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N.J. Legislature Clears Measure To Delay Local School Elections

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New Jersey lawmakers have set up the first major potential confrontation between the new Republican legislative majority and the Democratic Governor by approving legislation to postpone local school elections in the state for three weeks.

The bill, passed last week, would move the elections of board members and consideration of school budgets from April 7 to April 28.

The seemingly technical change actually reflects an intense political struggle over the state budget and Gov. James J. Florio's recent move to shift additional state aid to middle-income school districts.

The issue could be rendered moot if the Governor chooses not to sign the measure. Under the state constitution, a governor has 45 days in which to act on legislation. The original election date comes two days before the constitutional deadline for gubernatorial action.

A veto, on the other hand, would test the numerically veto-proof Republican majority elected last fall.

Mr. Florio does not plan to make a decision until he confers with members of the education community, said his spokesman, Jo Gladding.

Nearly all of the leading education players in the state, except for the powerful New Jersey Education Association, have asked lawmakers to retain the original date.

The education groups say the delay would conflict with the April 30 deadline for notifying nontenured employees of their job status, thus triggering a flurry of pink slips and jeopardizing the budget-appeals process.

The delay "is merely aimed at giving the legislature more time to divert some of the funds from the $341 million promised in the Governor's budget proposal,'' said Robert E. Boose, the executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association.

The immediate dispute is over additional state aid the Governor has earmarked for middle-income school districts. Many districts incorporated these funds into the budgets that go before the voters April 7. (See Education Week, Feb. 12, 1992.)

The money would come from anticipated savings to be achieved by accounting changes in the teacher and state-employee pension systems.

G.O.P. lawmakers contend that the administration released the revised figures prematurely as a strategy to whip up support for the Governor's embattled school-reform package.

"He put it out as though it is a fait accompli,'' said Senator John H. Ewing, the chairman of the Education Committee. "We are just not going to be shoved into things.''

Democrats, however, argue that the bill is a stall tactic. "It's no secret the Republicans are desperate for time to find the money to balance the budget,'' said John A. Lynch, the Senate minority leader. "This is a campaign-driven ruse to skim school aid so they can lower the sales tax.''

New York Delay Contested

In New York, meanwhile, controversy is continuing over a recently enacted state law delaying New York City school-board elections for a year.

An activist group, the Community Service Society has filed a formal complaint against the measure with the U.S. Justice Department seeking to block the delay on the grounds that it violates the Voting Rights Act.

In the elections that had been scheduled for May, 288 seats were to be filled on 32 local school boards. Lawmakers halted the elections so that new members would not take office prior to governance reforms.

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