Fight to change Orange to elected BOE district continues

ORANGE, NJ — According to the Essex County Clerk’s Office, the results for Public Question No. 1 for Orange on the statewide general election ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 7, show that 1,766 voters or 85.98 percent of the total turnout voted overwhelmingly in favor of changing Orange’s public schools from a Type 1 district — with a board of education whose members are unilaterally appointed by the mayor — to a Type 2 district, in which voters choose who they want to represent them.

There is controversy between Type 2 district proponents as to whether to hold the upcoming Orange BOE election in April or November, as was originally proposed in the referendum sponsored by the Orange City Council, and which the court ultimately invalidated.

“Tentatively speaking, having the vote in April instead November, it’s the ability to keep a transparent budget,” said District 2 proponent Derrick Henry on Monday, Nov. 13. “If I’m correct, there can only be votes on the (BOE) members and not the budget if said votership is moved to November, as opposed to April.”

Henry and Tyrone Tarver won seats in the BOE special election on Tuesday, March 28, a vote later voided in a decision to invalidate the council’s referendum to change from a Type 1 to a Type 2 district by Superior Court Judge Tom Vena. Henry and Tarver would like to hold a new special election sooner, rather than later.

The updated results posted on the Essex County Clerk’s Office website show that only 288 voters or 14.02 percent voted against Public Question No. 1, meaning almost 86 percent of Orange voters oppose an appointed board.

“In spite of cold weather and rain, the voters of the city of Orange Township voted decisively to make the township’s Board of Education into an elected body,” said Anthony Johnson, chairman of the Committee for an Elected Orange School Board, in a Nov. 8 press release.

“The 86 percent of voters who voted for the change was 9 percent greater than the 77 percent who voted for the change in 2016. This vote to convert the board from a Type 1 to a Type 2 board of education happened because a group of Orange voters met, after the City Council voted in July not to put a revised question on the November ballot.”

According to Johnson, the Committee for an Elected Orange School Board victory also came despite opposition from the current BOE members.

“The previous vote was overturned by a successful lawsuit by the city’s current mayor-appointed board of education. Prior to yesterday’s vote, the board sued again and … Vena, who had ruled in favor of the board earlier this year, dismissed the board’s efforts to stop this year’s vote. His decision was upheld on appeal,”Johnson said.

“These voters formed the Committee for an Elected Orange School (Board), which worked with attorneys Renee Steinhagen and Flavio Komuves of the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center to write a ballot question that would withstand judicial scrutiny. Once the proposed public question was translated into Spanish and Creole, the committee members went to the voters and, in two weeks, collected nearly 100 more valid signatures than required to place the public question on the ballot. The new petition survived the court challenges filed by board of education attorney Stephen Edelstein.”

Attempts to get a comment from the current Orange BOE President Lydell Carter were unsuccessful by press time this week. But former BOE President Cristina Mateo has said that the board will abide by the ultimate decision of the courts and the court of public opinion, as expressed by voters.

“If it’s agreed that the process was done correctly, we welcome whatever process we need to work on,” said Mateo at the board’s special meeting on Monday, Jan. 23. “Whatever process we need to work on, we will work on. If we get two more members, we will do everything possible to educate those members to make sure they also need to do what needs to be done. Eventually, this is a position that you’re either elected or voted on. This is all temporary, so we’re going to make sure that whoever takes our place or comes to the board is prepared enough to take over and to do what needs to be done.”

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