The Point Borough Board of Education voted unanimously on Monday night to move the board election to November, as allowed by a new state law.
The school election in November will be for candidates vying for board seats. However, the public will not vote on the school district tax levy unless it exceeds a 2 percent increase from last year's levy, as per the law signed by Gov. Christie last Tuesday.
The change starts this year and remains in effect for at least four years, according to the resolution passed at the meeting at .
Schools Superintendent Vincent Smith was the first to discuss the issue, saying he is in favor of moving elections to November because it eliminates a budget vote if the tax levy is "at or below cap."
Smith said, "I know some will say we're taking the vote away. But the budget process will not go away."
He said he will again meet with parent groups, as he did last year, to explain the budget and answer questions, and that the budget is still subject to review by the board, the public and officials with the Ocean County Schools Superintendent's office.
The budget is still public information, is still open to public scrutiny and will still be the subject of a public hearing before the board adopts it.
Just before board members voted, a few expressed mixed feelings about the decision.
Board Member Joan Speroni said, "'I'm glad we won't have to get into a political debate over a sound budget. But I'm appalled that board candidates will have to align themselves with political parties to get elected."
Board President Susan Byington said she's confident that board members are serving for the right reasons and that elections won't become excessively political.
"We're not in it for the money," she said, laughing. Board members do not get paid.
Board Member Richard Ruiz said he grew up in Old Bridge where school board elections were highly political.
"I'd hate to see that happen here," he said. "I understand you can save a couple of dollars," he said, referring to how it will save money to have one election, rather than a school election in April and a general election in November.
Ruiz said, "If we're not careful, the local board campaigns will result in elections of those with career ambitions, instead of just doing the right thing."
After the meeting, Speroni, the longest serving board member, noted that during the past 15 years she has been on the board, the tax levy has passed 13 times.
"But it's always been a fight," she said. "There's always a group ready to knock it down. There have always been people aligned with political parties who would spend money to encourage people to vote down the budget."
On the other hand, she said, she is concerned that moving the election to November may make the board candidate election more political.
"My fear is that candidates will have to align themselves with political parties to get elected," she said. "Board members will still be non-partisan, per se, but my fear is that if candidates aren't aligned with parties, they won't get elected."
"But we hope that won't happen," said Byington.
"Yes, there's a hope it won't happen," Speroni said. "This is Small Town USA, but it's such a political town. But I voted yes for the sake of the budget."
When asked if it is unfair to school districts and boards that the public votes on the school tax levy, but not on municipal or county budgets, Speroni said, "Yes, I've always felt that's unfair. The only place people felt they could be heard was with school budgets."
The resolution passed by the board says the move will save money and attract more votes because it is part of the general election.
The new law states that either a school board or municipality can vote to make the switch from April to November elections, or voters can petition the municipality for a referendum on the prospect.