Special school election could be held

Board reserves date in case referendum questions are needed

BY TOYNETT HALL Staff Writer

The Howell Board of Education may ask voters to decide one or more public questions during a special election on March 10.

FRANK GALIPO Kevin Molnar, 10, of Howell, cancels Bingo numbers as they are called during the Candy Bingo event that was held at the Aldrich School, Howell, on Jan. 9. The family event was sponsored by the school's PTO. FRANK GALIPO Kevin Molnar, 10, of Howell, cancels Bingo numbers as they are called during the Candy Bingo event that was held at the Aldrich School, Howell, on Jan. 9. The family event was sponsored by the school’s PTO. On Jan. 7 the board voted 4-2 to reserve the March 10 date in case it is needed for referendum votes.

Board members Sherry Roses, Stephen Levine, Joseph Moscato and Valerie Rosenberg voted to save that date. Board members Patricia Blood and Robert Antonaccio voted no on that question.

Moscato said he approved the timetable because he wanted to keep all available options open.

“It would have been premature to vote no and eliminate all options. I did not want to lose the opportunity,” he said.

If it turns out that the school district has no need to hold a special election on March 10, the board can rescind the vote.

Asked why she voted to save the date, Roses said, “When you are trying to solve a difficult problem, it is wise to keep all your options open. That is why I voted to set a timetable for a possible referendum. We may never use the option, but if we did not act with a favorable vote at the meeting, the option would no longer be a viable one.”

Members of the public may be asked to vote on several issues if the March 10 special election is held.

One question may have to do with the possible closing of one or more public schools in Howell. Because of enrollment and budget issues, administrators have been contemplating closing one or more of Howell’s 13 schools. The board has been asked by residents to consider putting that potential action on the ballot so the community may vote on the issue.

District administrators said the state only permits referendums to be held on four dates during the year. If the March date had not been reserved within the proper time frame, the next referendum date would be in June, which officials said is too late for the board to present closing a school or schools as a ballot question to the public.

Members of the public may also be asked on March 10 to approve additional spending in the district’s 2009-10 budget. That budget is being developed now, but it is unclear whether residents will vote on the spending plan in April, as has been the case for years.

Legislation now being considered in Trenton would eliminate the public’s vote on a school budget if the budget that is proposed by the board is within certain parameters established by state law.

If bill S-1861 is approved in the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jon Corzine, it would eliminate the public elections on school budgets that are under state spending limits; move the April school board member elections to the November general election; and also move the public vote on second ballot questions for local spending above state spending limits to the November general election.

A published report this week said it is unclear if the new law regarding the school budget vote would take effect in 2009 or in 2010, assuming it passes in the state Senate and Assembly and is signed into law by the governor. Legislative action on the bill may come within the next few weeks, according to a published report.

Howell voters could be asked on March 10 to approve additional capital outlay for tax assessment. Voters could also be asked if they want to increase the school budget by a certain amount in order to keep all of Howell’s schools open.

If voters approve the second question and turn down the budget, the district would then be bound to find money to fund the second question, according to officials.

Moscato said the people who are running the Howell school district want to keep all of their options open. He said the board members are trying “to make the best decision and do a good job for the people of Howell.”

Toynett Hall may be reached

at howell@gmnews.com