The board heard over an hour of testimony from the public before taking their vote, with multiple recesses taken due to the disorderly nature of the crowd.
The school board voted 5-4 to move the elections to November, with the Kids First majority members (allied with Mayor Dawn Zimmer) voting yes, and their opponents calling for a public referendum on the issue and voting no.
“The overwhelming response was that people did want the elections moved to November,” said board member Theresa Minutillo, speaking of her experience talking to constituents.
Carmelo Garcia, who voted no, said constituents he spoke with opposed the move, saying the people should have the right to decide on Election Day.
Recent state legislation allows school boards to move elections from April to November with the hopes of cutting costs by eliminating an election from the cycle, as well as increasing turnout.
However, the move to November eliminates a vote on the annual school budget, unless the budget increases by more than 2 percent.
“I can’t remember the last time a budget went down in Hoboken,” said Rose Marie Markle, the board president. “It always passes.”
But others on the board said they believe the people should have the right to decide on the budget.
The measure will likely wind up in court though, as a petition of approximately 2,600 signatures was submitted before the meeting to let the people decide on the issue. However, a board attorney said the wording of the petition makes the referendum non-binding.
Maureen Sullivan, a board member who is up for election during the next election cycle (now November), said she didn’t feel comfortable voting to extend her term.
The public portion turned controversial when Markle said that the public's speaking time would be limited to two minutes each, instead of the usual five minutes. A compromise was made, and the members of the public were able to speak for three minutes each.
A loud argument broke out in the crowd, forcing the board members to temporarily leave the room to take a recess.
“It’s a gag order,” one woman yelled from the crowd, speaking about the time limit.
Council members Beth Mason, Michael Russo, and Theresa Castellano, all opponents of the mayor and her allies, spoke out at the meeting.
Castellano, after the ruckus, called the behavior at the meeting “a travesty,” saying she “longs for the council meetings.”
However, the council meetings are generally more controversial than the school board meetings.
“One of the strongest things that I think is buried in the [resolution] is the elimination of the vote on the annual budget,” Mason said. “You are seeking to take away the public’s right to vote on $62 million."
Jean Marie Mitchell, a former board member, said that even if the election saves only $50,000 every year, she would rather see that money put back into the classrooms.
Thus, Hoboken school board elections have been moved to November, at least for now.
For more on this issue, make sure to pick up a copy of The Hoboken Reporter this weekend.
- Ray Smith