Manchester school officials on Thursday expressed disappointment with the failure of the district's 2011-12 budget, which was voted down by a 6-percent margin on April 27.
Tallies from the Ocean County clerk's office show that the budget was voted down by 241 votes. According to county data, 1,896 residents, or 47 percent, voted in favor of adopting the budget, while 2,137 residents, or 53 percent, voted against it.
Superintendent of Schools David Trethaway said that a low turnout — about 12 percent of registered Manchester voters went to the polls — and a large senior citizen "no" vote led to the budget's defeat.
"I was obviously extremely disappointed. First of all in the number of people who voted," he said. "It's always been difficult."
County records show that in 2010, 6,768 residents cast a ballot for the budget, which was defeated. This year's election saw 4,033 residents participate in the budget question.
"Even though we tried to reach out in as many ways as we could and try to explain how critical this budget was, we just couldn't get the numbers out," Trethaway said.
Also factored into the budget defeat is Manchester's large senior population, many of whom say fixed incomes make any tax increase difficult to sustain. The budget put forth by the school district called for a tax increase of $54 per year based on the average Manchester assessed home value of $194,100.
Polling data shows that Manchester has 39 districts, 30 of which are located in senior communities. Of those 30 senior communities, two voted in favor of passing the budget, while the rest voted against it.
This "no" vote, Trethaway said, is "always difficult to overcome."
An analysis of the polling data from Manchester's senior districts, including Renaissance and the Crestwood and Leisure villages, shows that a total of 2,106 ballots were cast in these communities, with 74 percent voting against the budget and 26 percent voting in favor of its passage.
Voters in the nine districts outside of senior communities, including Pine Lake Park and Holly Oaks, cast 1,607 votes. Seventy-four percent of these voters approved of the budget, while 26 percent were against it.
Donald Webster Jr., a board of education member who serves as finance chairman, said in a statement that it was "not surprising" that senior communities did not support the budget.
"This is has been the norm for Manchester in the 35-plus years that I have lived here," he wrote. "Unfortunately, to save a few dollars, they are seriously jeopardizing programs that are critical for our students to succeed in college and in the workplace."
The next step in the budget adoption process is for school and township officials to meet and negotiate what further cuts can be made. Trethaway said that potential cuts may include reductions of class trips, middle school sports, advanced placement courses and personnel.
"After last year's cuts, it's very tight at this point," he said. The district made $1.9 million in cuts last year, Trethaway said, so any further cuts are "going to be critical."
"We're in a critical time now, so we'll have to see how it develops," he said. "Hopefully, we won't lose those opportunities, but it's a distinct possibility."
In his statement, Webster said that the district's student resources are "beginning to lag behind" its peers "in most other comparable Ocean County school districts."
"The next few weeks will be critical in determining the quality of education that our students will have," he wrote.
Officials have until May 19 to settle on the tax levy, Trethaway said. The board of education will hold a reorganization meeting on May 4 to make its appointments and will hold its regular meeting on May 11.
Trethaway said that he hopes to schedule another public meeting with township officials to discuss further cuts.