A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Matawan-Aberdeen Schools Budget Vote Will Tell Us Nothing

This Tuesday's school budget vote isn't any sort of a clear referendum. If you are opposed to the Governor's cuts in state aid to education, do you vote down the school budget to demonstrate your concern about the resultant loss of teachers and programs? If you are in favor of tax cuts, do you vote down the school budget to demonstrate your concern about increased local property taxes resulting from state aid cuts? If you read the ballot you received in the mail, you might oppose the school budget simply because it warns you that "[y]our school district has proposed programs and services in addition to the core curriculum content standards adopted by the State Board of Education." Who is likely to vote in favor of the school budget this year? Practically no one. Who will claim the vote is a referendum for their cause? Practically everyone.

The importance of education should not be in doubt. In "The Good Society: The Humane Agenda," John Kenneth Galbraith cites multiple reasons for supporting quality education. An economist, Galbraith points out that education's value is not just about economics. "[Education] has a larger political and social role, a yet deeper justification in itself." Here are his reasons:
  • Education "has a bearing on the social peace and tranquility; it is education that provides the hope and the reality of escape from the lower, less-favored social and economic strata to those above. ... Social decency and political stability require ... that there be a recognized and effective chance for upward movement, escape from the lower levels to the higher. If this does not exist, there is the certainty of social discontent, even the possibility of violent revolt." (pp 69-70)
  • Education produces "a knowledgable electorate intelligently abreast of [the] issues and decisions" who would otherwise have to rely on the best judgement of their "state and its bureaucracy." They could also "surrender to the voices of ignorance and error. . . . [I]t is known that a certain percentage of the population is available to support virtually any form of political and social disaster. It is education almost alone that keeps this minority to a manageable number." (p 71)
  • "Education is ... for the enlargement and the enjoyment of life. It is education that opens the window for the individual on the pleasures of language, literature, art, music, the diversities and idiosyncracies of the world scene. The well-educated over the years and centuries have never doubted their superior reward; it is greater educational opportunity that makes general and widespread this reward."
In the end, Galbraith strongly advocates for financing public education. "There is no test of the good society so clear, so decisive, as its willingness to tax - to forgo private income, expenditure and the expensively cultivated superfluities of private consumption - in order to develop and sustain a strong education system for all its citizens. The economic rewards of so doing are not in doubt. Nor the political gains. But the true reward is in the larger, deeper, better life for everyone that only education provides."

Governor Christie has set the stage for decay, social upheaval, and violence in our streets by slashing state aid to education. Your vote for or against the school budget next week will not remedy his irresponsible governance one way or another. Instead, you need to let your municipal leaders know that they can stop using the well-being of the taxpayer as their litmus test to decision making and start considering first how best to nurture and perpetuate the good society they are overseeing on our behalf. Perhaps your vote for school board members who are more focused on quality education than controlling property taxes would be a good first step.


  1. I live in Aberdeen. Who should I vote for? Should I vote Yes on the school taxes?

  2. It may come as a surprise to my readers, but I fear that each of the candidates is too flawed to endorse in this space. You'll have to decide for yourself which to choose. I've not decided which if any of the candidates I'll actually vote for this Tuesday. I'm still working on that at this late hour. I welcome feedback to my remarks below that might help me and my fellow readers to choose our two candidates.

    * Jeff Delaney is a county education official with a doctorate in education and an interest in special needs students. He is an incumbent who was selected unanimously by the board to fill an unexpired term. Despite his unquestionable professional qualifications, it is my impression that he prioritizes taxpayer relief over education. His unwavering support for Governor Christie and Superintendent O'Malley is a big negative for me.

    * Pat Demarest was an active parent in the school district and previously served on the board. She's had hands-on experience as an active parent and served at the district level as well. Her excellent qualifications must be weighed against her startlingly inappropriate last minute effort to wedge Reverend Gattis into a school board vacancy in March 2009. The move was an ill conceived act of desperation to bring the Reverend's candidacy before the board without consideration of other qualified candidates. The whole thing was out of order, seemingly prompted by her imminent departure and the fact that the vacancy was that of Cathy Zavorskas, a like-minded member of the board. While Ms Demarest undoubtedly reflects back on her actions at that time as an effort to preserve a particular point of view on the board, her actions reflect badly on her judgment, all the more because she was serving as the president of the board at the time and had a particular duty to serve responsibly.

    * Thelma Gattis retired from the phone company and subsequent consultancy work and entered the Baptist ministry. I'm sure she's a wonderful woman but I've never heard her speak and don't know her positions. She has no experience in the district that I'm aware of and hasn't been a presence at board meetings, PTOs, etc. I am not prepared to vote for someone simply because he/she represents a neighborhood, a race, or an ethnicity.

    As for the budget, I recommend a vote in favor of the budget so our local schools can get maximum funding in this oppressive environment. A vote against the budget suggests that you think the school district is being overfunded and that you want the schools to get even less. All of us would like to see our taxes lowered, but we also need to consider the dire situation our schools are in at the moment due to Gov Christie's cuts in state aid to education. Our schools need every penny of the proposed budget. We can't create the situation where the Town Council gets to whittle this paltry sum down even further simply because we made a kneejerk reaction at the polls.

    Chances are good that the budget will fail, not only here but in most districts in the state. A taxpayer revolt is moving the electorate to ill conceived choices by the Tea Party movement and its Fox News talking heads.

