New Jersey petition underway to reform Board of Education

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June 25, 2009

MONTCLAIR, New Jersey: Montclair community activists have begun the process of gathering signatures for a petition that would place the question of selecting school board members on the November ballot. The group needs a minimum of 2,500 signatures from Montclair residents to get the referendum question on the General Election ballot this autumn.

Currently, the Montclair school district is listed as a "Type I" district, meaning that Board of Education members are appointed by the mayor. The goal of the petitioners is to make the district classified as "Type II," wherein registered voters elect would elect the members of the board. The Montclair district is one of only a small handful of New Jersey school districts that are registed as "Type I," and so supporters of the petition declared "This is normal practice in a democracy. Montclair should be a democracy, not a benevolent dictatorship."[1]

Support for an elected Board of Education has been strengthening since the beginning of the year, as the escalating number of homeowners have grown increasingly frustrated with rising costs of public education. Last March, the board approved a record $113 million operating budget for the upcoming school year which was eventually passed by the township's Board of School Estimate, an organization whose members are also largely selected by the mayor. As it had in the past, the budget increase was paired with an increase in the school share of local property taxes. Pegi Adam, who is heading the volunteers behind the petition drive, said the annual cycle of higher school budgets and tax increases is forcing residents out of the township.[2]

Unfortunately for supporters of the measure, dissatisfaction with the organization of the Board of Education has led it to four referendum votes in the past 50 years (in 1963, 1969, 1971, and 1995). In each case, the proposed switch to an elected board was defeated at the polls.

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