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Budget Stabilizes Finances, Passes With No Drama

Budget is approved, two incumbents in for the next year, one out.

With an admittedly lower level of drama this year versus last year, board of education members and Superintendent of Schools Michael Schilder expressed relief Wednesday that the approved $129 million 2011-2012 school .

"I think people were relieved that this year didn't have the same level of drama," Schilder said. "They were also relieved that we were able to stabilize the finances for the district."

Schilder said he is pleased that a vote for the budget—which according to unofficial results, passed by a vote of 3,183 in favor and 2,290 against—was an indication that the  could move forward with its education plans.

"We're still very much learning to do more with less," he said. "That will be the modus operandi for years to come, and we've certainly done that this year and will do it next year. Educators are creative people and they will continue to learn how to do more with less."

Schilder said that in all the budget presentations he gave both before the board of education and at PTO meetings, there were very few angry comments, just solid educational questions.

The is a 0.67 percent increase over the 2010-2011 school budget, and the budget calls for a 1.5 percent increase in the tax levy instead of the 2 percent cap handed down by the state. Bridgewater residents will see a 2.8 percent increase in their property taxes, amounting to an increase of $145.90 for a home assessed at $410,817.

Raritan residents will see a 0.24 percent increase, or a $9.69 increase for a home assessed at $320,441.

"People were very pleased that we were able to keep the budget increase to 0.67 percent and be able to keep the tax levy increase under the cap," Schilder said. "I am convinced that this district can very much move forward and progress with the limited funds available."

Schilder did say he was pleasantly surprised that all districts in Raritan voted in favor of the budget, though the votes for and against were separated by less than 50 votes. In Raritan, 287 people voted for the budget, and 238 voted against it, according to unofficial results.

In Bridgewater alone, the vote was not as close, with 2,896 voting for the budget and 2,052 voting against it. Roughly 17 percent of those registered to vote in Bridgewater participated in the election.

"Raritan was a pleasant surprise," Schilder said, noting that Raritan notoriously votes down the budget. "I was very pleased that it passed in every site."

As he does every year, Schilder said he never assumes that a budget will pass or not based on comments from residents at meetings.

"I am always cautiously optimistic," he said. "I don't want to overplay or underplay, but we do the best we can in presenting a budget that meets the needs of the students. It's a balancing act that we have to achieve every single year."

And Arvind Mathur, one of two incumbents who reclaimed his seat as a Bridgewater representative on the board of education, said he is pleased that residents supported the budget.

Mathur received 2,092 votes, the second highest of all the candidates, behind incumbent Evan Lerner, who received 2,178. The two won the two open seats on the board of education to represent Bridgewater.

Not winning a seat on the board of education were Barbara Kane, who earned the third highest number of votes with 1,642, followed by Lisa Giranda with 1,366 and Elizabeth Eisinger Lande with 1,140.

As he heads into his fourth term on the board, Mathur said he is ready to work toward stabilizing the district while continuing on the path the board has been following.

"We have a road ahead, and we must support the administration and the teaching staff to help and upgrade the programs and the curriculum," he said. "There will be a lot of challenges ahead financially that we must endure, and we have to make sure that we rebuild the programs and other things we couldn't do before."

Lerner expressed a similar sentiment, saying that he does not believe anything has to change.

"I think we're taking a wonderful direction, and I foresee no changes as a result of today's election, but rather more of the same," he said. "We have to keep doing what we're doing. If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

While he is looking forward to continuing on a relatively similar path with his next term on the board, Lerner said one thing he would like to change is the board's involvement with the senior citizen population. It would be beneficial, he said, to get them involved in the district.

Board members, Lerner said, could take time to discuss the functions of the board of education with the seniors, and the decisions it makes.

As some of the board of education remains the same, the biggest change will happen in Raritan as residents voted out longtime board of education member Al Smith. The voters denied him a fourth term and instead chose Ann Marie Mead to serve in her first term as the Raritan representative.

Of the 525 votes cast in Raritan, Mead received 341, while Smith received 143.

Having served nine years on the board, Smith said he is disappointed to not be returning.

"I enjoyed my time on the board, and I think I accomplished things," he said, naming several achievements including the building of , the hiring of Schilder and additions built on other schools. "Obviously there was some sort of organized thing to get a particular vote because that type of margin doesn't just happen."

At this point, Smith said, he does not know if he will run again for the board—there is only one Raritan representative on the board who serves a regular three-year term, so the seat won't be open again for three years.

"So that is not something to consider now," he said.

Smith said there are a few projects he just has to wrap up from his time on the board and then he can start thinking about his next moves. He said he might consider going into partisan politics, but has not made any decisions yet.

But as Smith leaves the board, Mead said she is looking forward both to learning on the board and bringing her specific business skills to assist in different endeavors.

"I will probably bring a little different perspective," she said. "I have something of a business background and that will help in coming up with strategies."

Plus, Mead said, she has children attending schools in the district, so she can see the impacts board of education decisions have on the students themselves.

But Mead said she also knows she will have some things to learn once she begins her term.

"I think there is a learning curve with a lot to learn, but I don't think it will be difficult to be objective, open or to stand up for my beliefs," she said. "For as much as I know, there is an awful lot I don't know."

"I will take my time and learn what's going on through seeing the processes," she added.

And Mead said she plans to bring a perspective that will help the board increase its interaction with the general public in order to gain more input and provide more information.

Mead said she is pleased to have this new opportunity, and is also happy with the outcome of the vote.

"I'm very glad people voted for the budget," she said. "And I'm humbled by this whole experience."

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