Voters Just Say ‘No’ to Ballot Questions Looking to Boost School Budgets

John Mooney | November 6, 2013 | Education
Referendums to reconstitute school boards, pay for roof repairs do better

Three questions on Tuesday’s ballots asking voters in three communities to approve extra school spending were all rejected.

Two of the three asked for extra money to hire school security personnel, a powerful issue in the wake of the Newtown, CT, school shootings a year ago. The third was for additional extracurricular programs, another favorite.

But with none of the votes particularly close, they may have been doomed by the fact that each asked for a permanent increase in the property tax bill to cover the additional costs.

“It’s hard to say without the details of specific questions, but generally speaking, despite the rhetoric about controlling property taxes, that remains a big concern for people,” said Michael Vrancik, government relations director for the New Jersey School Boards Association, which released the results yesterday.

“People are exercising their rights to say no,” he said.

The three questions and preliminary results, according to their respective county clerks, were as follows:

  • Ridgefield (Bergen County) — Defeated 554-314, for $140,000 to hire additional security personnel
  • Dunellen (Middlesex) — Defeated 730-350, for $100,000 to hire two district security officers and related expenses
  • Haddon Heights (Camden) — Defeated 1,303-1,118, for $175,516 to fund student activities, including winter cheerleading, junior high coed track, the “Scribe” newspaper, band instruments and supplies, and computer equipment
  • The budget questions were needed under the state law that requires the separate vote for any spending above the state’s 2 percent property tax cap. The vote on the rest of the school budget is no longer held in these districts, a condition of their moving school board elections to November. Forty districts still hold budget votes in April.

    Four other districts voted on separate school-related matters on Tuesday, three of those four passing. Three were votes to reconstitute the school boards, and the fourth was a school construction referendum:

  • Maurice River (Cumberland) — Approved, a change from nine to seven board members
  • Orange (Essex) — Approved, a change from an appointed board to an elected one
  • Pleasantville (Atlantic) — Rejected, a change from an elected to an appointed board
  • Westfield (Union) — Approved, a referendum to borrow $6.7 million for roof work on nine schools.
  • Meanwhile, 501 districts overall saw their school boards elected on Tuesday as part of the statewide election. The nonpartisan races were often overshadowed, especially by the governor’s race. As yet, there is no statewide tally, but far fewer voters are expected to have participated in the school elections than in those higher on the ballot.