It's back to the drawing board for three Gloucester County school districts, whose proposed school budgets were voted down Tuesday, even though they would not have exceeded the state's 2 percent cap on tax-levy increases.
The Delsea Regional, Franklin Township, and Monroe Township school boards will appeal their spending plans to their municipalities, which must recommend cuts - or decide to keep them intact - by the state's May 21 deadline.
Locally, six districts were among only 73 statewide that declined New Jersey's first-ever offer to move their elections to November. Of districts that put their budgets before voters on Tuesday, seven were rejected statewide.
The choice to stick with April elections was a gamble. In the fall, only budgets that exceed the 2 percent cap are required to go before voters. Among districts that stayed with the traditional schedule, the public's approval was mandatory.
"It's unfortunate," said Delsea Regional School District business administrator Joseph Collins. "But it's not a surprise in that the history has shown that budgets are voted down."
The Delsea Regional district's nearly $31 million plan was rejected by 16 votes in Franklin Township and by two in Elk Township. Though the 2012-13 plan calls for $2 million more in spending than the current budget, it is slightly smaller than the 2009-10 base budget.
Voters in the Franklin Township district rejected the proposed budget by 83 votes. In Monroe, the plan was defeated by two votes.
Voting down budget proposals that remain level from the previous year - or sometimes even decrease - is not uncommon, according to Mike Yaple, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association.
"When people reject a school budget, what they're calling for is a second set of eyes - that of the town council," to review planned expenditures, Yaple said. "If voters were frustrated with high property taxes, it was the only vote in which they could take out their frustrations."
Collins said he was hopeful the township would minimize harm in its budget recommendations for Delsea Regional.
"The township has always been pretty cooperative," he said. "They have the best needs of the students in mind, but they have to answer to taxpayers as well."
Meanwhile, in Haddon Heights on Tuesday, voters proved willing to shoulder additional taxes to allow the district to exceed the cap on tax-levy increases. Residents approved a ballot question enabling the district to raise an additional $207,799 to preserve various extracurricular programs.
At risk were the winter cheerleading team, all junior high sports, all freshman sports, elementary school band and choir programs, several high school academic clubs, and five computer labs.
Haddon Heights superintendent Michael Adams credited the budget's success to the efforts of students, teachers' associations, and parents to inform voters of the repercussions of a defeated budget.
Members of the Haddon Heights Education Association went door-to-door Monday, distributing a letter detailing the district's budget situation and urging voters to approve the tax increases.
"I think the residents overall value education," Adams said. "It's outstanding for the school district."
Also approved Tuesday were budgets for the Paulsboro and Greenwich Township districts. Neither exceeded the cap on tax-levy increases.