In many ways, Wall is a microcosm of a statewide and national trend: In short, nobody wants to run for the school board anymore.
Across New Jersey, voters in at least 90 municipalities will head to the polls without enough candidates to choose from when it comes to electing members of their local or regional school board, according to an Asbury Park Press review of sample ballots and candidate lists. In 48 of those towns, there isn’t a single candidate for at least one seat.
In total, about 16% of school boards in New Jersey have less candidates than open seats, and about 7% of school boards have an open seat without any candidates filing for election. There are also four council races and seven fire district races that don’t have enough filed candidates to fill the open seats, including five without any candidates.
“It’s not good for our schools, and it’s not good for our democracy,” said Rutgers University professor Julia Sass-Rubin, director of the public policy program at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. “It’s worrisome, from a democracy and good government perspective, that people would get written in with no debates or discussions. You’re putting people into these potentially powerful positions.
And when there are multiple vacancies on a board without any candidates, like in Wall, it can mean a complete shift in a school board’s agenda without any transparency, Sass-Rubin said.
“With three people, you really have the power to steer the board in a certain direction. You can really sabotage the process this way — politicize it and take it in a very partisan direction that’s not good for the schools or the community.”