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Medford Town Council discusses bringing back the residents right to vote on the school budget


About six months ago, some Medford residents told the Medford Town Council that the moving of the township’s school board election from the traditional first Tuesday in April to the first Tuesday in November was unjust.

The election date changed just weeks after the current council took office, about four years ago, when the Board of Education decided to make the move.

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By making this move, it exempted the school budget from review by the community.

In years past, township residents were able to vote on whether they wanted to approve a school board’s budget.

“That right was taken away from Medford Township,” Councilman Chris Buoni said.

This has been a common trend in most school districts throughout New Jersey. A state law provided school boards and municipal governments to move school elections from April to November starting in 2012. According to the New Jersey School Boards Association, once a move from April to November was made, the election was required to stay in November for a four-year period, meaning April of this year would have been the first eligible date to move the election back.

Moving the election to November placed the school election on the same ballot as the General Election, saving money from running two separate elections in a year, but it also removed the right to approve the budget from residents.

Township Administrator Kathy Burger said she did not know how much it would cost to hold a separate election in April.

Originally, state law permitted the governing body to have some sort of oversight in the school budget.

For instance, if residents felt like their taxes were being raised unfairly or against their will and voted the budget down, town council would be able to review the budget and approve it or submit an alternative one on behalf of the residents.

“Instead, the school board is given the right to raise taxes up to 2 percent every year without any consent,” Buoni said.

Residents of Medford have experienced substantial tax increases in both the Lenape Regional High School District and the Medford Township school district over the past four years.

Buoni argued this right ought to be returned to the residents. He argued taxes going up each year is starting to seem like an automatic, and that’s not how it should be.

“It just seems like we’re seen as a bottomless pit,” he said. “There’s this expectation that we’re just going to raise taxes every year and it’s never going to end.”

This is at a time in which enrollment in the schools is declining, so spending money on fewer students has added to the perplexity.

“I don’t get it,” Buoni said. “I think it’s time to move the vote back because I’ve had enough of my taxes going up.”

He requested the council consider looking into making this change for not only the Medford Township Public Schools but also the LRHSD. He also encouraged other sending districts to do the same.

Buoni believes enough is enough, and there are ways to educate children and inspire creative thinking without drowning them in raw materials each year.

According to the state Division of Community Affairs, a municipal governing body has the power alone to move the school election back to April. There is no requirement that town council and the Board of Education agree on the change. The only requirement is that the governing body gives notice to the county clerk 85 days prior to the April election date.

Deputy Mayor Charles Watson agreed that each year the council tightens its belt and finds a way to not raise taxes, but the school district doesn’t seem to be doing the same due diligence.

Mayor Jeffrey Beenstock said he finds it hypocritical to permit the school budgets to be subject to voter approval if the board of education is not exceeding the 2 percent cap. The law states voter approval should only be required when the 2 percent limitation is exceeded.

If the election were moved back to April, the school budget would be subject to a vote, regardless of whether it exceeds the 2 percent cap, according to Michael Yaple, director of public information for the state Department of Education.

“I’m a member of the governing body of the municipality, not the school board,” Beenstock said. “If you do not like the direction that the school board is taking, vote for different school board members or run on your own.”

Beenstock suggested a referendum as a way of getting voter input on this issue. A ballot question would be introduced to the public in November.

Councilman Brad Denn agreed with Beenstock’s take, while Councilman Frank Czekay felt residents should regain their right to vote on the school budget after it was unwillingly taken away from them.

Council is required to give adequate notice to the school board of the hearing for the adoption of a resolution in advance.

“I think that we owe it to them to reach out to them beforehand,” Beenstock said.

When reached last week, Superintendent Joseph Del Rossi of the K-8 school district declined to comment.

This will be listed on the agenda for the first meeting in June. In the meantime, the councilmen in favor of this resolution will reach out to the school board in advance of that meeting.


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