Voters approve 80 percent of school budgets

Voters in yesterday’s school elections approved 80 percent of all school budgets, nearly double the rate of passage last year when less than half of all budgets were approved.

In all, voters blessed 429 of a total of 538 budgets up for a vote.  Officials at the State School Boards Association attributed the performance to school districts’ efforts to comply with the state’s new cap law.

“Voters understood the difficult choices many school boards had to make this year when developing their budget proposals,” said Raymond R. Wiss, NJSBA president. “School boards were sensitive to the impact of the current economy on members of their communities and balanced that concern with their responsibility to propose adequate funding for educational programs.  Voters indicated that they believe local school board members have done an effective job in addressing these priorities.”

Initial estimates put the voter turnout at less than last year’s record 26.7 percent.  That turnout was largely a result of voter furor, which was stirred up by a war of words between the governor and the teachers union.  At the time, Gov. Chris Christie exhorted voters to shoot down budgets in ay district where teachers did not accept a salary freeze.  In all, teachers in just 20 districts took the freeze, while budgets dropped in 54 percent.

The 80 percent passage rate was much more in line with earlier in the decade when 65 to 75 percent of all budgets routinely passed.  The highest passage rate of the last decade came in 2000, when nearly 88 percent of all budgets passed voter muster.

School budgets that failed to gain voter approval will now be sent to the governing body in the district, which have the authority to either make cuts to the plan or leave it intact.  The deadline for action is May 19.  The district may then appeal any cuts to the state.  According to the School Boards Association, there were no appeals in 2008, two in 2009 and one last year.

Voters also approved eight of 11 second questions yesterday and five of eight requests to approve contruction bonds.

Second questions were approved in Springfield Township (Burlington County); Kingsway Regional (Gloucester County); South Hunterdon Regional (Hunterdon County); Wall Township (Monmouth County); Franklin Township (Somerset County); Kittatinny Regional (Sussex County); Garwood (Union County); and Greenwich Township (Warren County). Second questions were rejected in Franklin Township (Hunterdon County); Monroe Township (Middlesex County); and Sparta Township (Sussex County).

Construction referendums were approved in Riverside Township (Burlington County); Pequannock Township (Morris County); Ringwood (Passaic County); Penns Grove-Carneys Point Regional (Salem County); and Wallkill Valley Regional (Sussex County). Construction referendums were rejected in Upper Township (Cape May County); Nutley (Essex County); and Jackson Township (Ocean County).

See below for budget passage rates from the last decade.

Voters approve 80 percent of school budgets