Madison School Board Defers Vote on School Election Law

Madison resident Steve Wells challenges the proposed School Election Law at the Board of Education workshop on Jan. 24. Credits: Liz Keill
MADISON, NJ – A state law that would shift Board of Education elections from April to November generated lengthy discussion at the Tuesday, Jan. 24, school board workshop meeting. The board agreed to delay action on the matter until the Feb. 14 meeting.
“The intent is to reduce costs and increase participation,” Board President Lisa Ellis said in support of the change.
If the board adopts the resolution, the new election date would remain in effect for a minimum of four years. The change would eliminate the annual voter referendum on the general fund tax levy. Any additional tax proposal would be presented as a separate question at the general election. The annual organization meeting would take place the first week of January following the November general election. Members of the school board whose terms would have expired in May 2012 would continue to serve in office until the January 2013 organization meeting.
A resolution could be adopted by the borough council, the Board of Education, or by a petition signed by 15 percent of qualified voters.The Madison Borough Council discussed the matter at its Jan. 23 meeting and agreed it should be left to the Board of Education.

Currently, costs for running the April election, about $10,000, are borne by the school board. By changing the election date, the costs would be shared.
But some board members had reservations about the plan.
“There’s more here than meets the eye,” Woodland Road resident Steve Wells said. “Why is this being pushed by Trenton?  The state has you locked in for four years, but it’s not locked in itself. You’re giving away your leverage.”  Wells said there is no guarantee that the state would keep a 2 percent cap and that state aid is also a concern.
In addition, Wells said, “I’m very skeptical about keeping politicalization  out.” Although the school board ballot would be separate, some board members said they could see the potential for influence between Republicans and Democrats.
Board Vice President Patrick Rowe said voter turnout is generally light, except during presidential election years. “The mayor and council and Board of Education members have far more influence on our daily lives, but people aren’t paying attention to local issues,” he said.
In other matters, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Lee Nittel provided an update on innovative programs. He described the poetry competition; a technology and website initiative with Florham Park Middle School; a Rosetta Stone program, including ESL students and a Hispanic parent group; Relay for Life and the Columbia Teachers College reading and writing workshops.
The director said Ipads are making a huge impact, especially in replacing textbooks. “We’re seeing more requests from teachers,” he said of the increasing use of website, blogs and other technological innovations.
Superintendent of Schools Michael Rossi reported on studies regarding homework and student achievement. “There are healthy email exchanges with faculty on how we use homework,” he said. Rossi emphasized that “we will not extrapolate from this study to district policy.” He said it’s meant to heighten dialogue, to discover what is working and what isn’t. “We’ll be transparent with the results,” he said.
The board also acknowledged a number of donations, including an auditorium sound system from the Junior School PTO, the Madison Music Association and the Haralampoudis family; improvements to the Torey J. Sabatini School baseball field from the Madison Little League and stage curtains from the Central Avenue School PTO.

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