Millburn-Short Hills residents on Wednesday elected political newcomers Jean Pasternak and Regina Truitt, along with incumbent Jeff Waters, to serve on the Millburn Board of Education and passed a $76.5 million budget that raises the school tax levy by 1.35 percent.
Some voters said it was a difficult choice – all the candidates are smart and qualified, but when it came down to it, they voted for candidates who had maintained they would be the most fiscally conservative.
Of the five candidates vying for those seats, incumbent Debra Fox and challenger Jay Mattlin were the only two who said they favor raising taxes closer to the 2 percent cap allowed by the state if it means keeping teachers and offering better programming.
And both lost by significant numbers.
“I think it’s clear that people vote with their pocketbooks and don’t think beyond that which is a shame,” said Fox, when reached at home after the totals were counted. “We have an incredible school system but I fear for our future now.”
According to the County Clerk's final totals, Pasternak garnered the most votes of all the candidates with 1,413; Truitt came in next with 1,271; Waters got 1,192; Fox received 678; and Mattlin brought in 561.
In addition, the budget won 1,337 votes to 554.
“The public has responded to the change we made in 2009 when we started on this responsible path,” said Waters, the finance committee chair. “I think the public feels this board is on the right track.”
In a township of about 20,000, according to the County Clerk's Office, some 14,112 residents are registered to vote yet only 1,891 votes were cast on the budget question. In addition, there were 1,183 "undervotes" or ballots where voters did not vote for as many candidates as allowed or chose not to vote on the budget issue.
School finances have been at the center of the heated race since the candidates
first threw their hats in and have remained the hottest topic in a race that also included issues such as the district’s need to update its curriculum and start planning for the future.
Pasternak called the campaign “spirited,” and said she hopes Mattlin and
Fox stay involved in the district.
“I was thrilled with how the community came together to participate in our local political process,” said Pasternak, a former managing director for JP Morgan & Co. and longtime volunteer in the schools. “I’m looking forward to working with the current board and the other incoming board members. I hope to accomplish great things for the children of Millburn. Most importantly, I’m grateful to my family, friends and the community for coming together during this important election.”
When the winners were announced at Town Hall, Truitt also thanked her supporters. “Especially my family, who has barely seen me for the past few weeks as I’ve been campaigning,” said Truit, a registered pediatric nurse and former PTO president. “I also want to thank all those who helped me run my campaign, and a special thank you to the voters. I am honored to be serving the community as a member of the board of education.”
Waters, and board member Eric Siegel, who were awaiting returns at the Education Center, both said they were sorry that Fox would no longer be on the board but they welcome the new ideas and new energy that Pasternak and Truitt will bring.
Mattlin, reached at home, said that although he didn’t win, he’s glad participated in the campaign because it allowed him to raise some important issues.
“I think I was able to articulate a point of view that we needed to hear in the community,” he said. “There are other issues facing the school district besides rising costs, and I think I was able to bring that to light. I hope the winning candidates continue to uphold the excellence of our schools.”