The message voters sent Tuesday was loud and clear: School districts should tighten their belts and not depend on tapped-out taxpayers to provide more money to pay the bills.

Some voters were saying, as well, that school employees should join the real world. Gov. Chris Christie encouraged voters not to approve budgets in districts where teachers refused wage freezes, and Christie's message resonated with many who went to the polls Tuesday. Teachers in only a handful of districts statewide have agreed to a freeze.

That stubborn refusal to share the pain rankles many taxpayers. Cutbacks and wage freezes have been experienced for years in many workplaces.

Government at all levels must accept a new reality. The same budget-cutting sentiment that swept Christie into office undoubtedly was a factor in the resounding defeat of so many school budgets.Then again, usually only about 12 to 15 percent of the electorate turns out for a school election, many of whom are parents and school employees. Statewide, that percentage just about doubled.

Tuesday's school vote certainly was the most contentious in memory. Christie accused schools of using students like "drug mules" to take election information back to their parents. Some teachers attacked Christie venomously - with the 70,000-member Facebook group, New Jersey Teachers United Against Governor Chris Christie's Pay Freeze, calling him obscene names, attacking his weight and comparing him to a genocidal dictator.

Let's hope the rhetoric cools a bit, now that voters have sent their message - and the tough part begins.

Defeated budgets now head for municipal governing bodies.

The will of the voters is pretty clear on most of these budgets, and municipal officials will feel pressed to make some cuts.

If the cuts are insignificant, voters will feel thwarted. If the cuts go too deep, the school board can appeal to the state Department of Education - although the administration is not expected to have a sympathetic ear this year.

Still, many of these defeated budgets already contain layoffs and significant cuts in programs.

The best option: Teachers need to come back to the table. They need to reopen contracts and agree to concessions that would eliminate the need for further cuts, restore many programs and save jobs.

But the message from voters couldn't be clearer: More tax increases aren't acceptable.

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