Admittedly, it is hard to extrapolate a definitive trend from a few towns, even if they are hardcore blue. However, this might be reflective of budget hawks gaining favor, according to some folks in the know, and that means trouble for Dems this November.
N.J. Voters Defeat Ridgewood, Teaneck School Budgets (Update1)
By Terrence Dopp
April 21 (Bloomberg) –– New Jersey voters rejected budgets for school systems including Ridgewood, Edison and Teaneck yesterday after the districts sought to raise property taxes that are already the highest in the U.S.
Voters in Hudson County approved spending plans in Hoboken and Jersey City and rejected North Bergen’s proposal. In Mercer County, Princeton’s budget passed with 67 percent of the vote, while Hamilton Township’s failed. In Essex County, plans passed for Millburn, Bloomfield and Glen Ridge and failed in Cedar Grove. Results were obtained from the county clerks’ Web sites.
Most of New Jersey’s school districts proposed increasing local levies to fund spending plans, after Governor Chris Christie slashed their aid. Christie, a Republican who took office Jan. 19, urged citizens to reject budgets in districts where teachers didn’t accept pay freezes to deal with his cuts.
“There was a frustration with taxes, the loss of state aid and a lot of other issues that just rolled into a tremendous snowball,” said Joseph Vallerini, president of the school board in Ridgewood, where the budget’s 93-vote loss is the first in his six years on the board.
The governor proposed lowering state aid by as much as 5 percent of districts’ budgets to help close a $10.7 billion hole in his $29.3 billion spending plan without raising taxes. Fifty- nine of 588 districts would lose all state assistance under his plan, which needs approval from the Democrat-controlled Legislature by the July 1 start of the fiscal year.
Voters weighed school budgets for 537 districts. Faced with reduced funding, 93 percent of the systems put forth spending plans that called for reducing staff, according to a pre- election survey by the New Jersey School Boards Association. More than half opted to cut programs.
Each year over the past three decades, less than 20 percent of voters turned out for New Jersey school elections, and a majority of plans were approved, according to the school-boards group. Jerry Cantrell, president of the New Jersey Taxpayers Association, predicted more turnout, and rejection, this year.
Turnout was 21 percent in Middlesex County, where voters rejected 15 of 24 budgets, according to the county Web site. Edison’s plan was defeated, 62 percent to 38 percent. Plans also were refused in East Brunswick, Jamesburg, Milltown, Monroe, Sayreville, Woodbridge and Old Bridge, and approved in Metuchen, North Brunswick and the West Windsor-Plainsboro school district.
Teaneck, Hunterdon County
In the Bergen County town of Teaneck, which proposed a 10 percent property-tax increase, voters defeated the budget 4,790- 3,618, director of school-community relations David Bicofsky said in an e-mailed statement. The plan would have raised the local levy by $474 on the average home assessed at $466,100. The unofficial vote count doesn’t include absentee ballots, he said.
The rate of school-budget defeats seemed to be higher this year, said Frank Belluscio, spokesman for the school-boards group. Belluscio said preliminary results showed Hunterdon County, where only five of 28 budgets on the ballot passed, as the county with the largest percentage of rejections.
“Things are tough right now,” he said in an interview late yesterday. “In times of a bad economy you find that more budgets are defeated. Plus you have the aid cuts and that resulted in districts having to pass some of that cost on to taxpayers.”
Property-tax bills in the state averaged $7,281 in 2009, up 3.3 percent from the prior year, according to the Department of Community Affairs.
The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s teachers’ union, estimated that as many as 6,000 teachers and 10,000 other school workers would lose their jobs under the proposed budgets. Plans that fail are sent to municipal councils, who can make further cuts.
In Ridgewood, a Bergen County suburb of New York City, the $85 million budget shot down by voters sought the elimination of 72 full-time positions and a 4 percent tax increase, or an average of $367 on a home assessed at $799,500. Voters rejected it 2,601-2,508, according to unofficial results posted on the district’s Web site.
In Millburn, a district of 4,750 students where the average home is assessed at almost $1.1 million, voters approved an $82.4 million spending plan that raised taxes 1.5 percent, or an average of $196 a year. The plan passed 1,864-1,266, according to the Essex County Clerk’s Web site.
Millburn is slated to lose all of the school system’s state funding, or about $3 million, spokeswoman Nancy Dries said.
“There was a heightened interest in this vote because of the governor, and certainly there was concern over whether it would pass,” said Dries, who said no Millburn budget has failed in at least the last three elections. “This was the largest turnout we’ve had in years.”
Christie’s spokesman Michael Drewniak declined to say how the governor voted on the school budget in his hometown of Mendham Township. The district proposed raising taxes by 3.48 percent, as Christie’s plan cut all state aid to the Morris County community.
Officials for Princeton Regional Schools proposed a 3.9 percent tax increase in the $71.5 million plan, even as it cut spending by 3.54 percent, according to Lewis Goldstein, assistant superintendent of human resources.
In South Orange-Maplewood schools, where budgets are approved by an appointed panel instead of voters, the Board of School Estimate unanimously approved a $108.6 million plan that eliminates 76 aides and calls for a wage freeze. The district lost $5.3 million in aid under the Christie proposal.
“It’s certainly not something we took lightly,” said Mark Gleason, school board president for South Orange-Maplewood. “This was a difficult year because of that state aid cut. This budget involved some really tough choices.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton, New Jersey, at email@example.com.
Last Updated: April 21, 2010 07:02 EDT
Education is big business in NJ, and the NJEA is about as awful as they come. As a kid, I remember being told by teachers that I needed to go home and tell my parents to vote for the budget, or else the mean old people in town would vote it down.