Newark’s Elected School Board is Model for the Whole State

One of the many nuances that make New Jersey’s education system unique is an ongoing debate regarding whether our school districts should have an elected school board or an appointed one.

By in large, New Jersey’s school board members are elected by residents from their specific school districts, but in our state, there are still some school board members who are directly appointed by their local Mayor.   School boards typically consist of seven or nine members and serve three-year terms, so this can be a very powerful position for a local Mayor.

Newark is known for its vigorous debates regarding education and our intense School Board meetings but let’s not forget it is also a model for the State on the importance of providing a strong voice for parents and democracy as a whole.

As seen last April, Newark parents voted in record numbers to personally elect a School Board. While it is our hope that at some point soon this Board will not be beholden to the Trenton, we have seen time and time again – that having an elected School Board works and ensures parents have a voice.

In contrast, take a look at our neighboring school district in East Orange, which is still one of 20 appointed school boards in the State who are not democratically elected.

In response, East Orange residents are now seeking a referendum on their November ballot this election year to determine whether they want to keep an appointed school board or build an elected school board model.

Those defending the appointed model argue that elected School Boards politicize education in these districts, opening the floodgates to greater campaign spending and putting the power in various interest groups and political consultants. In addition, we also hear that holding these elections will add cost to taxpayers and that candidates who have personal fortunes or the ability to raise money will be represented. Finally, there are also fears that an elected school board might be pressured by a voting community to lower taxes and cut school budget and eliminate much-needed programs.

While these are fair concerns, we at the Newark Report believe in parental engagement.

We deeply believe in strengthening the voice of parents. And as we have seen in Newark, if parents have skin in the game, their voice will be stronger.

In addition, as we are now seeing in the work of people like Kim Gaddy and Tave Padilla, who have shown a strong interest in our school budget since taking office, greater transparency can be built with the right leadership.

In East Orange, concerned parents have collected more than 600 signatures out of 848 needed on a petition to have this fight go to a referendum on the November ballot. These parents are less than 300 signatures away from an Education Declaration of Independence in East Orange.

It is time for democracy to rule when it comes to education, regardless of the potential risks. Beyond the current rationalizations, School Board appointments were originally created to decrease the power of parents.

Part of the Newark Report is to highlight our City’s leadership in the area of education. Even with the great flaw of local control, our School Board elected process is something we need to celebrate. And hopefully, can serve as an example for other neighboring communities.

All traditional public schools should operate under elected governance so that our schools are more accountable to the very public they are intended to serve.

The Newark Report encourages East Orange parents to continue to organize and mobilize in the best interest of their children and participate in the November General Election. It is time that the East Orange School Board follows Newark’s lead and elects their own School Board.