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School Budget Defeated for First Time in 15 Years

Reflecting polling station numbers, absentee ballots cement budget going to the Borough Council.

Madison residents went to bed Tuesday night still uncertain if the school budget had failed.

This morning, it is clear that the Borough Council will have the final say.

Reflecting tabulations from the polling stations, absentee ballots came in with slightly more "no" votes. Of the 35 absentee ballots the county received from borough residents, 19 were marked no vs. 16 marked yes.

It was the first time the school budget was voted down since 1995, according to school documents.

The county's report showed the budget defeated by 19 votes at the end of polling on Tuesday, with 1,505 no votes vs. 1,486 yes votes. In order for the budget to pass, 28 of the 35 absentee ballots would have needed to be yes votes.

Even with that slight chance, school officials knew it would be extremely difficult for the remaining votes to swing the results.

"It looks like we'd have to get 75 percent of the absentee ballots to get over the top on this, which is probably not likely," Superintendent Dr. Richard Noonan said at the Board of Education office Tuesday night.

Though the budget failed, the turnout of voters who supported the budget increased by 36 percent this year. However, the increase in those voting no was 42 percent. In total, 1,170 more people voted at the polls this year than last.

"Obviously a lot more people came out with it in mind to vote no, and I think we all know what that is attributed to," Noonan said while referencing Gov. Chris Christie's call earlier last week for state residents to vote against any budget without a freeze on staff salaries.

Noonan said he received five or six calls from residents on Tuesday alone asking if teachers were accepting a salary freeze. The district is in the negotiation process with the union, as their contract expires after this school year. Noonan has previously said the Board of Education had already asked all Madison school bargaining groups to take a freeze, but "we don't have the legal authority to impose one."

With the budget appearing to be defeated, the district will have to submit a defeated budget packet to the Borough Council 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 Borough Council by April 22, the district has an absolute deadline of April 28, two days after election results are certified.

It is then up to the Borough Council to review the submitted information and set a revised tax levy amount for the schools to use. School and borough officials are required to establish a meeting date to give the district an opportunity to present the rationale behind their proposal, and the Borough Council 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.

"Our job now is to prevail upon council that we're cut to the bone as it is," Noonan said. "From here on in, if there are reductions we may have to look at changes in class size, and additional positions and class programs to cut."

Failing without a need to tabulate the absentee ballots on Tuesday was the second question which asked voters if they wish to restore both the position of visual and performing arts supervisor, held by Stacy Snider, and the Madison Junior School's interscholastic sports program. That proposal was voted down by 509 votes.

The Board of Education and Noonan have said previously that if the second question did not pass, it would be possible for the district to keep Snider, though it would mean bumping another arts teacher.

Results also showed current BOE Vice President Patrick Rowe and newcomer Sam Cavaliere both ran successfully to obtain three-year terms, though it wasn't a surprise for either. The two were running uncontested for the two open spots. Long-time member George Martin did not seek re-election.

Rowe was at the Board of Education office on Tuesday night awaiting–not his own numbers–but the budget vote totals. He said that he was disappointed, but not completely surprised by the outcome. Noonan had also hoped for a different result.

"I'm disappointed," he said. "I think the kids lost tonight."

Check back with Madison Patch for updates.

patchie April 23, 2010 at 02:20 PM
Manhattandodger, are you on the Board of Education?
madisonparent April 23, 2010 at 05:06 PM
Please note, the BOE members and Noonan don't always return calls or other communication. They wait for a crisis situation, as is happening now with the NO votes prevailing. Many people wonder what Noonan is doing to support his large salary...and he doesn't talk to parents in the district...I had heard, too that he is "all about protocol". If we wanted Yes to prevail, there is a lot more work to be done to engage the community in the process. More than a few budget presentations. Perhaps the budget going to the borough council is a good thing. I'd like to see some creative contributions from teachers. People are questioning the NJEA "for the kids" mantra beccause the minimalist approach from long tenured teachers often doesn't show it. By the way, Madison has a very high number of students in Private Schools as compared to Chatham. And Madison pays bussing fees to transport them I believe. Perhaps that is why Madison was a NO town and Chatham a YES.
patchie April 24, 2010 at 06:53 PM
Mr. Rowe, thanks for your correction and appreciate your chiming in. However, my point still stands that families (and singles, and senior citizens) without kids in Junior School sports are not likely to want the cost for those programs added to their tax bill. Pay-to-play -- charging the users of the program -- makes a lot more sense, and other towns think so too. I believe Madison was the only town to pose this as a Second Ballot Question. If Noonan took a pay cut to an average NJ Superintendent salary, we could fund Junior School sports with that amount, and perhaps even buy a few textbooks too (also an issue at Junior School). I think average Superintendent salary is something like $175K. Noonan is overpaid by $50K. The Tom's River Superintendent (in the news, he is being investigated) is paid about the same as Noonan ($230K - ish) and is responsible for a district of 19,000 students. How many students in our district? (Our small high school has about 800 students; other grades something like 150-200 per grade so maybe 2500?). If he is paid at the top, the performance should be superior too.
David S April 27, 2010 at 07:09 PM
I am quite offended by Lisa Ellis' last response in this thread, in affect no longer liking the conversation and leaving the public discussion. She invites us to call her as she 'is in the book'. All of these discussions and debates, ideas, good and bad - need to be held in public. BOE and the superindentant need to be in our faces and willing to discuss the tough topics in a difficult time in public. If the representatives of our schools and our government conduct these activities as our representatives behind closed doors they should be ousted from their positions! There are more people that have an interest in these topics than they realize and pointing to reports posted on a website that leave much to be desired or inviting a private one to one phone call is no substitute for public discussion and debated. Lisa - I ask you to bring your ball back to the public party!
Lisa Ellis April 27, 2010 at 09:23 PM
I apologize that I do not have the time to devote to the practice of blogging as many of you seem too. I welcome public discussion and debate - come to a public board meeting where you will be given ample time to speak and voice your opinions in public. Questions can be answered, information shared...in a terrific, transparent, public forum. I'm sorry I have trouble considering a blog where so few people are even willing to put their real names to their opinions to be "public" forums. Consider me old school...

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