“Directing the City Clerk to submit at the general election to be held Nov. 4, 2014 a public question as to the acceptance of NJSA 18A:9-3 (Type II School District, elected board of education) in the city of Bayonne.”
Then it passed by a 5-0 vote of the City Council members.
And so it was done. It was the culmination of myriad efforts of city activist Michael Alonso, a longtime proponent of an elected school board. And it brought to the public the choice of how its school board members should be selected, either by the sitting mayor, as has existed now for decades, or by public vote, which was the case until the mid-1970s here in the city.
It also put to an end the political discussion on whether a referendum would ever be brought to the public to make what many say is an important choice for residents.
The issue was a contentious one in the two municipal campaigns, first for the general election on May 13 and then for the runoff on June 10.
New Mayor James Davis was in favor of the referendum, even appearing in a commercial made by Alonso earlier this year. Former mayor Mark Smith said in the spring that he was not opposed to the idea, but that it required more discussion.
Even before last week’s agenda items were considered, resident John Sebik was already talking about the decision to bring the issue to a vote.
“I commend the council for being proactive on the elected school board (issue),” he said at the meeting. Later in the meeting when the measure was passed, many were happy, if not elated, about the outcome.
“The idea of having an elected school board is a great idea, an idea I have had for many years,” said Christos M. Genes of Newman Avenue.
However, Genes believes that if the referendum passes the school board election should piggyback the regular general election in November, rather than being held in April, the two choices. He pointed out that this year the city would have had five elections if the elected school board had already been passed. He also said that many towns shy away from April school board elections for one very important reason: expense.
April elections prohibitive
“There’s cost involved in running an election,” Genes said.
City Clerk Robert Sloan confirmed that the cost is high, as much as $200,000.
“If you really want the people’s participation, I think you should go to a November election,” Genes said.
Sloan said Bayonne school board elections attracted only about 2,000 to 3,000 voters when last held in the ‘70s, and that the participation waned after that. The city then changed to an appointed board.
Council gadfly Leonard Kantor of West 3rd Street also agreed with having an elected school board, saying five municipalities in Hudson County already have it, along with “half of the cities in the state.”
But like Sloan, he cautioned that if residents vote for the change from an appointed system, they should come out to cast their ballots each year.
“The public has to support the elected school board,” Kantor said.