Does anyone even know what they are voting for this Tuesday?
Galloway residents are being asked to approve an additional fifty four million dollars plus, on top of the existing high school’s budget, for “various improvements”. None of the money would go to any of the elementary schools or middle school.
On March 7th 2015 (Friday), Galloway township residents received an “Official Special School Election Sample Ballot” in the mail to advise them of public questions to be voted upon on March 10th 2015 (Tuesday). The “questions” to be voted upon are very confusing and make absolutely no sense. Additionally, why are residents receiving this now?
Not too long ago, a law was passed in New Jersey allowing school districts to stop holding “special elections” in the spring and make them part of the general elections in the fall (November). This was done simply to save money, as school districts must rent machines, move them, conduct voting and manage the process.
Virtually every district in New Jersey has taken advantage of this money saving opportunity. Obviously, the next question is, why has Galloway not?
The explanation is simple and complex at the same time. Many Galloway residents are quite angry and frustrated about property taxes. In the entire state there seems to be little control over the continuing increase in these taxes.
As many are aware the largest portion of property taxes goes to the school budget. There is no question that it should. Schools are certainly the most important function of a community. That being said, are they effective administrators of their budgets?
I hope that if you are reading this, you don’t think this is about partisan politics or anti-union rhetoric. Our schools are the single most important effort in our community, any community. Our teachers have a job that is critical to the advancement and success of society.
The truth is, typically, there is oversight. A township normally has an elected board of community members to oversee the schools budget.
Galloway Township does not have an autonomous board of education that directly oversees Absegami high school’s budget or operation. This is very important for residents to know. Years ago under the concept of combining services with other townships to save money, Galloway school’s board of education gave up direct positive control over its own high school. It sounded like a reasonable idea then but time has proven the concept is seriously flawed.
The Galloway Patriot has printed a few news stories that explain how the “district” works but ultimately, it is very complex and seems to be dysfunctional.
The fact that Galloway as a community has little to no control over its own high school is disturbing. It is even more disturbing that there is such a lack of oversight. While many of the “district’s” indiscretions have gone largely unnoticed, some are glaring. First, let’s take “robo-calls”. Many residents have received robo-calls from the high school asking for their vote in favor of the upcoming budget vote. Many people are not aware that these calls are a direct violation of the federal voting laws. Many residents also received a letter asking for their vote.
The district is using the robo-calls less now as they have discovered it’s just easier to hold a special election resulting in a very low turn-out. In the “Special Spring Election”, historically, very few voters go to the polls. In addition, if a “sample ballot” which says, “Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District”, is sent, Galloway residents think it doesn’t apply to them. The Galloway Patriot asked a few people if they received this sample ballot. Of the ones that did, they simply threw it out as they believed it had nothing to do with them as Galloway residents.
What is even worse, if you do open it and read it, the questions (budget) to be voted upon, are very vague and difficult to understand. The “Interpretive Statement” at the bottom is no less frustrating and unclear.
The high school district has scheduled a “special election” that, win or lose, will cost Galloway taxpayers money. They sent out a warning at the last minute right before the weekend that is both impossible to understand and misleading.
If, this is an effort to manipulate the vote, it will be easy. It is likely few will show up to vote on Tuesday, March 10th 2015. All that is needed are a few supporters to vote “yes” and on Wednesday you get the bill.
Rejecting the budget proposal on Tuesday by voting “No” will not impede Galloway schools or hurt teachers. It would serve to protect our ability to maintain control over how taxpayer money is used, so that top quality education may be sustained into the future. In addition, taxpayers must demand clarity in the questions upon which they are asked to vote: Is it for books, a roof or teachers? Please explain in detail, “debt service”, “bond proposals” and what are the “various improvements”. Why are there hundreds of thousands of dollars for “various improvements” going to the newly built “Cedar Creek High School”?
Galloway residents must know more before they can make an informed decision. The schools must start by showing taxpayers that they intend to operate efficiently and not needlessly spend money. Holding a special election in the spring which costs the taxpayers a considerable amount for no justifiable reason is certainly evidence that they waste money.
The schools must also very plainly give taxpayers the reason more money is needed. The questions must specifically list what the money is for and what the terms are if the township is borrowing it.
The Galloway Patriot welcomes the high school’s position on this matter. The Galloway Patriot wants to provide an opportunity to the high school to makes its case to the residents of Galloway as to why more than fifty two million dollars is needed. As stated they should specifically outline, in understandable terms what the funds are needed for. They should also offer details regarding any necessary loans, along with the terms associated with them.
The Galloway Patriot will print as much as possible, space allowing, in the print edition mailed to approximately 14,000 Galloway homes. Any portion that does not fit in the print edition will be posted on GallowayPatriot.com.
The schools are pushing hard to win this time as they lost last year on these issues. In addition to letters sent to parents they have also set up a website, “forthegreatergood2015.org“, to plead their case. The Galloway Patriot has no way of verifying the accuracy of statements made on the site. Why are the questions on the ballot so ambiguous and vague if they could be presented in a clear official capacity? Both sides can make arguments for and against this budget increase. Ultimately, all that matters is what is written on the ballot when you vote. To that point, the questions should be understandable to all voters.
For additional information on how the school district works. Please see the previous article containing an interview with Senator Chris Connors explaining its operation.
Please also vote in the GallowayPatriot.com poll, “Should Galloway take back control of its high school?”