School Board Assoc. Director: 15% Voter Turnout for April Elections

Throughout the state, 26 school districts will hold elections April 23 and those elections hold the key to school budgets — the biggest component of property taxes. New Jersey School Board Association Deputy Executive Director Frank Belluscio told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that only 15 percent of registered voters typically come out for April school district elections.

Belluscio said that the Board of Education still plays a very important function in the operation of New Jersey’s schools, regardless of whether the elections are in April or November or if members are appointed by the mayor. Board members set the policies for how the schools operate, select the superintendent and evaluate his or her performance so they have a big role in student achievement and advancing that achievement, said Belluscio. He said since 2012, the vast majority of school districts have migrated to November elections, which became an option.

The average turnout in April elections has been about 15 percent of registered voters. Participation rates are much higher in November, said Belluscio.

Belluscio said that one of the reasons that voter turnout is so low in April is because there is no statewide office that gets a lot of attention and exposure, which would normally draw people to the polls. He said that moving to November was meant partially to address the voter turnout issue but it does present some other challenges.

When asked what he thinks is the biggest challenge facing school boards now Belluscio said, “Right now they do need more flexibility. Right now in New Jersey, we are implementing a new evaluation process for our teachers and principals and it is a very labor intensive process. Yet school districts are constrained in the amount of resources they can put behind the implementation of that program. People know about the 2 percent tax levy cap, they know there’s a cap on superintendent salaries, but what many people don’t know is there’s another cap on growth of administrative expenditures and that’s where we do need the flexibility to put a little more resources so that we can effectively and successfully carry out this new evaluation program.”

Belluscio said that the evaluation is tied into a 10-year system and it is tied very closely to student performance, so it is very critical for the advancement of education in New Jersey.

Belluscio said that there are misconceptions about the common core standards, which are not federally required. He said that using the new standards is a compact among various states, including New Jersey.

“New Jersey has had standards-based education for almost two generations now and we have changed those standards over time. We have tried to extend the reach for our children, what we expect for them in order to graduate and the common core is another step in this direction. It’s unfortunately been subject to a lot of misconceptions and misinterpretation,” said Belluscio.