SOMERVILLE, NJ - Somerset County Deputy Freeholder Director Pat Walsh blames Gov. Phil Murphy and his fiscal policies for voters’ rejection of an $8.06 million referendum in Hillsborough that if approved, would have funded full-day kindergarten and mitigated budget shortfalls caused by years of declining state aid.
The results Tuesday night showed 4,432 voting to reject the referendum with 3,003 voting in the affirmative. There were 624 mail-in ballots against the referendum and 406 in favor.
The vote total, 8,465, represents 24.62 percent of the 30,193 registered voters in the township.
Had the referendum been approved, it would have cost the average homeowner an additional $300 per year in taxes, roughly $25 per month on the average Hillsborough home valued at $389,300.
“Make no mistake, this referendum wasn’t defeated because Hillsborough and Millstone voters are somehow anti-education or anti-children. That’s nonsense,” Walsh said, recently retired as a practicing nurse.
“To the contrary, this vote was an overwhelming rebuke of Governor Murphy and his tax and spend policies that treat Somerset County taxpayers like an ATM to fund his out-of-touch priorities, like millions of dollars for tuition aid and legal services to illegal immigrants, while cutting funding to school children in places like Hillsborough," the Republican freeholder added.
“People are fed up,” Walsh said.
Walsh, a resident of Breen Brook, called Somerset County a model for fiscal responsibility and economic growth strategies and said if Murphy governed the state the same way, New Jersey would be in better shape.
“During my time as Freeholder, we’ve reduced the size of county government and kept county taxes in check, while investing in programs and services that have helped to give us one of the lowest unemployment rates and lowest poverty rates in the state,” Walsh said. “The voters in Hillsborough sent a message with their vote. The question is whether Governor Murphy and his fellow Democrats in Trenton even bother to listen.”
Also included in the referendum was a long-term plan for funding financial stability. Hillsborough Schools’ yearly budget is limited by a two percent tax cap. Over the last several years, the district has been forced to use a portion of its fund balance to cover costs outside of the district’s control that continue to exceed this two percent limit.
Financial concerns were compounded this summer when the state of New Jersey announced it would reduce state aid to Hillsborough Township Public Schools by $5.34 million dollars over the next six years. A full-day kindergarten program would also support financial stability as the state aid formula calculates funding full day kindergarten programs at twice the amount as a half day kindergarten program according to school officials.
The state announced Friday a $526,000 reduction in state aid for the 2019-20 school year, a 2.11 percent drop from this school year.
Hillsborough is one of three districts in Somerset County that only offers a half-day kindergarten program. Approximately 90 percent of districts in New Jersey have a full day kindergarten.
The Board of Education had lobbied hard for approval of the referendum, with several teachers and school officials hosting an information session on Feb. 14. Their message was clear - meeting the State Standards for kindergarten are much more challenging in a half day versus a full day program. The district included information on the pros and cons of the approaching vote on the district’s Investing in Our Future section of the website.
Had the referendum been approved, the full-day kindergarten would have been implemented for the start of the 2019-2020 school year. The program would be held at all six elementary schools in the district. Implementation expenses would have included staff, supplies, training, technology, transportation costs, and the lease of modular classrooms to be used for offices and/or specialty classrooms. This would allow for additional kindergarten classrooms to be set-up in the school buildings.
School officials had warned prior to yesterday's vote that if rejected, Hillsborough Schools would need to consider reducing teachers and staff and increasing class sizes. The district would also be forced to contemplate increasing fees for students to participate in athletics and co-curricular activities, raising fees for technology, and eliminating programs that the Board could no longer afford; reductions would continue in future years as state aid is reduced $5.34 million dollars over the next six years.