Just 127 votes decided a $12.5 million referendum on school security spending, with voters rejecting a measure that would have allowed the Brick school district to borrow the funding to build “mantraps” at each of the district’s 12 schools and deploy advanced computerized security measures.
The referendum’s outcome was still subject to the count of provisional ballots, which were numerous this year due to a discrepancy in the vote-by-mail law passed by the legislature. Many voters reportedly received mail-in ballots they did not request and were unable to vote at their local polling place. They instead had to fill out a provisional ballot that would be counted later. While the number of ballots would not be enough to affect races with wide margins, the result of the referendum vote could, in theory, change. Still, the referendum effort was seen as a long shot in Brick, where the vast majority of past ballot questions have been rejected by voters and a state plan will already cut more than $20 million annually from the budget and raise taxes by the maximum amount allowed by law for the next seven years.
When asked previously by residents at Board of Education meetings what the district’s plan to increase security would be if the referendum were to fail, officials were short on details. One option would be funding security upgrades as part of the capital portion of the annual operation budget, however with millions of dollars in state funding cuts on the way, that may not be feasible. And even if it is, a piecemeal implementation could take years.
“We want to give every single building the opportunity to be safe and secure at the same time,” said district administrator Dennis Filippone in August, calling it an “impossible choice” to pick and choose which schools would receive upgrades in which order if the referendum were to be defeated.
There were also concerns by some residents that the approximately $6 million that would be reimbursed by the state toward the upgrades would never materialize given Trenton’s budget woes.
“There are no guarantees that we will get that $6 million and change,” said resident George Scott, also at a school board meeting in August. “That worries me.”
District officials were not available to comment on the measure due to the hour.