Somerset County Voters Reject Nearly All School Budgets
April 21, 2010
Only two school budgets in Somerset County passed today after residents rejected tax hikes despite severe cuts to programs and staff in districts across the county.
Somerset Hills Regional and North Plainfield were the only two districts out of a total of 17 to pass budgets today, while large districts like Bridgewater-Raritan and Franklin Township saw their spending plans defeated by narrow margins. In Bernards, Hillsborough and Montgomery voters rejected their budgets by several hundred votes.
The vote came after Gov. Chris Christie cut $820 million in state aid to schools, forcing many districts to slash jobs and programs while raising taxes to save others.
Tonight’s election followed months of bitter sparring between local teachers’ unions and Christie, who publicly derided educators who refused to agree to salary freezes.
In Bridgewater-Raritan, where the teachers’ union gave $1.7 million in concessions but no offered salary changes, Christie accused teachers in the county’s largest school district of showing students propaganda in class and inciting them to protest against proposed state aid cuts.
The budget failed in Bridgewater-Raritan by just 145 votes. Though the budget included cuts that would have laid off 180 district employees, it also would have raised taxes by $267 for the average Bridgewater resident and $153 for the average Raritan homeowner.
Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association President Steve Beatty said he believes Christie’s point ed attacks against the district played a role in the budget’s narrow defeat.
“We thought we came to the table with a significant concessions, it’s very disappointing. It’s a sad day,” he said. “It’s hypocritical. He said the BREA shouldn’t bring the politics into the classroom and that’s just what he did. He presented misinformation as the truth to try and really divide our community.”
North Plainfield’s budget passed by just 17 votes after the Board of Education slashed 64 positions and cut back on several programs. Staff cuts were less severe in the Somerset Hills Regional school district, however, and the district was able to pass its budget by 102 votes.
Franklin’s defeated its budget and ousted its Board of Education President Shirley Pietrucha, in favor of three newcomers to the board — Thomas J. Lewis, Julia Presley and Richard Seamon.
Franklin resident Tony Buonaguro, 63, said he was worried if the budget didn’t pass, full-day kindergarten programs would be the first to go.
Lawrence Miller, another Franklin resident, said the Board of Education had not made enough cuts to the district’s administration.
“They don’t make cuts in the right places,” he said. “Instead of making the cuts that hurt the kids, they should cut all those administrative costs, they’re the dead weight.”
Bernards residents defeated the district’s budget by more than 400 votes after its Board of Education called for a $338 tax increase for the average homeowner.