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Pasternak, Truitt, Waters Win BOE Seats, Budget Passes

Fox and Mattlin lose after expressing willingness to raise taxes in order to maintain quality of schools.

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 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.”

CU April 29, 2011 at 04:07 PM
I don't believe she intended to be ungracious and we should remember these are our neighbors who have put themselves out there to perform a service for our community. I did not agree with her statements but I have found her to be warm, genuine person and I believe her comments were sincere.... Truth is, while I would not be "fearful" I think we would all agree we are heading into rough territory. My point in posting was not to dis her per se--but rather to point out a nuance I felt she missed. In my humble opinion, the message shown by this election was one of care.... We need to show care with our children and we need to show care with our budget. We need to treat this fiscal house the way we do our own. More than anything else--that's how I voted. On some level, I do believe necessity is the mother of all inventions. Idealistically, I do want to see our school district achieve more with less. It's why I got involved with the election and I am posting here--things that would have made me cringe two years ago. I just think that more than national issues, local board elections etc will affect our daily lives in a much more fundamental way. I also see--by the mere act of posting here under my own name--that it takes courage to raise your hand, and run for office and I am grateful to the five citizens who did just that.
Noreen Brunini April 29, 2011 at 09:35 PM
Mark, Sorry that is incorrect. Mark Zucker, Sam Levy and Janet Landau ran in the most heavily contested (9 or 10 candidates?) BOE race in township history (2006). Zucker and Levy were on BOE from April 09 to April 10. (Should your years above be 2007 - 2011? you have 2009 3 times?) Also there were about 12,500 registered voters in mid 2000's, Patch comment recently indicated there are now 14,500 registered voters -- a large increase given town population growth was essentially flat. With 12,500 voters a heavy turnout was in the 5500 to 6000 range.; with 14,500 you'd need 7000 for a heavy turnout.
Noreen Brunini April 29, 2011 at 09:38 PM
Mark, You have a good point and Yes this is one of the reasons majority of BOE has never agreed to make any committee a "Committee of the Whole" but there are BOEs in NJ who successfully use Committee of the Whole structure.
Larry April 29, 2011 at 09:58 PM
Per Caroline's point I want to clarify: Whether or not you agree with her positions, Debra Fox is a hardworking person who is clearly driven by what she feels will be best for the town & the school system, and she should be thanked for serving the town these past 3 years. No disrespect was intended. Nevertheless, I stand by my statement that she should have been more careful in choosing her words when commenting on her loss. I agree -- we are heading into rough waters; no doubt about it. But when a losing candidate says "I fear for our future" the unsaid implication that jumped into my mind was "....because of who the public just voted for." I'm not trying to put words in her mouth but rather simply point out that our elected officials need to be mindful of the implications and nuances of what they say to the public.
MarkDS April 30, 2011 at 04:12 PM
Sorry for my error in the first paragraph. It was the 2007, 2008 and 2009 elections that were not contested. So in the year following the 2009 election the entire Board was elected in a non-contested election. I think it is good for everyone (except the those who run but do not win) that there be contested elections.

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