Council to vote on BOE elections, and what is non-partisan anyway?

I am a first-year member of the Plainfield Board of Education explaining my position on an important issue. This is no way reflects the sentiments of the entirety of the Board.

At tonight’s agenda fixing session, the Plainfield City Council will vote on a resolution to move the Board of Education elections to November, two months after the Board of Education returned them to April. This resolution was sponsored by Mayor Adrian Mapp.

The state granted the Board of Education or the City Council the right to move the elections to April after four November election cycles. An attempt to do the opposite, to reverse our recent move, is a clear violation of the BOE’s sovereignty.

Despite Mayor Mapp’s stated desire to appoint a Superintendent, the Board and the city are two separate entities, with separate budgets – so this resolution’s language regarding the supposed increased cost of April elections is meaningless.

The only time a city or town council has any control over the school budget occurs in municipalities where the budget is on the ballot. If voters reject a school budget increase, the council is able to override the voters.

In case you were wondering, the Plainfield Board of Education will not be able to cast a vote on the City’s 2016 budget. We won’t have a say on when city elections are held, or in other modifications to the city charter. Nor should we.

On that note, I find it interesting that a mayoral administration so worried about the financial well-being of the district last week sent a letter to School Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles demanding over $500,000 annually to keep school resource officers (city police officers) as part of school security. This is a function performed by the City of Plainfield as part of a community safety initiative. But I digress. Another story for another day.

Tonight’s Council resolution does make one thing abundantly clear: The BOE made the right move in early November, our first chance to move the elections back to the spring.

Clearly, the Mapp administration and at least part of the City Council would have tried to preempt the Board of Education in establishing November elections moving forward, just as they did in a 2012 special meeting, a day before they knew the BOE planned a vote to keep the elections in April. “Once bitten, twice shy” works well here.

In a post explaining my support for moving the elections to April, a handful of vocal folks seemed to not understand the concept of non-partisan. I’ll try to shed some light.

What is (or isn’t) non-partisan?

Non-partisan doesn’t mean that candidates lack political opinions. It doesn’t mean that you don’t raise money, take donations. Non-partisan does not mean that candidates and their allies can’t use their vast social networks – in both the traditional and electronic sense – to reach the public. Non-partisan does not mean candidates can’t be members of the Democratic or Republican parties. It does not even mean politicians who have won partisan elections cannot express support for candidates. Non-partisan certainly does not mean you can’t politically organize, and pool resources.

Critics call BOE elections “supposedly non-partisan”. Not so. Until the contests were moved in 2012, there was nothing “supposed” about the non-partisan nature of the Board of Education elections since they began in the 1980s. Non-partisanism was called into question was when Democratic Party chairmen started running campaigns out of their partisan headquarters in November. That was when the Democratic party started linking their BOE candidates with Presidential, and Congressional, and Senatorial campaigns on the democratic line. That is partisan.

While Democratic and Republican citizens have worked on BOE races, sometimes together, only Democratic chairmen have used party resources, influence, and headquarters to run candidates.

Elections were established in April to prevent this. They were held in the spring so that individuals and groups of citizens working together don’t have to compete with the large budgets and inherent power of the Democratic and Republican parties.

Nationwide, the vast majority of non-partisan elections, which comprise the bulk of Board of Education contests, share one tenet: they take place on a different day than the partisan elections. This is why, despite annual costs in the tens of thousands of dollars, so many School Boards in New Jersey held April elections for nearly three decades.

Frankly, non-partisan elections on the same day as partisan elections – and on the bottom of the same ballot – is a sham. I will do all in my power to not let democracy take a back seat to austerity.

In fact, I explained this belief of mine, as it relates to the schools, in the League of Women Voters questionnaire before I was elected to the Board in 2014.

School Board elections should be returned to April. They were traditionally held in the spring for a reason – to separate the schools from the general election and the direct influence of politicians. Since the move to November, our local Democratic Party Chair runs candidates right out of his headquarters with the money and influence of the political machine. This impedes the ability of residents to compete and creates a reluctance on the part or ordinary citizens to run. Additionally, Plainfield lost the right to vote on the school budget when the election was moved.

Some of the very small minority who oppose a progressive move from November to April did not oppose my candidacy for Board of Education, but don’t appreciate when I stand by my word. Maintenance of non-partisan elections is indeed one of my core beliefs.

Ideally, all elections would be non-partisan. In an even better world, we wouldn’t live under the thumb of Democratic and Republican Party resources. We have a long way to go.

2 thoughts on “Council to vote on BOE elections, and what is non-partisan anyway?

  1. Concise and spot on analysis of the point of having School Board Elections in April, as opposed to general election races. Political parties have much more financial leverage during the election period, while the School Board has little input. Too much rest in our ability to vote for individuals and not line appointed party blocks

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