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Move N.J. school board elections to the fall

Every spring when school board elections roll around in New Jersey, democracy stays home.

Less than 15 percent of the state's 5.1 million registered voters show, leaving crucial spending decisions to a minority of voters.

A proposal to change how New Jersey conducts those elections, putting it in line with other states, should be passed by the legislature.

The bill would move the elections from April to November, when more voters go to the polls for general elections.

The change would be a huge cost-saver, which should appeal to municipalities. Cherry Hill alone could save $175,000. Statewide, towns could save as much as $12 million, according to Assemblyman Louis Greenwald, (D., Camden) one of the co-sponsors of the bill, which cleared the Assembly Appropriations Committee last week.

Unlike previous failed attempts to change the law, this bill makes the move optional for municipalities. The decision could be made by the school board, the municipality, or by voters, if 15 percent of those eligible sign a petition.

In addition, school districts with November elections would no longer need voter approval on proposed budgets under the 2 percent tax levy cap.

In a perfect world, no school budgets would be on the ballot. No other government budget in the state must go before the voters for approval. Other states manage to allow school boards to pass their own budgets, and voters get to show their pleasure or displeasure at the next election.

New Jersey's system is largely meaningless. Voters frustrated over high property taxes can reject proposed budgets, even those with modest or no tax increases, but town or state officials can override the decision. No wonder people don't bother to vote.

A good first step toward increasing credibility in the process and encouraging more people to participate, is to move school elections to November. It makes political and economic sense.