J2 Content – Perspectives

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Vote in Your School Elections

Today, all across New Jersey, school budgets and school board memberships are being voted upon.

Our position regarding the current elections here in NJ, and for all states, is that the most practical vote is a vote FOR the budget.

What the average voter does not realize is that the majority of the money spent in a school budget is mandated expenditures. When a budget is voted down, the school district cannot touch certain areas. Salaries and benefits for the coming year are already committed to, having been negotiated years earlier. State and federal laws mandate expenditures in the special education and special needs areas, and in the event of a budget defeat those expenses will still have to be paid.

A vote against your school budget forces your civic leaders to make cuts, and most voters do not realize that those cuts will HAVE TO come from the areas most voters like about their schools: extra curricular offerings, class sizes, field trips, activity buses, new textbooks, etc.,.  The issues that draw the most criticism from voters are often untouchable.

To get your local district to be more pragmatic with regard to teacher salaries and vendor agreement or if you are unhappy with the direction your school is headed, the school budget is not the place to to make an impact. If anything, you want to support the school budget so that a “no” vote is not used as an excuse for the path the school is currently on.

Where you can make a difference, is with the school board. Your school board negotiates the salaries, approves administrator hiring, and acts as your eye, ears, and voices in school decision making. You want to find and support candidates whose priorities are similar to yours, and who understand the concerns you have.

If you are unhappy with the salary the school principal makes, a “no” vote will not affect his/her paycheck. However, a vote for a specific school board candidate can influence the salary his/her eventual replacement will receive.

On election day, we encourage you to be informed. School districts are required to make their budgets available for public review, and many towns hold meetings to discuss the same. Any school board or administrator would gladly go through the line items and point out what is mandated and untouchable in the event of a “no” vote. They are not trying to be arrogant or diminish the power of your vote, they would prefer that the public understood that the “good stuff” is what is really being voted upon, not the things many people criticize when discussing school budgets.

Your local paper will also give each school board candidate a chance to outline their goals. It is important to know, most school board candidates DO have an agenda (their son plays lacrosse and they hope to see the sport move to full varsity status, their daughter is in the band and they want to ensure the annual trip to a band competition at Disney is in place for years to come), but so do each of you. There are things you want to see supported and areas where you feel investment is wasteful. You want to support a like minded candidate or even run for the school board yourself.

The best way to be informed and make a difference is to attend school board meetings.

School budget elections are a high profile time for families to become involved in the directions their schools are headed. Unfortunately, most misunderstand the impact they really can have.  Vote wisely today, and become involved… that’s the best thing you can do for yourself, your children, and your community.

[Educator X is a fourth-year special education teacher. Her salary for this year and next were set during contract negotiations last year and will not be affected by the outcome of today's elections. Her position in her school district is a state mandated position and cannot be eliminated by a defeated school budget.]

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