In 1979 - the last time Troyer won a school board election - Jimmy Carter was still president of the United States; the Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan; and Iran had just taken over the U.S. Embassy. While some people claim Troyer's election on April 17 equates to a local disaster, Troyer said that he would have a significant positive impact on the board.
"I'm not an obstructionist; I don't have to be a watchdog, I'm a leader," he said.
With 846 total votes, Troyer finished second in a field of five, taking the seat vacated by board member Douglas MacCormack, who chose not to seek re-election this year.
Incumbent Anthony Rinaldi led the voting with 870, with incumbent Michael Schlemm coming in third with 834.
Candidate Michael Harper, who came in a surprising fourth with 742, said he had lost against the budget, not Troyer.
"If you look at the numbers, nearly everyone who voted against the budget voted for Tom Troyer," he said. With 682 voters, Kathleen McFarlane made the whole race one of the closest in years.
Voters rejected the $19 million budget by a vote of 923 to 619.
Rinaldi, top vote-getter in a surprising close race, said he believed voters re-elected him because of the board's numerous accomplishments over the last three years.
"We did a lot of things well," he said. "We put in over 400 new computers. We started new construction and students will see new classes offered. We instituted block scheduling and put a lot of other innovative ideas to work. I think voters responded to these things."
Schlemm called it a combined effort of a united board.
"I think I worked well with this board and that we did the right things," he said.
Rinaldi and Schlemm both expressed gratitude to the voters for their re-election and grief at the loss of the budget.
"Why did the budget go down?" Schlemm said. "I don't know. I thought we did a good job in presenting it. But this does mean that we're going to have to sit down and take a serious look at the budget for next year."
Although the budget would normally move onto the Town Council for a review and a possible cut, Mayor Elwell said the council had decided to allow the town's financial professionals to review and make recommendations.
"Our professionals will sit down with the board's professionals to work it out," Elwell said.
Troyer said he would like to see $100,000 cut from the budget.
Troyer election a message to the board?
Troyer was the only candidate in five who had openly opposed this year's budget, encouraging voters to defeat it at the poles.
"A 'no' vote on the budget was not a vote against our students, as some political candidates said in the campaign," Troyer said, "but rather a vote against the irresponsible raise given to the administrators."
Large percentage raises given to schools superintendent, principals and other top staff overshadowed this election and contributed - some believe - to Doug McCormick's withdrawal from the board.
"Troyer has Doug MacCormack to thank for his election," said Mayor Dennis Elwell, the other most outspoken critic of the raises, although the mayor had taken no stand on the school district's budget. "If Doug hadn't negotiated the raises he did, he might have run for re-election and Tom would not have had a platform to run on."
Elwell, in analyzing the election, said voters may have felt betrayed.
"Last year voters approved the school budget by a 2 to 1 margin," Elwell said. "They also approved a $6.5 million bond. They had developed a trust in the board, and understood the schools needed to expand. Then, they watched that same board vote 30 percent increases for its top salaried administrators."
Elwell said someone on the board should have stood up and opposed the raises rather than voting unanimously to accept MacCormack's recommendation as chief negotiator. Elwell said MacCormack stood tough against teachers during negotiations last year, yet seemed to cave in when administrators asked for the raises.
"This is going to spell trouble for the board when the teachers' contracts come up again," he said, noting that the raises also had an impact outside the town. "Ever mayor in every town asked me what the hell is going on in Secaucus. They're afraid their administrators are going to ask for the same kinds of raises in those towns."
For taxpayers, the significant defeat of the budget could have an even larger impact. Under a state program, Secaucus received a refund covering nearly half the cost of a $6.5 million bond that was approved last year. School officials were considering floating another bond to cover expansion of the middle school/high school complex. Total refunds from the state would have allowed the board to completely pay off the $6.5 million bond. "Now, I'm not sure anyone will want to propose another bond after voters rejected a budget this badly," Elwell said.
This means Secaucus may have to wait until voter tempers cool to propose the bond, at which time state refunds may not be available.
A different take on the election
MacCormack, however, had a slightly different take when analyzing the election, emphasizing the campaign battle between Troyer and Harper, a feud that took a dramatic pitch in the last five days before the election when Harper released a blistering town-wide mailing against Troyer.
Harper, who finished remarkably 104 votes behind Troyer, had a well-financed campaign, which seemed to have little impact against the surge of voters seeking to dump the budget. Troyer rode the crest of the wave into the board seat.
"Part of it was Michael's age," MacCormack said. Harper is 25 years old. "I had the same problem when I first ran. The good thing about this is that he has plenty of time to run again."
Although Troyer, a former member of the Secaucus Housing Authority, ran a campaign claiming to represent the financial concerns of senior citizens, Harper - a current member of the SHA - held his own in the 1st Ward where all three of the town's senior citizen's buildings are located, taking three of the five voting districts. Troyer, however, took all four of the voting districts in the 2nd Ward, three with significant margins, and split the four districts with Harper in the 3rd Ward. Troyer also beat Harper in absentee ballots.