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What you need to know as Newark votes Tuesday on new school board members, tax hike

Newark voters will decide on three new school board members and a proposed tax hike on Tuesday, April 16.
Newark voters will decide on three new school board members and a proposed tax hike on Tuesday, April 16.
Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat

Debates were held, outside money was spent, and countless hands were shaken. Now, it’s time for Newark voters to decide who should represent them on the city school board.

This election day, voters can choose from 11 candidates to fill three open seats on the board, which oversees the district’s more than 60 schools and 36,000 students. (The city’s nearly 20 charter schools have separate boards.)

For the first time in over two decades, Newark voters will also decide Tuesday whether to approve a 2 percent tax increase to help balance the district’s $1 billion budget. In the past, when the district was under state control, voters didn’t get a say in the system’s finances.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 16. You can find your polling place here.

To help get you up to speed, here’s some of our previous reporting on the race:

The candidates

The race includes five independent candidates and two teams of contenders.

One team, called Moving Newark Schools Forward, is backed by the mayor, city council members, and charter school leaders. Since the slate was formed in 2016, its candidates have claimed victory in each board election. A special-interest group has spent heavily in this election promoting the team, which it has done independently of the candidates. (Under election law, it cannot coordinate with them.) The candidates on the slate are Shayvonne Anderson, A’Dorian Murray-Thomas, and Tave Padilla, a current board member running for reelection.

The second team, called Children Over Politics, is new this year. While it does not enjoy the same political and financial backing of Moving Newark Schools Forward, it includes a current board member and two well-established education advocates who have been running a grassroots campaign. Its members are Denise Cole, Saafir Jenkins, and Leah Owens, the board member running for reelection.

The independent candidates are: Denise Crawford, Maggie Freeman, Priscilla Garces, Yolanda Johnson, and Arlene Ramsey.

Chalkbeat surveyed all 11 candidates about their qualifications and views on a range of issues, including the district’s high absenteeism rate and the expanding charter-school sector. You can read their responses here.

The budget

Voters will decide Tuesday whether to accept a 2 percent property tax hike to help fund the schools. The average Newark homeowner would pay about $1,953 in property taxes for schools, an increase of about $57 dollars over last year.

The tax hike would provide an additional $2.7 million for the district for the 2019-20 school year. The district is also expecting a 3.15 percent boost in state aid, though it still receives far less than it is owed under the state’s own school-funding formula.

Superintendent Roger León’s budget proposal calls for revamping the curriculum that schools use, reopening shuttered schools, and reorganizing the district’s central office.

“We are asking to have the citizens of Newark to vote yes on the budget,” León said at a budget hearing last month. “These are dollars and programs and services that our students have longed for, that they need.”

Read all about the district’s 2019-20 budget here.

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