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Voter Turnout and the School Budget

Bayfront corridor, senior communities drive "no" votes, but budget passes in a year of scandal

With higher voter turnout and a to perhaps spur them on, voters still managed to approve the Toms River Regional Schools budget, albeit with a narrower margin than years previous.

According to the , 11,035 votes were cast, and 5,754 people, or 52.14 percent, voted yes.

Compare that to 2004 when 4,846 voters came out for the school board election, to approve a budget with a $1.54 tax rate. That year, the budget passed with 65 percent of the votes, according to the county clerk’s archive.

Last year, out of the 15,501 votes cast in budget question, 52.6 percent, or 8,179, voted yes.

John Weingart, the Associate Director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, said that school budgets are essentially the only direct vote taxpayers get on what their taxes will be.

“Every other level of government, from the Depart of Defense spending to the municipal government taxes, are out of the hands of the people perhaps most effected by it,” Weingart said.

This school budget vote was also the first since former superintendent Michael Ritacco resigned the same day an FBI indictment charged him with bribery, tax evasion and wire fraud.

While you might think a scandal would embolden residents to vote, Weingart said many political science theories hold the opposite to be true.

“Prevailing wisdom in political science literature says that voters more often will subconsciously condemn the whole process, and not vote at all,” Weingart said.

He said however that in the case of school elections and budget questions, the bigger picture is harder to define.

“Everything varies by situation,” Weingart said.

During a between the Toms River school board candidates, each candidate was asked whether they endorsed the budget.

Several of the candidates said they personally would, but then added that it often comes down to an individual decision.

“I think it’s a deeply personal matter,” said , “one that might be based on the financial impact you would personally face.”

In Toms River, where an average home is assessed at $376,778, the school tax amounts to .

This means an increase of 3.3 cents per $100 over 2010-2011, adding $124 more in taxes levied for the average assessed home in Toms River.

“For many people, that $100 makes a big difference to their budget,” Bageac said.

Township Clerk Mark Mutter, whose office pours over election night, said that trends from previous voting years held true in Toms River, with certain districts often voting consistently.

The budget may have passed on the whole, but in some polling districts inside the Toms River Regional Schools, a majority of voters rejected the 3.3 cent tax increase.

Mutter, who also serves as the township historian, said the results are consistent with previous trends. For one, the Toms River polling districts largely made up of senior communities again rejected the budget.

Second, the two polling districts on the barrier island, such as Ortley Beach, consistently vote no on the school budget. That happened again this year.

Mutter said a majority of voters on the bayfront communities along Fischer Boulevard’s entire length voted no to the budget.

“All the districts east of Fischer Boulevard consistently vote no,” Mutter said, pointing to Snug Harbor, Shelter Cove and the bayshore as examples.

According to the unofficial results Mutter provided from each polling district, 19 out of 60 districts in Toms River rejected the budget.

The largest defeats came from district 8 in Normandy Beach and district 48 in Lake Ridge. More than 80 percent of voters from those districts rejected the budget.

Elsewhere, such as at the Silver Bay Elementary School for district 5, the budget vote was a tie.  At Saratoga Club House for district 30, the budget passed by four votes.

Across the board, though, the yes votes had it, winning by a total 473 votes, according to unoffical results from the county.

That equals to 52 percent of voters in the four towns that make up the Toms River Regional School District voting yes to the school budget.

Weingart said that often the two segments of the community most likely to vote are seniors and parents. However, the two factions vote opposite of each other, Weingart said.

“There’s a higher representation of senior citizens, and of parents of school age children, who tend to vote in opposition of each other on budget questions,” Weingart said. Parents will often vote yes while seniors are a voting block who often vote no.

Mutter said the current level of voter turnout, including last year’s 15,501 votes, may be part of a spike.

“Often these things are cyclical,” Mutter said. “They’ll be a period of a handful of years where voter turnout with shoot up before dropping into the next cycle.”

Which districts had the greatest percentage of voter turnout? With 30 percent, district 3 who voted at the Toms River Municipal Building had the greatest turnout.

Which districts had the worst voter turnout? Winteringham Village’s district 37 had 4 percent voter turnout.

District 21, at the Poland Spring Arena at the Ritacco Center, had the second worst voter turnout with 5.8 percent. Out of 801 registered voters, 47 voted.

Alan K April 29, 2011 at 10:55 AM
Low turnout is probably due to the crazy scheduling of the election. Wednesday? Aren't all elections on Tuesday? I know this one was rescheduled due to Passover, but why even have a separate election. We should hold all elections on Election Day! Of course, even that is inconvenient. Why not a Saturday? Then working folks could find the time. No one wants to work all day, finally get home to relax and then traipze out to vote. It's interesting that the 2 lowest districts for turnout are predominately those who rent and don't pay property taxes. Oops, did I just open a can of worms?
Martin April 29, 2011 at 11:20 AM
"District 21, at the Poland Spring Arena at the Ritacco Center..." Shouldn't the BOE have officially changed the name by dropping "at the (etc.)"? Covering up the perp's name outside the bldg. just isn't enough.
. April 29, 2011 at 01:49 PM
I wouldn't blame low turnout on the fact that it was on a Wednesday. There was enough publicity to know when the election was. The truth is that people just don't vote in school elections. Polls are open to be convenient to all that work, so that is not an excuse. I work a full day five days a week and always vote. I wouldn't want to do it on a Saturday. The polls are located close to your home so that it is convenient for everyone. On a regular election, I always vote on my way to work.

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