All along, officials at Millburn Elementary District 24 said they wanted residents to have a choice in a proposed tax hike, and know the ramifications if it passed or failed.
Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly decided they didn't want more taxes, leaving the district to proceed with what are expected to be painful cuts for the 2011-12 school year.
"Now we're down to teachers. That's all we have left to cut," said Lindenhurst resident Laura Brown, who chaired the citizens referendum committee.
Unofficial results showed 1,944 voters against a 73-cent tax rate increase, compared with 1,015 votes for the measure, which would have raised the annual property tax on a $300,000 home by $732.
"They had a tough job and a tough sell," said school board President Shawn Lahr. "We were hopeful, but we're not surprised by the outcome. Property taxes are pretty high the way it is and adding on to it for some people is too much." The defeat means the district will proceed with $1.1 million in cuts, "and that's if the state makes all its payments," according to Brown.
The number of homerooms would be reduced, with corresponding cuts of about 23 teachers or 17 percent of the staff.
"It's going to be bigger class sizes," she said. "That's the only choice." Tenured teachers need to be notified of staff reductions by March.
The district reduced spending by $1.3 million last year and would have needed further but less severe cuts in 2011-12 even if the referendum passed.
The district has 1,677 students in two schools, Millburn Central in Wadsworth and Millburn West in Lindenhurst. Closing Millburn Central is not an option, according to Lahr and Brown. Doing that would result in overcrowding at West, and using portable classrooms would not be allowed while the district has a building available.
The tax increase being sought was enough to offset the state's lack of funding and would have carried the district for five years.
"The referendum committee is disappointed it didn't pass but we're taking it as, `OK, people don't want to pay more money. What do we do now?'" Brown said.