Scotch Plains and Fanwood residents overwhelmingly rejected the proposed 2010-2011 school budget on Tuesday with 56 percent of the vote. Based on numbers that were gathered from the polls by PTA members and brought to the Board of Education headquarters after 9 p.m., a total of 2,512 residents voted "yes" on the ballot, whereas 3,210 voted "no," a 698 vote margin.
Not a single polling place had the numbers sway in favor of the proposed $74.9 million tax levy. All 16 sites in Scotch Plains and Fanwood reported a majority of no votes.
"We really had no way to know what to expect," Superintendent Margaret Hayes said after the tally. Hayes noted to those in attendance that the result was not what they had hoped for, but that she didn't think the "no" votes reflected any lack of effort on the part of the board, the PTA and others in recent weeks.
Board President Trip Whitehouse acknowledged that although the board worked hard to create a sound budget in light of losing $3.8 million in state aid, he knew that many taxpayers weren't ready to accept a $439 tax increase in Fanwood and a $299 increase in Scotch Plains.
"Let's not lose sight of the fact that taxes were high this year," he said. "We were asking a lot in trying to plug that $4 million gap. The goal was to get labor concessions from all employees and share some of that gap with taxpayers, but they rejected that framework. Now we'll be working with the town leaders to come to an agreement to come to further reductions and from there whatever the new number becomes, that will be the budget. We'll do our best to preserve what we can and continue to develop a quality education."
Based on preliminary data, Scotch Plains-Fanwood was one of eight school districts in Union County to have its budget rejected. Voters in Berkeley Heights, Elizabeth, Garwood, Kenilworth, Linden, New Providence, and Plainfield also defeated their budgets. Neighboring towns Westfield and Cranford had their budgets approved.
As far as the Board of Education vote goes, Scotch Plains incumbents Nancy Bauer and David Gorbunoff won their seats back for another three years. The candidates were both unopposed.
In the only contested race for a school board seat — the race for the open 3-year term in Fanwood — borough resident Amy Winkler won a great majority of the votes, 56 percent, to be exact. Winkler said Tuesday evening that she was thankful to voters for re-electing her, but called it "bittersweet" given the budget result.
"I'm grateful to still be on the board; I love doing it and it's important, but that budget hurts," she said. "It's not going to be fun."
Fanwood incumbent Rob O'Connor, who ran unopposed to win a 1-year term on the board, said he expected the budget defeat based on what he'd been hearing from voters.
"This was not shocking," he said. "It's going to be tough. I think people are angry enough."
So, what's next?
Well, with the budget defeated, the district will have to submit a defeated budget packet to both the Scotch Plains and Fanwood councils for review.
The district must include the following information, among other items:
- A line-item budget listing each item by code with a description, including actual expenditures for the previous school year and proposed expenditures for 2010-11, with explanations;
- A copy of the school district's annual progress report, most recent annual audit and applicable portions of the Comparative Spending Guide and School Report Card;
- Complete number of current staff and projected staff for the following school year, and salary schedules for all employees;
- Rationale for the major line item increases or decreases in the budget.
Although encouraged to submit the information to the councils by April 22, the district has an absolute deadline of April 28, two days after election results are certified by the county clerk.
It is then up to the councils to review the submitted information and set a revised tax levy amount for the schools to use. School and government officials are required to establish a meeting date to give the district an opportunity to present the rationale behind their proposal, and the councils must decide on the new budget number by May 19.
After the decision is rendered, the Board of Education has full jurisdiction in determining what items to adjust in order to meet the new budget total.
If Scotch Plains and Fanwood councils can't agree on a revised tax levy, the county superintendent will get involved.
Board President Whitehouse said the voter reaction in both towns will likely influence their respective councils, but that "I truly don't know what their expectations are going to be."
He noted that it's been at least 15 years since residents last rejected a Scotch Plains-Fanwood school budget.
Breaking down the numbers, Fanwoodians in total voted 671, or 40.7 percent, for the budget and 976, or 59 percent, against it. In Scotch Plains, 1841 voters, or 45 percent, voted in favor of the budget and 2234, or 54.8 percent, voted against it.
Here's the results from the respective polling places. All of the election results are unofficial and must be verified by the county, but the margins indicate the the results are unlikely to change.
Park Middle School (District 1, 2, 3)
Nancy Bauer: 221
David Gorbunoff: 168
Scotch Plains Public Library (District 4, 5)
Nancy Bauer: 216
David Gorbunoff: 198
Evergreen Elementary (District 6, 7, 8)
Nancy Bauer: 337
David Gorbunoff: 298
Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School (District 9)
Nancy Bauer: 130
David Gorbunoff: 101
Brunner Elementary (District 10)
Nancy Bauer: 116
David Gorbunoff: 107
St. Johns Baptist Church (District 11)
Nancy Bauer: 96
David Gorbunoff: 86
McGinn Elementary (District 12, 13)
Nancy Bauer: 250
David Gorbunoff: 232
Union Catholic Regional High School (District 14, 15, 21)
Nancy Bauer: 52
David Gorbunoff: 34
Jewish Community Center of Central NJ (District 16)
Nancy Bauer: 84
David Gorbunoff: 67
Terrill Middle School (District 17, 18)
Nancy Bauer: 286
David Gorbunoff: 256
Coles Elementary (District 19, 20)
Nancy Bauer: 296
David Gorbunoff: 247
Southwyck (District 22)
Nancy Bauer: 65
David Gorbunoff: 59
Fanwood Borough Hall (District 1, 2)
Amy Winkler: 131
Michael Lewis: 50
Christopher Pflaum: 42
Rob O'Connor: 166
First Children at Fanwood (District 3)
Amy Winkler: 91
Michael Lewis: 70
Christopher Pflaum: 24
Rob O'Connor: 117
Terrill Road Bible Chapel (District 4, 5)
Amy Winkler: 183
Michael Lewis: 62
Christopher Pflaum: 55
Rob O'Connor: 213
Fanwood Memorial Library (District 6, 7)
Amy Winkler: 211
Michael Lewis: 107
Christopher Pflaum: 64
Rob O'Connor: 304