Orange BOE misses filing deadline for special election

ORANGE, NJ — According to at-large Orange Councilwoman Donna K. Williams, 2016 mayoral candidate Janice Morrell and the Rev. Anthony P. Johnson of the Committee for an Elected Orange School Board, the Orange Board of Education failed to meet the first filing deadline for paperwork needed to facilitate the change from a Type 1 District to a Type 2 District that 86 percent of voters approved at the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

“I have learned from a reliable source that the Orange Board, at their Dec. 12 meeting, will have an agenda item that will propose that the Board of Education conduct elections on March 13, 2018,” said Orange-Maplewood NAACP President Tom Puryear, a member of the New Jersey statewide NAACP’s Education Committee, in an email addressed to Morrell on Monday, Dec. 4. “Let’s see what happens.”

Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin confirmed that he met with Orange Board of Education and public school officials Friday, Dec. 1, regarding the mandatory upcoming special election.

“Yes, I did meet with Superintendent Ron Lee and board member Lydell Carter and, yes, they did miss the deadline to request a Jan. 23, 2018, special school election, but they said that they will be requesting a March 13, 2018, special school election to fill two vacancies on the board,” said Durkin on Tuesday, Dec. 5. “A Type 1 school board has seven members appointed by the mayor. A Type 2 school board has nine members elected by the people. They indicated that the school board will pass a resolution at the Dec. 12 meeting, requesting said election.”

According to Durkin’s Office, 1,766 voters — 85.98 percent of the total voter turnout — favored changing from a Type 1 to a Type 2 district; updated results posted on the Essex County Clerk website show only 288 voters — or 14.02 percent — voted against this change.

According to Frank Belluscio, the deputy executive director and director of communications for the New Jersey School Boards Association, “the process of transitioning from a Type I appointed school board to a Type II elected school board following voter approval of a referendum” is a “process” based on state statutes.

“If the appointed board of education had less than nine members, the size of the board must be increased to nine members,” according to state statutes. “The selection of the additional members can take place at a special school election. Special school elections may take place on the fourth Tuesday in January; the second Tuesday in March; the last Tuesday in September, or the second Tuesday in December. Special school elections are called by the board of education. The county clerk or county board of elections is responsible for conducting the elections.”

According to state law, “By default, the district’s annual school election will take place in April — unless either the school board or the municipal governing body adopts a resolution or the voters approve a referendum, to set the district’s annual school election in November.”

Williams, Morrell and Johnson contend that the BOE failed to act on “the will of the voters” by filing the proper paperwork to facilitate the change Belluscio outlined. On Wednesday, Nov. 22, Williams contacted the Record-Transcript to point out that the BOE had missed the filing deadline to facilitate a special election needed to comply with state law in order to have a special election in January 2018.

On Monday, Nov. 27, Morrell also contacted the Record-Transcript to point out that the BOE had missed the filing deadline, and. Johnson confirmed Williams and Morrell’s assessments Monday, Dec. 4.

“As I understand, one special election date is January, one is March,” said Johnson on Monday, Dec. 4. “The referendum interpretive statement listed January. But they still did not meet that. They can still make the deadline for March. The board has not met since then, so I would not know when they would have filed.”

Attempts to contact Orange BOE President Lydell Carter were unsuccessful by press time this week.

Type 2 district proponents Derrick Henry and Tyrone Tarver both won the BOE special election on Tuesday, March 28, later voided by Superior Court Judge Tom Vena’s decision to invalidate the council’s referendum to change from a Type 1 to a Type 2 district that made the election possible at all.

“I think it’s a purposeful travesty of justice that the Board of Education has been torporific in its transition to obey the will of the people,” said Henry on Monday, Dec. 4. “I would have preferred a law-abiding Board of Education to follow Vena’s decision verbatim and hold the election as decided in January. It is embarrassing when the county clerk himself, Chris Durkin, had to physically visit Orange to get an answer to the status of filing for elections in January.

“Why did Board of Education members and Orange public school district officials and legal counsel duck calls from the county clerk regarding their intentions for a January election? Someone needs to answer that question.”

Henry was referring to Durkin’s visit to Orange on Friday, Dec. 1, in response to an email inquiry from Committee for an Elected Orange School Board attorney Renee Steinhagen on Thursday, Nov. 30, regarding the missed deadline for a January special election.

“Our attorney has filed for sanctions based on the board’s behavior in the court case,” said Johnson on Monday, Dec. 4. “It will be awhile before we get a response on that. Their attorney’s been served and I don’t want to guess what their next move will be.”

“Voting for the change in structure was the easy part,” continued Johnson. “Now we have to elect board members who will be responsive to the needs of the schools and (are) willing to be accountable to the parents and other voters. It will be several years. It’s a long haul; it’s not just one vote.”