    If the budget fails, the Town Council will then be tasked to cut the budget even more, the argument being that we voted down the budget because we think the school budget is too high and we want cuts made. The Council will have to work with the school board in formulating this new, lower school budget to assuage the presumably angry populace. Such a meeting would probably be short and sweet, with cuts quickly agreed upon and taxpayers freed of additional obligations to children in our community.

    In the unlikely event that the council and board cannot agree on this lowered budget, the board can appeal to Trenton, at which point the Commissioner of Education would step in. The way things are in Trenton these days, I doubt the board would get a favorable hearing and whatever the Council decided would stand.

  3. Going to throw in my 2 cents:

    I would look for, out of the curiosity, the effect of bullet voting in this election. A bullet vote is when, given the option of voting for two (or more) candidates, one votes only for one's favorite. By NOT voting for two candidates (thereby sacrificing one of your votes), you know that you are improving the chance of YOUR favorite to win.

    The reason? Suppose you really like candidate A. However candidates B and C have much higher name recognition. By casting two votes, you throw one of the more popular candidates a point. This increases the likelihood that Candidates B and C will win. So, by logic, you can boost your favorite candidate by casting only ONE choice in the voting booth, that being for candidate A.

    Since all three candidates in this election have distinctive constituencies, I would expect to see varied voting patterns, not reflective of each voter having cast two choices at the polls.

    I wish all the candidates my best. They all have my respect for running.

  4. The governor is doing what needs to be done and should have been done a long time ago. Instead of laying off teacher, the board should get rid of the vast amount of administors who are earning 6 figure salaries. I am voting against the school budget. My taxes are draining me and will force me to leave NJ within a year if they go up again.

  5. I am an Aberdeen Resident and a NJ Public School Teacher who has served this state for 11.5 years and makes less than $60,000, as does my husband who already has 2 part time jobs. We are expecting our second child in July (1 week after school gets out). I may be loosing my job and will be unhirable (too expensive with my 11.5 years of experience in comparison to the less expensive recent college grads) depending on today's vote and BOE elections in a nearby Monmouth County School District. I agree that state spending has been out of control. We know that one cannot spend money that one does not have. I disagree however with the demonization of working-class teachers as ourselves. The BOE in MASD is cutting a much larger percentage of administrative staff than other districts in our area. I pray for the people who have to make these decisions that circumstance forces them to make and am glad that at least I don't have to make them. Whatever happens, let it be God's will. I will be voting in favor of the budget even though I don't know if I will have a job next year because of today's vote. We will figure that out when the time comes. I am voting yes, in hope that it will pass, and in hope that other moderates who voted conservatively in the past will do the same.

  6. Aberdeen resident here who is losing their job next week. Just rec'd notice of increases for water and sewage. I'm voting no. I just can't afford it.

  7. I just read on the internet that the proposed school budget was defeated , 2189 NO , 1645 Yes. MAYBE now the school board will realize that Matawan /Aberdeen residents are frustrated , struggling and cannot afford to pay more taxes . Maybe superintendent O`malley will re-think accepting a pay raise & contract extension that will have him earning $200,000.00 a year at the end of his contract . Maybe O`malley will even “ do the right thing “ , and take a modest pay CUT as a good faith gesture while 78 of his staff are facing the budget axe. Maybe the teachers union will wake up , accept a pay “ freeze “ for 2011 so as to save teaching positions. Maybe the school board will tighten its belt and live within a budget , cut back more athletic programs and not just golf ,and spend prudently ,as we all must do , especially in these challenging economic times. Maybe , but don`t hold your breath . Thanks for your vote !

  8. Anon, I'm not clear on WHAT voting down the budget says, other than that people are ANGRY. Some people said they were angry because the budget is too high, and people have said they were angry that the budget cuts are inappropriate. Some people have told me that it is a political statement against Governor Christie or their municipal government, and the school budget was their way of speaking.

    The school district web site never published a coherent total budget picture or presentation that made sense to the general public. There was no inherent reason to trust it, and no clear message to the public. I think one blogger used the age old strategy of “We’re are NOT crooks! What they say about us is all lies!” Not sure what that meant, but hardly a message inspiring trust, whether you knew what was behind it or not.

    I'm not sure why the superintendent needs to be pressured to give back any raises. Everyone who makes money obviously believes they earned it--The superintendent, the principals, the teachers, the custodians. Those to have, want to hang onto it, and those who have the most, have the most to lose. Who can blame them for acting like ordinary people, behaving in their own economic self-interest?

    The candidates that won were representative of who we know and trust best. Pat Demarest received the most votes, even over a candidate that put out an awful lot of signage. I counted 6 signs along the one mile route from my house to route 35 for the 2nd place vote getter.

    The path for the BOE is murky at best.

    Oh and BTW, I do hope they continue to fund the golf stipend. Our golf team had only one girl on the team full of boys (great kids all). A heck of a golfer, she is likely headed to the pros. Somehow I don't think she's going to win a golf scholarship or head off to college with her standardized test score.

  9. Even though the vote is over, I feel the need to explain why I voted "no" for the school budget. I believe that the district super, making over $200,000 a year, is terribly overpaid. I agree with Gov Christie that no public worker should make more than him. Aberdeen is a small town and cannot support that type of salary - not to mention the future pension obligation. Adding that the teachers voted to eliminate positions instead of taking a pay freeze only shows that the union is out of touch with reality. Until salaries, pensions, and health costs are under control, the only people going to suffer are the tax payers and our children.