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New Jersey School Election Campaign Spending Drops

class_optAs more than 85 percent of communities moved their school board elections from April to November this year, spending on school campaigns has dropped to its lowest level in more than a decade, according to the New Jersey School Boards Association.

Less than $600,000 was spent on school elections in April and November of this year, according to a preliminary report by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

The amount spent on school elections this year – $597,664 – was less than half the $1,532,896 spent last year.

Union Contributions: The decline in school spending was not unexpected, and can largely be attributed to less spending by the New Jersey Education Association.

The state's major union of school employees had typically spent substantial funds to build support for school budgets – but not on campaigns for individual candidates. Last year, for example, the NJEA spent $767,712 on school elections, a record high for the union. From 2009 to 2011, NJEA contributions made up slightly more than half of the total school election spending.

However, the law that was enacted early this year allowed communities to switch their school elections to the November General Election; 468 communities made the switch to November school elections, and 73 remained with April elections this year. School boards with November elections only had candidates on the ballot, but they no longer had put their local school budget to a public vote as long as they remained within the state's 2-percent tax levy cap. The large number of districts moving to November elections negated the union's need to build public support for school budgets.

Average Campaign: There were 2,131 school board candidates on the ballot in 2012 (318 candidates in the April election, and 1,813 in the November election), according to NJSBA data. If the entire $597,664 that was spent on school elections in 2012 were allocated toward candidate campaigns, as opposed to generating support for a school budget, then the average amount spent by a school board member this year was $280.

 
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