Budget votes: less heated than last year

Several contentious school board races highlight the ballots in this year’s school elections, but overall the tone is very different from a year ago, when newly elected Gov. Chris Christie took his newfound power for a spin.

The governor, fresh off his election season battles with the NJEA and embroiled in a fight over school aid, went directly to the voters and asked them to vote down the budget in any district where teachers refused to take a pay freeze.  Shared sacrifice was the order of the day, the freshman governor said.  Union officials scoffed at the governor’s version of sacrifice and demanded an apology from Christie for a comment he made that teachers were using students as “drug mules” to ferry pro-budget information home to parents.

In all, just 20 districts’ teachers agreed to a salary freeze while voters shot down the budgets in a whopping 314 districts.  The 54 percent rejection rate was the highest since 1976 and the first time since that year that more than half of the budgets failed.

This year, the tone of the debate between the NJEA and the front office has not changed – earlier this month Christie called the teachers’ union brass “thugs” – but Christie has not waded into the budget fray with the same fervor.  A portion of the more than $800 million in cuts Christie imposed on schools last year was restored and an additional 24 districts negotiated wage freezes for the 2010-2011 school year along with at least two more for the 2011-2012 school year.  Negotiations for the current school year continue in about 100 more.

Next year, 224 school districts are scheduled to negotiate new agreements.

Below, see spreadsheets showing results from the past two years of budget votes as well as a breakdown of the past decade’s budget results.  Also attached is a list of those districts that agreed to a teacher salary freeze for the current year.  As of early this month, Holmdel in Monmouth County, and North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional in Hunterdon County had tentatively agreed to salary freezes for next year.

Polls close at 9 p.m. Budget votes: less heated than last year