The Trenton Democratic Committee unanimously adopted a resolution on October 19 to oppose a public question that the outgoing city council has placed on the November ballot that would make the Trenton school board an elected body.

“Trenton had a disastrous experiment with an elected school board in the 1970s and early ‘80s,” recalled Democratic chairwoman Raissa Walker. “The elected school board arose out of racial divisiveness and it exacerbated ethnic divisions, and that’s why city voters by a large margin voted to put the elected board out of its misery little more than a dozen years later.” 

“Trentonians don’t want to go back to a system that encourages polarization and paralysis,” she added. 

“Trenton’s young people face many challenges in getting a quality education, challenges that the appointed board works cooperatively to address,” Walker said. “The council people supporting an elected school board want to bring the same divisiveness and paralysis to the school board that they have brought to city council.”

Walker added that as Democratic committee members debated the referendum question, they noted the irony that the council members who had pushed to change the city’s nonpartisan local elections from May to November to “save money” on a separate election once every four years were the same ones who sponsored the referendum to have a school board election in April every year.

Pointing to the minuscule turnouts for spring school board elections throughout New Jersey, as there were in Trenton during the years it had an elected board, Walker concluded, “An elected school board in Trenton is a failed solution to a nonexistent problem. Trenton Democrats urge our fellow citizens to vote NO.”     

Submitted by Raissa Walker, Chair, Trenton Democratic Committee

Editor’s Note: We asked Jeff Laurenti, a Trenton Democratic Committee member, to explain the history of this conflict. He responded: “For most of the past century, the Trenton school district has been a “Type 1” with the school board appointed by the mayor and final budget decisions left to a “board of school estimate” composed of some members of the school board, some members of city council, and the mayor. Amid bitter racial backlash to a modest busing of students to achieve “forced integration,” in the early 1970’s, Trenton voters opted to become a “Type 2″ district with an elected board, like the rest of the towns in the area. These became battlegrounds for school patronage between white and Black activists, and in the mid-1980’s, a referendum question to revert to Type 1 was overwhelmingly approved by voters.”

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