New committee aims to change Orange from Type 1 to Type 2 district

ORANGE, NJ — According to the Rev. Anthony P. Johnson, on Tuesday, Aug. 22, the newly formed Committee for an Elected Orange School Board delivered a petition with more than 400 signatures to the Orange City Clerk’s Office, calling for a referendum to change the Orange Board of Education from one appointed by the mayor to one elected by the citizens.

“In a non-binding vote in 2013, the change to an elected board garnered a majority of the votes cast. Asked in 2016 to actually change the board, 77 percent of the voters cast their ballots in favor of the change. The voters overwhelmingly approved a question with the same intent in 2016,” said Johnson on Tuesday, Aug. 22. “The current school board sued to overturn the results and an Essex County superior judge ruled against the voters. The City Council had the chance to place the question on the ballot again in November 2017, as they had in November 2016. But at their July meeting, the council voted not to. Therefore, a group of Orange citizens formed the Committee for an Elected Orange School Board, to reclaim the right of the voters to change the school board.”

The new Public Question, authored by the Committee for an Elected Orange School Board, asks: “Shall the city of Orange Township School District be reclassified from a Type I School District, with members of the Board of Education appointed by the mayor, to a Type II School District, with Board of Education members elected by the registered voters, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:9-4.” The revised and refined Interpretive Statement explains: “If approved, the change from a Type I School District to a Type II School District would mean that voters would elect members of the Orange Board of Education.”

It goes on to state: “If approved, the size of the Board of Education would increase from seven to nine members, with the special election for the two additional members to take place in January of 2018.”

It concludes: “If approved, it will also eliminate the existing Board of School Estimate and require that decisions regarding annual school budgets and the issuance of bonds to fund capital improvements, based upon the credit of the school district, not the city, to be submitted to the voters of the city of Orange Township for approval. If approved, there will also be other minor technical changes required that are not set forth herein.”

The other committee members are: Janice Morrell, Tyrone Tarver, Derrick Henry, Jody Leight, Mary Meade, Morrell, Germaine Tarver and Karen Wells. According the Johnson, the group has united to empower city voters that were effectively disenfranchised by Superior Court Tom Vena’s ruling on Thursday, April 13, against the original referendum to change from a Type 1 to a Type 2 district. Tarver and Wells won the city’s first-ever Orange Board of Education special election on Thursday, March 30, then saw their victories voided by Vena’s ruling.

“In 2016, 77 percent of voters overwhelmingly voted to make the change from a board appointed by the mayor — Type I, under New Jersey law — to a board elected by the citizens — Type II,” said Johnson on Tuesday, Aug. 22. “However, the current appointed board engaged an outside attorney at taxpayer expense to challenge the referendum in court and succeeded in having it overturned. At its July meeting, the City Council defeated a proposal to submit a new referendum that met the objections of Judge Vena, who decided the case.”

Both Henry and Tarver were present at the council’s meeting on Thursday, July 6, where the majority, led by council President Kerry Coley, voted against the resolution to create a new Orange School District change referendum, sponsored by at large Councilwoman Donna K. Williams. The resolution’s defeat marked the rise of a new effort to effect change to the Orange School District.

“Following the July council meeting, a group of concerned Orange voters formed the Committee for an Elected Orange School Board,” said Tarver, a founding member of the group. “As a district leader and parent of two children in the district, and after talking to many Orange residents and parents, I believe our committee’s efforts are representative of all who voted in 2016 to be a part of the process with the goal of making positive change in our schools and becoming a thriving, more stable community. Our attorneys and our committee have read Judge Vena’s decision and we all are confident that we are doing exactly what he said should be done.”

Tarver, Johnson, Morrell and company said the new Committee for an Elected Orange School Board petition corrects the faults Vena found in the original referendum. Furthermore, Vena himself said a referendum at the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 7, would not be a burden on voters.

“The Committee for an Elected Orange School Board is doing exactly what Judge Vena contemplated, after he judged the referendum question the City Council placed on the November 2016 ballot to be defective,” said Tarver on Tuesday, Aug. 22. “Both the county Clerk’s Office and outside counsel have determined that the referendum would incur no additional costs to the city’s taxpayers.”

Johnson said the best thing about this change in the Orange School District the second time around is that it truly is a grassroots effort.