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Shifting School Board Ballots to November Leaves Financing, Controversy Behind

With school budgets held in check, NJEA has little reason to reach deep in its pockets.

Moving New Jersey’s school board elections to November was expected to raise the stakes of these historically sleepy races, but at least in this first year, the money didn’t live up to expectations.

In fact, campaign spending in these elections seemed to step way back. State campaign finance reports and a survey of school board members show tepid sums expended on individual races.

And at least one huge player mostly stood above the fray. The New Jersey Education Association, the powerful statewide teachers union, spent virtually nothing on the elections -- after shelling out more than $4 million in the past decade and upward of $750,000 in 2011 alone.

According to the state’s Election Law Enforcement Commission, the NJEA election committee didn’t even file a campaign finance report for the November ballot. Its reports for the few remaining April elections showed only about $20,000 spent, mostly to support its locals.

The reason was pretty simple: the move by a vast majority of districts to November elections essentially took school budgets off the ballot for the first time, quieting the NJEA’s usual campaigns in support of school funding.

Under the law enacted last year, districts choosing November elections no longer were required to put their annual budgets up for vote as long as they stayed within state caps.

As a result, only a handful of districts ended up holding budget votes. For the NJEA, that took the issue off the table, the one that had prompted its annual statewide mailings and other media campaigns.

Those campaigns essentially peaked three years ago, with Gov. Chris Christie’s steep cuts in state aid and his public call for voters to reject local budgets if teachers didn’t take a wage freeze.

Before this year, “school budgets had become essentially statewide elections, and we simply don’t have the same dynamic anymore,” said Steve Baker, a NJEA spokesman. “We will certainly continue to push for support of our public schools, but for that specific project, we just didn’t do it this year.”

The individual races for school board seats remained pretty quiet affairs as well, according to a survey of its members conducted by the New Jersey School Boards Association and released yesterday.

Only 10 percent of respondents said they had spent more than in previous elections, and 34 percent said they spent less. A large number also indicated they spent nothing on their races, although the survey didn't make it clear if they were first-time candidates or did not run at all.

Campaign finance reports showed far less spent overall, with both the April and November elections totaling just under $600,000. That is less than half of the $1.3 million spent in 2009.

Continue reading on NJSpotlight.com.

NJ Spotlight is an issue-driven news website that provides critical insight to New Jersey’s communities and businesses. It is non-partisan, independent, policy-centered and community-minded.

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