To the Editor, Scotch Plains – Fanwood Patch:
On February 9 at 8pm the Scotch Plains – Fanwood BOE will discuss and vote on from April to November. As part of this proposal school budgets will not be subject to a vote by the electorate, so long as they stay within cap guidelines.
Proponents will cite a number of reasons to favor such a move, and I would refer readers to the spfk12.org website for a presentation of both pros and cons. Chief among the reasons to be in favor would be
-Cost – April elections are an added cost to taxpayers.
-Administrative efficiency – Time spent “barnstorming” the budget can be better spent attending
--to educational concerns
-Greater overall electoral participation over a broader base – Voters still retain the right to vote on
--Board Members even if voting on budgets is restricted.
All of this can be distilled even further:
“Trust us – we know what we are doing with your children and your money.”
And if there is one thing I have learned over the years, and instilled in both by wife and daughter, it is:
“Trust but verify.”
The odd thing is, our current Board DOES represent a number of different views brought together to reach a consensus balancing the needs of students and taxpayers in a reasonably impartial, apolitical manner. So, given that there are those who believe that a so-called “educational establishment” is given undue weight when voting takes place in April, what is not to like about moving the election and limiting the vote on budgets?
Simply, there are different issues and principles that need to be considered:
-Transparency and communication.
-Accountability and voting as an agency of change.
First and foremost, the 2% cap is NOT a hard cap. What this means that certain costs (healthcare being chief) CAN be passed through irrespective of the broader limit – in some cases subject to some administrative review. Moreover the cap is on the overall tax levy BEFORE it is allocated between Scotch Plains and Fanwood. What THIS means is that the percentage impact on one town relative to the other may be higher or lower than 2%. It is not my intent to overly dramatize the impact, but it is important that these facts be communicated to the electorate; those expecting regular 2% increments may well be mistaken.
Time spent preparing, communicating and framing a school budget is NOT time wasted. It imposes a discipline on our Board and its Administration to justify themselves every year. I would passionately argue – especially at a time when so many problems in the private sector are being ascribed to a laissez-fair attitude toward management and corporate governance – that this is a good thing.
There are those who would argue that April elections amount to “preaching to the educational choir”. I would counter that proper communication of the process employed to balance educational outcomes, cost and value, no Board need worry about a budget defeat. More to the point, should one be defeated, a reasonable Board should take it simply for what it is: A necessary part of the feedback loop conveying that something IS out of balance.
What does one do if something IS systemically out of balance? As often as not it is difficult to get people to run for School Board elections even now, let alone achieve the diversity of viewpoints necessary to properly reflect our two communities. I would argue – if nothing else – that the advantages accruing to incumbency resulting from a move of the election to November, when combined with a limitation on budget voting and an electorate trying to deal with multiple issues would result in a more bureaucratic, sclerotic system of education that currently exists.
At a time when the electorate is repeatedly presented with politically-negotiated “done deals”, and gerrymandering precludes true electoral change, it is imperative that avenues of electoral engagement be maintained and not eliminated. Please contact the SP-F Board of Education on or before February 9 and urge them to retain April elections for both budgets and Board Members. Attend the meeting on February 9, and ensure that your voice trumps administrative convenience.
41 Beech Avenue
Fanwood, NJ 07023-1707
(908) 889-2211 / firstname.lastname@example.org