Newark Board of Education 2023 election: ‘Moving Newark Schools Forward’ slate leads in early results

Signs reading “vote today” hangs from a white fence next to a united states flags.
Newark residents will choose among eight candidates for three Newark Board of Education seats during the 2023 April election. (Jessie Gómez/Chalkbeat)

Newark school board incumbents Hasani Council and Josephine Garcia and their running mate Allison James-Frison appeared headed to victory in Tuesday’s board of education election, with 161 of 172 voting districts reporting.

The three are part of the heavily-backed “Moving Newark Schools Forward” slate, which has a track record of winning school board elections. Garcia and Council received the bulk of the votes with each garnering roughly 23% of votes. James-Frison, who had an unsuccessful run last year, received 22%, as of 9:49 p.m. on Tuesday. 

Newark residents were also poised to approve next school year’s $1.3 billion budget, which includes an additional $114 million in state aid and is slated to help fund more teachers and provide more tutoring for students. Early results showed that nearly 87% of voters were in favor of the 2023-24 budget.

In the school board election, Thomas Luna and James Wright Jr. each had roughly 8% of the votes, as of 9:49 p.m., according to the county’s website, while Tawana Johnson-Emory had just under 7%, according to preliminary results. The three made up the “Newark Kids Forward” slate, which comes from charter school backgrounds. Luna is a science teacher at KIPP Rise Academy and Wright Jr. teaches at North Star Academy Washington Park High School.

Latoya Jackson, a hair salon owner, received less than 4% of votes and Ade’Kamil Kelly, a real estate agent and team leader at the Boys and Girls Club of Newark, had just under 3%, according to the preliminary results. 

Historically, voter turnout for the annual school board election has been low. Last year, roughly 3% of registered voters cast their vote. The county reported that just over 3% of Newark voters participated in this year’s election. 

As of Tuesday evening, 4,963 ballots were cast, according to Essex County data.

During the day on Tuesday, dozens of poll locations across the city were quiet as many sites saw a slow trickle of voters, according to voters and poll workers at various locations in Newark. 

In the South Ward, a car with a sign supporting the “Moving Newark Schools Forward” slate drove down Clinton Avenue while playing the song “We Are Family” and encouraging residents to vote. Teenagers walked down residential streets in the city’s various wards, passing out flyers and showing passersby where they could vote.

At Blessed Sacrament Church in the South Ward, roughly 64 voters had cast ballots as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, according to numbers posted on the church’s basement wall. 

“We think we can vote every four years for president, but people need to know there are other things we need to vote on too,” said Syervillia Sumler, a voter outside Blessed Sacrament Church on Tuesday. “Some don’t even know there’s an election today and then they start complaining about things later on.”

Newark school board members help create policies and make decisions for New Jersey’s largest school district. During this year’s budget presentation, superintendent Roger Leon said Newark Public Schools expects to receive more than 38,000 students next school year across its 62 schools with plans to open at least one new school in the fall in the city’s Central Ward.

Newark nonprofit groups have worked to increase voter turnout this year. Some purchased ad space to advertise the 2023 school board election. (Jessie Gomez/Chalkbeat)

Nonprofit groups such as Project Ready, the Newark Trust for Education, and the Newark branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have worked to increase voter turnout this year. Each group has stressed the importance of participating in the school race by canvassing, hosting voter information events, and candidate debates. They’ve also placed multiple billboards and ads across various neighborhoods throughout the city. 

The mayor’s field office on Clinton Avenue was also filled with volunteers helping pass out candidate flyers and election day information.

Ihsan Ali, the president of the Clinton Hill Block Club Coalition, said she was disappointed in Newark’s voter turnout history and believes something needs to be done to address the recurring pattern. 

“This is for our babies. If we don’t make a change, no one else will,” Ali said. “We have to take the lead and be responsible for our children.” 

Lyndon Brown, a 2022 Newark city council candidate and president of the city’s secondary parents council, said he expected another low-turnout election. He cast his vote at the firehouse in the West Ward and didn’t see many people. 

“There have been a couple of debates with the candidates but some people just don’t know about the election or even know who’s running,” Brown said. 

Melanie Amore was outside Malcolm X Shabazz High School on Tuesday passing out flyers for the mayor-backed slate of candidates. A lifelong Newark resident who attended the city’s public schools, Amore said she volunteered to post outside the high school starting at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday because she loves her community. 

Melanie Amore was outside Malcolm X Shabazz High School on Tuesday passing out flyers to encourage Newark residents to vote in the 2023 school board election. (Jessie Gomez)

“It’s been a little slow since this morning and it’s kind of picking up but we’re pushing and making sure we all come in one accord to clean up our community,” Amore said. 

In 2012, the state legislature passed a law allowing districts to switch their school board elections to the November general election. Until then, all school board elections were held in the spring and voters had a say on school budgets. Now only voters whose districts hold elections in April get to vote on school budgets.

Newark joins Cliffside Park, Fairview, Passaic, Totowa, Fredon, Montague, Irvington, North Bergen, Weehawken, West New York, and New Brunswick in holding April school board elections. 

“People want the politicians to stick to what they’re saying,” Amore added. “They want better communication and more community outreach.”

Correction: April 28, 2023: About 3.1% of voters participated in this year’s school board election and roughly 3% of voters participated in the 2022 school board election. A previous version of this story said that just under 3% of Newark voters participated in this year’s election.

Jessie Gomez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark, covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at jgomez@chalkbeat.org.  

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