Irony Alert in Bridgewater-Raritan

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As of this writing, 142 NJ school boards have passed resolutions to move their member elections from April to November because of a very delicious carrot: if annual school budgets come in below the 2% cap they can bypass a public vote. Expect the number of boards seizing this opportunity to grow as we approach the deadline of Feb. 17th: marketing budgets is time-consuming, and if the budget is voted down then municipal bodies, who often have no expertise in education, get to make cuts to satisfy voters.

However, there’s a particularly interesting conflict brewing at Bridgewater-Raritan Public Schools, a Somerset County district with 8,685 kids and a $130 million budget. The Board there is divided on making the move, and its NJEA affiliate, Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association, is lobbying the Board to make the move, threatening to actively campaign against board members who vote to keep elections in April.

From the BREA’s Facebook page:

On February 14, the BOE will debate and likely vote on whether or not to exercise their option to move the budget and BOE member vote to November. And as you know, if the budget is at or below the 2% statutory cap, it automatically passes. Right now the BR BOE is divided on the issue with a few undecided that will swing the vote one way or the other. The only argument that matters is that exercising this option is what is best for the kids. Ensuring that the budget will pass and not be subjected to further millions in cuts at the hands of the town councils has to be every board members preeminent concern; if not, they should be removed for caring more about their political survival than the students they have pledged to support. Please help spread the word to every member living in the district and your friends and family members who reside in the township or borough. Be there on the 14th and make your voice heard! And don’t forget to wear red…after all it is Valentine’s day!

To further complicate matters, the municipal councils of Bridgewater Township and Raritan Borough may preempt the Board’s decision by acting on their own, one of the options under the new bill. Dick Bergeron, a blogger who is also a former Board member there, describes the state of affairs:

Looks like this entire matter has already become a done deal, even before the voters of Bridgewater and Raritan have had a chance to become acquainted with and to understand the nature and long term implications of this new law.
It amazes me to observe how quickly and how easily it has become to disfranchise all citizens of our two municipalities by stripping them of their voting privilege on the school budget.

But it surprises me somewhat that the BREA has gone public with its political targeting of School Board members who will not toe the line. Typically, this organization likes to stay below the radar and to exert its influence in other ways.

Also a factor in the dust-up between BREA and the Board: they’re currently in contract negotiations, which don’t seem to be going particularly well.

One of the arguments against November elections is the oft-expressed fear that such a move will “politicize” school board elections. In Bridgewater-Raritan, the irony is that even the discussion of such a move has provoked the kind of politicking and lobbying that the more dubious members of the board hoped to avoid.

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