3 board seats and $1.2B budget up for vote in Newark school election Tuesday

Newark voters will go to the polls Tuesday to elect three school board members and approve or reject the district’s $1.2 billion budget for the 2022-23 academic year.

Polls open at 7 am and close at 8 pm Voters should have received sample ballots in the mail with the location of their polling place. If voters do not have it, they can call the Essex County Superintendent of Elections in the county clerk’s office at 973-621-5066 for assistance.

Seven candidates are seeking three open seats this year on the 9-member Newark Board of Education, which sets policy and approves spending and personnel decisions for the state’s largest school district.

The race includes two incumbents seeking re-election to three-year terms: A’Dorian Murray-Thomas, 26, a Newark native who lives in the Central Ward and works as associate director of equity and inclusion at the private Morristown Beard School in Morris County; and Daniel Gonzalez, 51, a father of two adult children and finance director for the Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties, a regional sewing authority.

Murray-Thomas and Gonzalez are running on a three-person slate backed by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka that also includes Crystal Williams, a Verizon network technician and mother of seven children in grades pre-K through college.

The four other school board candidates are running independently.

Maggie Freeman is a district parent and program director of the nonprofit Weehahic Park Sports Authority youth athletic program.

Thomas Luna teaches 8th-grade math at Rise Academy, a Newark charter school that’s part of the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP network.

Philip Wilson, 40, is a father of five and body shop consultant who formerly taught at vocational-technical schools in Essex and Union counties.

And Allison James-Frison, 53, is a mother who heads a mentoring program known as Girls; Live, Love, Laugh, Inc. She battled a learning impairment and bouts of homelessness.

Tuesday’s election will be Newark’s fourth since the city regained control of the district in 2018 following 22 years under a state takeover intended to improve student performance and financial management. During the takeover, the board acted in a purely advisory capacity, with no power over a superintendent appointed by the state.

Incoming board members will face test scores that lag behind statewide averages; learning losses resulting from the pandemic; technology gaps; and other challenges for a student population with economic and other disadvantages. For example, 82% of Newark students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and 18.5% are not proficient in English. According to district figures, the student population is 51% Hispanic, 38.8% Black, and 8.4% white.

The $1.2 billion 2022-23 budget voters will be asked to approve on Tuesday increases total expenses by $146 million, a 14% increase over this year’s $1.08 billion spending plan. But local taxpayers will see a small tax cut — $8.75 for a home assessed at $175,000, the city average — thanks mainly to two factors.

The first is a $121 million increase in state aid to the district proposed for the coming school year by Gov. Phil Murphy. The increase puts the district’s total state aid at just over $1 billion, or 85% of the district’s budget. The second is continued development throughout Newark that has expanded the city’s tax base.

Under the 2022-23 budget, officials say the school property tax rate would be $1,115 per $100 of assessed value, which amounts to a $2,016 annual school tax bill for the average homeowner — apart from municipal and county property taxes.

If voters reject the school budget, it will go back to the board of education for unspecified spending cuts. However, a district spokesperson, Nancy Deering, said voters typically approve the budget and have done so every year since the state restored local control in 2018.

The graphic illustrates revenues and expenditures in the 2022-23 Newark school budget, adopted Friday night by the Board of Education.Newark Public Schools

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Steve Strunsky may be reached at sstrunsky@njadvancemedia.com

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