The Board of Education and Bridgewater Township Council may be undecided about whether to move school board elections to November—but for the Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association and the Raritan Borough Council, the answer is very clear.
Both groups are in favor of moving the elections from April to November.
"Simply stated, the B-REA is in favor of the move simply because it is what is best for the kids," said Steve Beatty, president of the B-REA. "Whatever other arugments that are made do not supersede that preeminent concern."
Gov. Chris Christie recently signed a bill to allow the elections to be moved. The decision can be made by the board of education, the municipal government or the voters through a petition signed by at least 15 percent of those registered to vote in the previous election.
Moving the election eliminates the vote for the school budget, which would only be held if the budget exceeds the 2 percent cap.
The board of education is currently undecided about the change, with some in favor of the move because it will allow for the administration to be fully in charge of the budget, while others are concerned it will make the elections too political if residents are voting for both the school board members and the members of the council at the same time.
But Beatty said the most important factor in this decision should be the fact that the budget will never be in danger of failing, creating the need for more money to be cut.
"To me, guaranteeing that a budget will never fail and be eviscerated by the town councils outweighs any other concern," he said.
Raritan Mayor Jo-Ann Liptak agreed, and said the runaround when the budget fails is just an "exercise in futility."
"When the budget was defeated [last], the councils went through a lot of angst and many meetings with the public, but the only thing they were allowed to do was make suggestions on what to cut," she said. "We could suggest to cut programs, but the district does not have to listen to us."
"Cuts could be made or not, and the worst-case scenario is the budget goes to the state, which says it is restoring everything," she added. "It's an exercise in futility."
Liptak said the borough council recently voted, 6-0, to move the elections to November.
But, Liptak said, nothing can be done without a positive vote from the Bridgewater Township Council. Because it is a regional school district, she said, there has to be a joint resolution from both entities before the elections can be changed.
Members of the Bridgewater Township Council discussed the issue at Thursday's meeting and are expected to continue discussions at Monday evening's meeting. The council declined to take a vote on Thursday, saying they would like to see what the board of education itself decides.
The board of education is expected to continue discussions at its Feb. 14 meeting, with a decision to be made either that evening or at a special meeting Feb. 16 before the Feb. 17 deadline.
Liptak said there are several other benefits to moving the elections, not the least of which being the opportunity to save money.
"When you have a special election like the school board ones off a cycle, it's tremendously expensive for us to do that," she said. "Municipalities have to pay for opening the buildings and for people to oversee the voting."
In addition, Liptak said, she believes moving the elections to November will encourage more residents to participate, which could be especially helpful for Raritan residents, who only have one representative on the board of education.
Years ago, Liptak said, Raritan actually had two representatives on the board, but when the population dropped in the early 1990s, one of those seats was eliminated.
"No matter how large this town grows, we can never get that second seat back," she said. "So this change could get more of Raritan involved in the process. We might have more than one person running for that seat, and it might really develop the race."
But Liptak disregarded any concern that the school board race could become political if the elections were moved to November.
"They would be running on a different line, and I don't see this as a problem," she said. "A good board of education member does not align with a party, and we could see it working to the board's detriment if they did."
Instead, Liptak said, the move could be a positive step for Bridgewater and Raritan.
"It would probably make the elections a lot better," she said. "We have a very astute group of voters in Raritan. They are very saavy, and they research issues and ask the tough questions."