Recall effort begins against Montague school board president - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Recall effort begins against Montague school board president

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By ERIC OBERNAUER

eobernauer@njherald.com

MONTAGUE -- An effort is officially under way to begin the process of attempting to recall Board of Education President Beverly Borrego from office.

With the filing of a notice of intention at the school board office on Wednesday, the three members of the recall committee -- Paul Brislin, John Mannion, and Betsy Reinhardt -- have taken the first step toward forcing a November ballot measure on whether Borrego should serve the remainder of her current term, which runs through December 2014.

The recall effort follows the 4-2 vote by the Board of Education on July 24 to enter into a send-receive agreement with High Point Regional High School, a move that sets the stage for the Montague board to commence a phased pullout of township middle and high school students from the Port Jervis, N.Y., schools next year.

A notice of intention, however, is just that -- a document signifying intent -- and offers no guarantee that the recall committee will be able to fulfill the stringent requirements, filing deadlines and stipulations necessary to get the measure on the ballot this fall.

Borrego, reached by email Thursday, expressed disappointment that the notice of intention failed to specify, in writing, the reason for the recall -- something not required by law but whose absence, she said, left her unable to offer a response. Still, in a written statement, she defended the board's vote as being in the best long-term interests of Montague children and taxpayers.

"I have done nothing wrong," she wrote, adding that the send-receive agreement with High Point was something parents in Montague had been asking for even before she was elected to her first term on the board in 2008.

Under the rules governing recall elections, the official in charge of reviewing the notice of intention -- in this case, School Business Administrator John Waycie -- must, within three business days, certify that it complies with the filing requirements or else return it to the committee with a written statement indicating any deficiencies. As of Thursday evening, Waycie had not responded to email and phone messages left for him earlier in the day.

Even if the initial notice fails to comply, the recall committee can still file a corrected version, which, if approved, would allow the process to continue.

At that point, the recall committee would begin the work of gathering the more than 600 signatures of registered voters in Montague needed to get the measure on the November ballot. By law, a recall election cannot go forward without signatures totalling at least 25 percent of registered voters in the last election.

Although the law governing recall elections normally allows up to 160 days to gather the needed signatures, the recall committee, by choosing to have the recall vote on the same day as the November general election, has placed itself in the position of having just a month -- or until Sept. 4 -- to collect the necessary signatures.

The committee could have chosen instead to request that a special election be held on a different date, but Brislin said the approximately $15,000 cost to the taxpayers of holding the special election was something he and the other recall committee members wanted to avoid.

Still, by doing so, the committee risks having the recall election derailed if a court challenge to the petition arises and further delays its final certification. As written, the recall law does not allow the November date specified on the notice of intention to be changed once the notice has been approved.

If the recall petition were found deficient or if enough signatures were disqualified to prevent its final certification, the petition would be declared void -- at which point the clock would start over, and the committee members would have to file a new notice of intention if they wished to continue the effort.

The recall law also provides a five-day period following the petition's certification during which Borrego could resign, thereby stopping the process. In that case, the remaining board members would appoint a person to fill the vacancy until the date of the next general school board election in November 2014.

Only two school board members in New Jersey -- one of them being the former Hardyston school board president, in 2008 -- have been successfully recalled since a 1993 state constitutional amendment granted voters the power to initiate the recall process. Moreover, even if a board member is "recalled," it is theoretically possible for that person, as one of any number of nominees on the ballot, to be chosen again as her or her own successor.

Along with Borrego, three other members of the seven-member board -- Tom Bolen, George Gelderman, and Barbara Holstein -- voted July 24 to approve the agreeement with High Point. Board members James Marion and Adrienne Raefski voted against it. A seventh member, Sheila Hughes, was not at that meeting and therefore did not take part in the vote.

The send-receive agreement calls for Montague to begin enrolling its ninth-graders at High Point in the 2014-15 school year and for the following year's ninth-graders to do the same, and so on, until the transition is complete in 2017-18.

Separate from the agreement, but still related to those plans, the Montague board is also looking to raise a projected $7.7 million for an expansion of the township elementary school to house students in grades seven and eight. The school board indicated that the matter would likely be put up for a referendum in January but has also floated the possibility of paying for it over a period of five years from the district's general fund, which would not require voter approval.

Borrego said in her statement she was aware of the lingering concerns about paying for the school expansion and managing the transition of the township's middle school students back to Montague. But, she said, "by bringing the sixth graders we are currently losing to Charter School and our seventh- and eighth-graders back to Montague, we will not be paying tuition to other schools, and that money will stay in Montague Elementary where it belongs. The way I see it, I had two choices; make progress or make excuses. I chose to make progress and transition our students to a New Jersey school where they will get the best education."

Although an elected member of the Township Committee, Brislin said his involvement in the recall effort was strictly that of a private citizen and did not imply the Township Committee's official endorsement. Reinhardt, the third member of the recall committee, is herself a former school board member of nine years, having served from 1979 to 1988.

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