Millstone returns incumbents, approves base budget

Two secondary spending questions defeated on Tuesday by township’s voters.

By: Scott Morgan
   MILLSTONE — The township school board elections began with five candidates, three open seats and a three-part budget question.
   On Tuesday, voters decided to give all three seats back to the incumbents while green-lighting the district’s general operating budget. The remaining budget questions, however, were rejected.
   School board President Patricia Coffey, Mary Ann Friedman and Mary Pinney were re-elected to new terms in a race that favored current blood over new. Ms. Coffey received the majority of votes, garnering 837. Ms. Friedman was second with 757 while Ms. Pinney received 719.
   First-time candidates Lynne Mele and Dawn Maltz received 505 and 293 votes, respectively.
   Voters approved the district’s base operating budget of $19.9 million, which carries a 12 percent tax increase, by a total of 710-614. The operating budget provides money for items such as payment of utilities, salaries, benefits, textbooks and tuition to Allentown High School.
   However, voters denied $238,000 toward a guidance counselor at the middle school, a part-time nurse, a supervisor for the special education program, a gifted-and-talented teacher for both the elementary and middle schools, technology structures and additional academic extracurricular activities such as an online school magazine, peer mediation, a math team and an Odyssey of the Mind team. The measure failed, 696-636.
   Voters also rejected $25,000 toward boys’ and girls’ lacrosse teams at the middle school. The question was defeated, 894-420.
   The passing of the operating budget means $4,540 in school taxes for the owner of a house assessed at the township average of $322,000. The new school tax rate is $1.41 per $100 of assessed value, up 15 cents from last year’s adjusted rate of $1.26 per $100.
   At the heart of this year’s school board race were issues of overcrowding, growth, the sending-receiving relationship with the Upper Freehold Regional School District, retaining good teachers and the possible need for a new high school.
   Growth issues were a concern of all candidates. Millstone has its own elementary and middle schools, and sends its high school students to Allentown High School in the Upper Freehold Regional district. The township has seen a 17 percent increase in its K-8 student population since 1998.
   Ms. Coffey, who has served as board president or vice president for the past 10 years, has said she will continue to work with state legislators and officials on school funding issues.
   Ms. Friedman, a single-term incumbent, said she is "thrilled" to have the opportunity to continue serving. Ms. Friedman also said she is equally thrilled that the operating budget was passed, though she admitted to being disappointed that the second part was rejected.
   "We needed everything," she said.
   Ms. Pinney, who was appointed to complete the unexpired term of Philip Mancuso last year, said she will focus on getting people better informed about the school system.
   Ms. Mele, who spoke during her campaign of the importance of retaining high-quality teachers, could not be reached for comment. Ms. Maltz also could not be reached for comment, although her husband, Mayor Evan Maltz, said he is proud of his wife’s efforts and that she would have done a good job on the board. He added, however, the incumbents will do just fine.
   The incumbents will be sworn in at the school board’s reorganization meeting Monday night.