look at the history of Bridgewater elections for the board of education, the numbers are, I would say, on the low end. I think that it certainly would encourage an increase in the amount of voter participation in elections.”
“I’m not sure how I feel about the 2 percent cap and taking away the voters’ rights to vote on the overall budget,” he added. “But that’s something that I guess I’m still thinking about.”
Councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose said that notifying the general public of the move—as in, those members of the public who do not have school-aged children within the Bridgewater-Raritan school district—may prove difficult if the election is moved.
“I don’t have a problem with making the move," she said. "I just have some concerns in reference to how we educate the public about the change. I just wonder how we’re going to inform the general public of the change and ensure that when they get to the polls in November that they don’t stop, that they keep going down the ballot to vote for school board candidates.”
The board of education has already held an initial discussion about the move, with members split about the advantages and disadvantages. Some said they are in favor of the move because it would allow the budget to be completely determined by the administration, rather than having it go before the township council, who is not as well-versed in the ways of the district, if it were to fail.
But other board members said they are concerned that moving the elections to November could cause them to become too political, which they are not currently.
Overall, though, the general consensus from the council Thursday was to allow the board of education to make its own decision on the possible move on behalf of the township.
“My preference would be that the board of education deal with this issue first,” Pedroso said. “They are a publicly elected body, and I think they’re more involved in this issue than we are.”
Councilman Howard Norgalis agreed.
“I would like to see the school board make that decision and vote accordingly,” he said. “I would be in favor of us reflecting on it if the board of education cannot come to a decision or decides not to move it for whatever reason, but I think it’s their job to do this.”
“Whether it passes or fails, I expect them to vote,” he added.
The board of education is expected to continue discussions about the change at the Feb. 14 meeting, with a vote expected either that night or during a special meeting Feb. 16.