OLD BRIDGE – The discussion to move the Board of Education elections from November to April was merely a fact-finding mission.
That was what Councilwoman Anita Greenberg-Belli said in response to the three letters Schools Superintendent David Cittadino issued to Mayor Owen Henry and members of the Township Council against a potential resolution to move the school elections from November to April.
In the letter Cittadino said “moving the school election back to April eliminates the district’s ability to implement a budget within the two percent state cap and other applicable exceptions, and results in a public vote, and the possibility of rejection, on every budget, even one containing no tax increase.
“That process, and the township review of any unsuccessful budget, would take place during April and May each year,” he stated in the letter. “That is the time of year when the law requires the district to notify all non-tenured staff of their status for the following school year, as well as the time when we seek out new staff members to replace resigning, retiring and non-renewed staff. To have the entire budget in flux each year at that pivotal time would require us to non renewal all non-tenured staff each year, due to the uncertainty of the budget. This, in turn, would have a dramatic, negative effect on our ability to hire and retain highly qualified educators at all levels. The entire staff, responsible for the education of the children of Old Bridge, would be destabilized, inevitably resulting in the loss of valued employees.”
Cittadino also explained that the school district is fighting through devastating cuts in state aid, which started with the loss of over three million dollars in the 2019-20 budget, and will continue for several more years.
The Township Council discussed the measure at a meeting in December. The matter was not on the agenda for the meeting on Jan. 13.
“The discussion stemmed from listening to the constituents in Old Bridge that wanted the election back in April because they wanted to focus on the Board of Education [BOE] election,” Greenberg-Belli said.
Some members of the public shared concerns and confusion over the design of the vote by mail ballot in the November election, the councilwoman explained, noting the way the layout of the municipal candidates and BOE candidates were on the ballot, some voters missed voting for the school candidates.
Greenberg-Belli said the matter was merely fact-finding.
“Everyone jumped to conclusions and started this campaign,” she said, adding the situation got out of control and misinformation was disseminated. “I want to clarify we do care about students, we do care about the teachers, we do care about the police and safety in schools, we care about special needs … this administration has put more efforts in special needs not only for the children, but adults across the town.”
Greenberg-Belli said a good BOE and school system enhance and benefit the township.
“We have to think of things not myopically ” she said. “School is very important. We have to think of the whole town.”
Ward 4 Councilman Mark Razzoli said he opposed Gov. Phil Murphy’s decision to cut state aid in Old Bridge noting the Township Council had voted for a resolution opposing the cuts.
Council President Mary Sohor said as governing body, they have to represent everyone and find a balance.
“We can’t go with one faction or another,” she said. “So [the discussion on the BOE elections] was fact finding and I think it somehow really got out of control.”