Medford citizens speak out against April school board elections at council meeting

The Medford school board election is a passionate subject for some Medford residents.

During the Tuesday, May 17 meeting of the Medford Township Council, residents spoke against moving the school board elections from November to April. Residents cited reasons such as cost for an additional election, the loss of programs if the budget is not approved and foreseeing problems with the budget going to the council for approval.

At a meeting in April, council discussed the possibility of moving the school board election to April, as this year would be the first eligible date to move the election back to its original date, and some residents a few months ago told council moving the April elections to November four years ago was “unjust.” This is because moving the election to November removed the right to vote on the budget from residents, as long as it doesn’t exceed the 2 percent increase cap. Council decided it would hold a meeting in June on the subject.

“As a taxpayer I’m against it … it could potentially reduce the budget and hurt programs,” Diana Pasca said.

Residents stated multiple reasons as to why the elections should stay in November. They said adding the April election would cost more money; they feared that budgets would not be approved and programs could get cut; they felt cutting programs could negatively affect the schools, also affecting the value of the education, especially for special needs children; and that putting the decision of the BOE budget in the hands of the council could have a negative impact.

“My fear of moving the election to April is adding the cost of an additional election … and that the vote will end in a defeat of the budget because no one wants an increase in their taxes … that would create a downward spiral of all the things our school has worked (on),” Jessica Siragusa said.

“What you are contemplating fosters a divided community … most significantly giving yourselves the authority over a defeated school budget puts you in the position of making decisions that you admittedly have limited knowledge or experience, decisions that impact our children, overall quality of our schools and the value of my home and the home of everyone in our community … Do you recall what happened in past years when town council had to make a decision on a defeated budget? Those council members found themselves in a dilemma in which they realized they would lose no matter what they decided … indeed they did lose, they were shortly voted out of office,” Jeff Reuter said.

Resident William Love said council should take the increase in taxes issue up with Trenton where the real problem is. According to Love, the average state aid in Medford used to be 45 percent, but now covers only about 10 percent of the budget. He also felt it wasn’t fair for the school budget to be approved in a vote, when the municipal budget didn’t go to a vote.

“(Councilman Chris Buoni) should be fighting for our fair share and supporting the schools,” Love said.

Township Administrator Kathy Burger a separate election could cost around $30,000 based on past referendums. For the November elections, townships do not have to pay, though they do have to pay around $12,000 for the primary election.

Buoni said New Jersey school taxes are the highest in the country and he feels that is a problem. He also felt that because school districts are allowed to increase to 2 percent, they haven’t tried to continue the programs they have without increasing the budget.

“It’s amazing what people can do with less when they know they don’t have any more access to more … we’re not thinking and (innovating),” Buoni said.

Additionally, he said things don’t need to be cut, but believes the people should have a say.

Buoni added that he looked into having the municipal budgets approved by the taxpayers, as he would “happily have voters approve the budget,” however he was told that was not possible.

Council approved a special council meeting on June 1 at 7:30 p.m. at the Public Safety Building with the purpose to consider a resolution to move the school board elections from November to April.

In other news:

• An ordinance on first reading ordinance was unanimously approved for the conveyance of the Centennial beach to the Centennial Pines Club, the Centennial Lake Homeowners Association in the amount of $943.31. This is for the lien amount owed at $193.31 as well as the redemption fee of $750. The second reading and public hearing would be at the next regular meeting.

• Resolutions of note approved that night include: authorizing an agreement with the county for a pedestrian beacons at the intersection of Main Street and Allen Avenue, Stokes Road and Hampshire Way, and Taunton Boulevard and Locust Road; accepting $180,000 from the county under the Municipal Park Development Grant Program to reconstruct the basketball courts in Freedom Park and Bob Meyer Park; and authorizing an agreement between the township and Medford Business Association and Medford Celebrates Foundation to reimburse the township for certain services for the Art, Wine & Music Festival and Independence Day Celebration, due to budgetary constraints.

• Cameron Wagner received a proclamation for becoming an Eagle Scout. He is part of Boy Scout Troop 20. His project was connecting the trail between two lakes in the Sherwood Forest neighborhood.

• Conner Crudeli was approved as a volunteer firefighter for station 251.

• The next regular council meeting will be June 8 at 7 p.m.