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Voters Could Take Control of City Schools From Mayor in November

Two "Yes" or "No" Questions on Presidential Ballot Could Have Big Impact on Education in New Brunswick
Warehouse School
Students continue to attend classes at a warehouse school for the seventh consecutive year as overcrowding plagues the district. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Different grassroots groups are expected to work hard over the next month to get out the same message: "Vote Yes For Education."

During the November 6 presidential election, voters will find three optional questions at the bottom of their ballot, two being asked of all the voters in New Jersey and one just for New Brunswick voters.

Student groups and the Rutgers administration are planning to support the first referendum, which would permit the state government to borrow $750 million to fund improvements at colleges and universities across the state including Rutgers' New Brunswick campus.  A second state question addresses benefits for judges.

The final question will ask voters if they want to switch to a new form of government that would enable the city's voters to select the members of the Board of Education.

Currently, New Brunswick is the only community in Middlesex County, whose board is not elected, but rather appointed by the mayor.

The city's voters defeated the same proposal four times since current Mayor James Cahill took office in 1991, largely due to his efforts.

Cahill opposed the same question when it was put to voters in 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2000.  He even raised funds through an organization set up to fight the referenda called "The Committee to Keep Politics Out of Our Schools."

Yolonda Baker, a Democratic Committeewoman from the Fourth Ward, was behind the effort to give voters the choice once again.  She and her supporters gathered over 327 valid signatures from registered voters in order to place the question on this November's ballot.  The author of this article was among them.

"It takes a village to raise a child," Baker told the Daily Targum.  She has a 7-year-old son whom she took out of New Brunswick's failing school system last year and enrolled in private school.

"It is time for us as registered voters to step up and do the right thing for all of New Brunswick's children."

"We have the worst graduation rate in Middlesex County... That needs to be changed. It is time to set a foundation for a successful outcome for the children of New Brunswick.”

Mayor Cahill's spokesman Russell Marchetta was already coming out swinging against the proposal in the Targum article, the first to report that the petition had been submitted.

"On four occasions during the past 20 years, residents of New Brunswick rejected the politics, patronage and higher taxes that often result from the switch from appointed to elected boards in urban school districts," he told the Targum's Marissa Oliva.

He also attacked Baker for a short-lived campaign for city council, along with the author of this article, that ended September 7.

"It is not surprising that the petition is filed and supported by a political candidate for office that saw little chance for success in the November election, as an alternative way to advance their own political and personal agenda."

The questions will appear at the bottom of the ballot on November 6, the same day voters go to the polls to select the next President of the United States.

What do you think: Should the city switch to an elected school board?

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