Newark school board candidates talk mental health, learning loss ahead of April 19 election

A teacher leans over to help students seated at desks.
On April 19, Newark voters will elect three school board members from a pool of seven candidates. The candidates answered questions from Chalkbeat ahead of election day. (Patrick Wall / Chalkbeat)

Newark voters will head to the polls April 19 to pick three school board members and decide on the district’s proposed local tax levy for next school year.

Seven candidates are running for the open seats on the nine-member board. Incumbents A’Dorian Murray-Thomas and Daniel Gonzalez are running for reelection with newcomer Crystal D. Williams on a slate supported by political powerhouses, including Mayor Ras Baraka and state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, the Senate majority leader. The other candidates are Maggie Freeman, Allison K. James-Frison, Thomas Luna, and Phillip Wilson.

The district’s $1.2 billion spending plan for the 2022-23 school year is largely backed by $1 billion in state aid, an increase of $120 million from this academic year. The spending plan also includes $138.3 million from the local tax levy, the amount raised through Newark property taxes to fund schools. Next year’s tax levy, if approved by voters, would remain the same as the current school year’s levy.

If voters reject the proposed tax levy, the budget is sent to the city council to vote on reductions. 

The vote comes as the district receives a historic infusion of federal money. Board members will be making high-stakes decisions about policies to address severe learning loss in the district and a mental health crisis among young people seen throughout the state. 

School board members develop district policy and participate with district officials in monthly committee meetings on programs and instruction, personnel and policy, and finance, among other topics. The board also picks the superintendent and holds this official accountable.

Voter turnout at the annual Newark school board race has been low for years, hovering around 3-4% of registered voters. The Essex County Board of Elections posted an updated list of voting sites, which will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday. A sample ballot is also available on the county board website.

Chalkbeat asked each candidate the same seven questions about why voters should consider them for office, the challenges the district faces today, and more. Readers can find the candidates’ answers using the interactive feature below. Responses have been edited lightly for clarity.

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