Last week, voters in Galloway Township and Absecon rejected bond referendums that would have allowed the school districts in the two towns to fund needed capital improvements to their schools.
The votes were certainly not the first time voters have rejected school bond referendums. Indeed, it was the second time the Galloway proposal was voted down.
In January, Upper Township voters - also for the second time - rejected a $15.8 million bond referendum to repair the middle and primary schools. The state would have paid 40 percent of the repair costs, meaning local taxpayers would have had to pay
$9.5 million of the total cost.
Sometimes, in our darker moments, we start to wonder whether voters anywhere will approve any school bond referendum ever again.
An exaggeration, yes. But it's not news that voters everywhere have had it with government spending at all levels. And votes on school budgets and school bond referendums are a handy opportunity to register that displeasure. You don't get to vote on the state budget or your town's budget.
Certainly, voters should scrutinize school and government budgets and weigh in on proposed spending. School boards and town councils do sometimes get carried away.
But all government spending isn't unnecessary or wasteful. And knee-jerk rejections of school spending are particularly distressing. People will tell you they vote no on school spending because they have no children in the schools and shouldn't have to pay for them. Or because teachers make too much money. Or because schools should just hold bake sales instead of raising taxes (as if a district could fund a multimillion-dollar roof repair by selling peach cobblers).
It's all part of a frightening failure to understand the very basis of community. Schools are critical. Educating our young is critical. And paying for that education is the price of living in a thriving, civilized society. If you need a more selfish reason: Good schools raise property values in a community.
The twice-rejected Galloway referendum would have allowed the district to borrow $6.9 million to replace the roofs and fire-alarm systems on three elementary schools. The school board estimated that the cost to taxpayers would have been an additional $14 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home.
The rejected Absecon referendum would have allowed the district to borrow $2.7 million to fund new lighting in a gym and to refurbish 50-year-old middle-school bathrooms that have never been renovated. The expected cost to taxpayers was an additional $30 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home.
As school capital projects go, these seem pretty reasonable. Schools don't need to be Taj Mahals. But they should have good roofs and bathrooms.
The votes were close in Galloway and Absecon. The Galloway referendum lost by 194 votes; the Absecon referendum lost by a mere 10 votes. There may be some solace in that.
But there are no new roofs or bathrooms in it. And that's a shame.