Despite concerns raised by board members that the floor vote did not allow for an appropriate public notice, the voted Monday by a 5-3 vote to move the school board election to November and eliminate a public vote on the district budget, provided it stays within a state-mandated tax levy increase cap.
Against the move were Oradell representatives Dorothea Durand and Michael Chakansky and River Edge member Patty Almberg. Roger Tashjian of Oradell was absent from the meeting.
"I think that having the election in November makes it more political, Durand said. "But what I'm most concerned about is that we'd be taking the vote away from the public. People have a right to say where we're putting resources."
Chakansky stated that without Tashjian present it would be better if the board waited before voting. He added that if the legislature did not want the public to vote on a school budget, it should have removed that option instead of leaving it up to the board of education.
The district budget would only go to voters if it exceeded the 2 percent tax levy cap. The last time the Regional district's budget was defeated was in 2008 at which point a budget committee comprised of representatives from both River Edge and Oradell recommended cuts.
"When this was first approved I had a similar reaction to Michael about taking the vote away from residents," board vice-president Vito Acquafredda said. "But allowing the vote on teh budget gives more of an opportunity for people to vent their frustration, not on the budget itself, but on the process. Perhaps the greatest thing of shifting the vote is that we are giving our administrator's the ability to have a broader, longer planning process. Let's take advantage of the carrot dangling before our eyes."
Any school budget exceeding the 2 percent cap would still go to voters in November. The state Education Department would also still review the budgets following the Bergen County Executive Superintendent's review.
"Aside from the cost savings, this would engage more people to vote for the school board members," board member Stephanie Hartman said. "I understand people's reservation of not having input on the budget, but they will stil have a voice on who is sitting in these seats."
River Dell’s vote came after Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation Jan. 17 allowing school boards statewide to change elections and eliminate budget referendums. Proponents of the have said it would boost voter turnout in sometimes-sleepy April school board elections statewide.
The change will impact the regional board's upcoming election, with three board members (two River Edge, one Oradell) now facing a November election. Board members elected in November would take office in January.