By Lynn Robbins
“Stability is important when planning and carrying out a school budget,” says Bordentown School Superintendent Constance Bauer.
That’s why Bauer is glad that school board elections have been moved to November. The board no longer needs to get voters’ approval for the school budget, providing it stays within a 2 percent tax increase cap. Budgets that exceed the 2 percent tax increase cap would be put to a vote.
The law that made this change possible was signed by Governor Christie this past January, and was adopted by the Bordentown school board after a 7-2 vote.
As a result of a new budget, Bordentown taxpayers will see an annual increase in property taxes, averaging an additional $70.79 for the township homeowners, $66.48 for city residents and $67.28 for Fieldsboro residents.
Bauer says this system gives the school budget more stability and makes it easier for the board and for parents to plan for the school year. In the past, it was very difficult to plan ahead, and for that reason, having the authority to increase the budget up to two percent is better for both the school board and for parents, maintains Bauer. Another advantage of having elections on the same date is cost savings. The business office said the cost of last year’s school board election was approximately $8,000.
Last year voters defeated the budget and, as a result, it had to be reviewed by the state. The board could not tell parents whether they would have a full-day kindergarten program until July, and the situation was stressful for both the school board and parents, Bauer said. In addition, some staff members were let go.
The new budget includes an increase of just under 2 percent and has also been bolstered by a $924,000 surplus from 2010 that was appropriated into the 2012-2013 budget. In addition, the districts received $536,000 in state aid for capital outlay. This money will be used for facility maintenance and improvements.
The budget includes funds for a special needs teacher, three part-time teachers at the secondary level, one full-time and two part-time teachers for the MacFarland school, and possibly one more teacher. It also allows the districts to maintain existing services and the bus service. The approved budget does not include an adjustment for healthcare which would have added an additional cost.
School board president Thomas Dalton voted for the move saying it’s a win for everyone: the school board, the voters and the students.
However, board member Lisa Kay Hartmann disagrees.
“The school budget was one of the last things taxpayers could vote on, and we took that away from them,” said Hartmann, who voted against the move.
“I believe that as a school board, we should serve the community,” she added.
From Hartmann’s view, serving the public means giving them a say in proposed budget increases.
“We do such good work and have so many good programs and teachers. The public knows this and I believe they would vote intelligently rather than just automatically reject a budget because of a cost increase,” Hartman said.
“We should engage the public, and tell them directly, ‘This is what we want to do’,” said Hartman, resolute that, “the public should have a say.”
One other person who voted against the move was Kimberly Zablow. Over all, she is not against the November election date but feels that the board made its decision too quickly without giving the public enough time to examine the issues and express its concerns.
Hartman said she might have voted for the move if its term would be up for renewal in one year rather than four, explaining that if the board concludes within one or two years that this was a bad decision, it would be stuck with it for another two or three years. Hartman pointed out that several of the board members will have completed their terms before the four-year period will have ended.
“Now that this change has been approved, voters have to accept it for four years,” she said.
Their only recourse for expressing disapproval of the board’s decision is to vote in new members in the election,” said Hartman.
Dalton thinks this could be a good thing. He maintains that voters haven’t taken school board elections seriously enough in the past.
“The bottom line is that residents will have to vote in board members who represent them,” said Dalton.
While Hartman and Dalton disagree on the election move, they agree that their role is to serve students and their parents.
“It’s important to do what’s best for the students,” said Dalton.