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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.”

Pucci April 28, 2011 at 04:22 AM
15% turnout. What a mandate. Now that is representative of the town....Good thing the BOE didn't mail out notices of the vote.
MarkDS April 28, 2011 at 10:13 AM
The fact of an election was well publicized. Those who did not vote simply chose not to. The right not to vote is an important right. But having not voted they then should not complain about anything. But to save money and increase participation everything should be voted on in November (with districts changed to calendar year budgets.)
JFC April 28, 2011 at 11:32 AM
Does anybody know when committe chairs and assignments are decided, and if the public has an opportunity to comment/provide input before the decisions are made?
Noreen Brunini April 28, 2011 at 12:23 PM
JFC If you want to comment on committee assignments do so at BOE reorg meeting as assignments usually made shortly thereafter. Committee assignments are responsibility of BOE President. The President usually asks BOE members to rank their interest in each committee and consults with BOE VP before finalizing list. Every BOE president makes serious effort to put members on committees they are interested in but committees are limited to 4. Some committees are popular and some are less popular but all must be filled. Most often an effort is made to give each BOE member a chair position. In my opinion certain committees, chiefly Program and Finance, should become "Committees of the Whole" meaning all members are on them and therefore equally informed/ and able to have input. The drawback is a "committee of the Whole" can only meet publicly which would make BOE meetings much longer and can make it harder to have in depth discussions about the topic. But personally, I think it more important for full BOE to be equally informed and able to offer input and public would be better informed of each BOE member's views. Just my opinion.
MarkDS April 28, 2011 at 12:49 PM
Just shows the major flaws with the Open Public Meeting act. It is one of those things that is good in principle and is needed to some degree but as implemented has unfortunate consequences. You were on the board, but I can not possibly see how having all finance and program discussions in public could possibly work. People in the public would seize on every "brainstorming" comment, even if it is something very unlikely to move forward.
JFC April 28, 2011 at 02:07 PM
I was very sorry to see that, since your presidency, committee meeting minutes are no longer posted on edline. The public is certainly less informed as a result.
William Eisner April 28, 2011 at 02:25 PM
The key words from Mark: "... to save money and increase participation everything should be voted on in November (with districts changed to calendar year budgets" and from Ms. Updyke "...I hope they advocate a move to a zero-based budgeting so that we can account for every dollar and maximize our programs and resources." These comments bear frequent repetition and action....
Marty Wilson April 28, 2011 at 02:41 PM
I tend to agree. Debra Fox is a nice person. However, to fear for the future because people voted the way they did is a tad hypocritical. Debra Fox lives a subsidized lifestyle - subsidized by all of us. If she were to pay her fair share (cost per student*# of kids in school) to educate her kids..or even pay more than she was legally obligated to in property taxes, then she can whine and complain all she wants. Right now, she doesn't even come close. For now, she is a do what I say, not what I do politician - and she wants to spend OPM.
Yenta April 28, 2011 at 09:35 PM
It's possible that the low turnout was because the election was on a Wednesday and people forgot about the date change. I went to the polls on Tuesday and then was told that the election was on Wed. I did return but it could be that the day change slipped under the radar.
M OKeef April 28, 2011 at 11:34 PM
This election date seemed designed to garner a low turnout: it was on a Wed not a Tuesday, it was during a week after a 10 day break from school and Monday was a day off school which often throws people off for the rest of the week, plus BOE decided, one week before election, not to mail the Budget newsletter so non school involved tax payers were not reminded either.....was the PTO phone reminder chain activated to remind parents of school children to vote? I agree everything should be voted on in Nov during the regular election.
Marty Wilson April 29, 2011 at 12:16 PM
at least the teacher's union lost a little when they decided to do it in april, not february when many people without kids might be in florida. long live the teachers' union, the all powerful teachers' union.
KLF April 29, 2011 at 01:37 PM
I think 15% is a much higher turnout than usual for a school board election. As far as changing the date to November . . . talk to you state legislators about that. School board elections are set by the state.
MarkDS April 29, 2011 at 02:00 PM
Given that it was a contested Board election the turnout was on the low side. Looking at the budget vote (which is a good proxy because it is yes/no and there are few undervotes (people who vote on something but do not vote on that part) 2011 1891 total votes 2010 3136 total votes (but last year the budget was a much "hotter" issue) 2009 1302 total votes (uncontested Board election) 2009 1877 total votes (uncontested Board election) 2009 2933 total votes (uncontested Board election)
Larry April 29, 2011 at 03:21 PM
For Debra Fox to say "...I fear for our future" is unbecoming to say the least. When have you ever heard a candidate make such an ungracious statement in his or her concession speech?
MarkDS April 29, 2011 at 03:41 PM
It is great that we had a contested Board election this time and that we had had one last year. This is the first time in a while where the majority of the Board will be people who were elected in contested elections. Since the election was not contested in 09,08 and 07 (I can not go back any farther) at a minimum from April 09 to April 10 we had a Board made up entirely of members who ran uncontested. I think this goes a long way to explaining many of the issues with how the Board was operating. I hope people remain engaged and that all future races are contested.
Nancy Dries April 29, 2011 at 03:42 PM
In response to JFC: Committee Minutes are posted on the website. They can be found under Board of Education/Committee Reports.
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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