Gov. Chris Christie called the defeat of 58 percent of school budgets proof voters support his agenda. The state’s largest teacher’s union called it a "wake-up call" to the governor and a demand for new solutions.
The finger-pointing continued Wednesday, one day after 316 of 541 of the state’s school budgets were defeated. The 58.4 percent total was the highest failure rate since the New Jersey School Boards Association began keeping track in 1976.
The noisy campaign that preceded Tuesday’s voting also helped drive up voter turnout; 27 percent of people voted in elections that normally draw about 15 percent.
"This was not a close call. Fifty-eight percent of budgets in New Jersey being voted down in one day ... it has never happened before," he said. "I believe it’s going to unite all of us to say these reforms need to be done, the people need to be listened to."
Christie slashed aid to school districts by $820 million and urged districts not to raise property taxes to make up the difference. He also advised voters to reject budgets if local teachers unions did not accept a one-year wage freeze and contribute at least 1.5 percent of their salary to health benefits.
He called the results "a seismic change."
"They want real, fundamental change," Christie said of voters. "We merely gave voice to what the people of New Jersey were already feeling."
The New Jersey Education Association disagreed. Rather, property taxes — which the union says will likely increase under Christie’s proposals — were the reason for the defeats.
NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer said the results show voters are "overwhelmed by property taxes in this state and equally underwhelmed by what they’re getting out of Trenton.
"These votes were a referendum on his budget proposal," Wollmer said. "The election results are a real wakeup call to Gov. Christie and the Legislature that we need some new solutions."
Wollmer called Christie’s demand for the wage freeze "the most misleading thing he did," citing a nonpartisan report by the state Office of Legislative Services which found that if all districts implemented such a freeze, it still would not cover the cuts Christie proposed.
Christie disagreed. He also said that in districts where there was some form of freeze and agreement by teachers to contribute to their health care, most of the budgets passed. In districts that had no freeze, most failed, he said.
Frank Belluscio, a spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, called the results an "incredible rate of rejection."
Budgets went down all over and seemingly without pattern. Most of Bergen County’s passed, but almost all in Somerset and Hunterdon counties failed. Budgets failed in big districts like Edison, Woodbridge, Parsippany, Bridgewater-Raritan and in smaller ones like Berkeley Heights and Netcong.
Many went down noisily — in Teaneck, for example, high school students staged a walkout Wednesay to protest the defeat of that district’s budget.
Given the volume of the discourse between Christie and the NJEA, the temptation to call winners and losers was unavoidable.
"I think the governor was very successful in ... portraying the teachers union as out of touch with what’s going on with working families," said Joseph Marbach, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Seton Hall University, and a member of the university’s political science department. "The voters are more aligned with his position... I think it ... gives him continued momentum to continue to rein in costs."
In districts where they were defeated, budgets will go to the local governing bodies for review and possible cuts, with a decision required by May 19.
The state League of Municipalities and New Jersey School Boards Association will hold a conference call Wednesday, explaning the process for local officials. Before Tuesday’s results, about 160 had registered; by late Wednesday, 500 had signed up.
Woodbridge Council President Jim Major said it was too early to talk about what the council may look at in terms of cutting the $182.5 million school budget, but said the council may retain an independent auditor to help.
"The voters have spoken, and we take what they said very seriously," Major said. "That guides us going forward."
Woodbridge Superintendent John Crowe said he was concerned about additional budget reductions — the district already has proposed eliminating 280 jobs — but "now we have to deal with it.
"Any more cuts will have an impact on the students," Crowe said.
source : nj