UPDATE: 9:15 p.m. – An exit poll by Chatham Patch Wednesday showed that residents were voting in favor of passing the school budget.
The poll was taken at Chatham High School between the hours of 2 and 3:30 p.m. and between 7 and 8 p.m., and at Chatham Middle School between 4 and 6 p.m.
Of 85 voters polled, 61 said they voted for the budget and 24 voted against it.
Those who voted "no" on the budget cited the economy and the proposed parking lot expansion at Chatham High School as their primary reasons.
Donna Cali-Charles of Chatham Borough said she voted no on the budget. "I feel like with the economiy, they needed to come in with a zero [increase] budget. They can't use state aid as an excuse, and I think they need to do more with less."
Mary L. Kitchell also voted no, saying the proposed parking lot expansion was "absolutely ridiculous."
The budget proposes $400,000 toward expanding the parking lot at Chatham High School to include new spaces to the north of the buildings, alongside the cafeteria. Because the ground there is so wet, the expansion would include civil engineering work to prevent water runoff from affecting adjacent residents.
Out of the 253 parking spaces at Chatham High School, 96 will be available to students for parking in the 2011-2012 academic year. The class of 2012 will have 303 seniors, according to Superintendent Jim O'Neill. Students have the option of parking at the paved lot at Colony Pool, but they have said that walking half a mile to the school without sidewalks would not only be dangerous but also time-consuming. Since Kyleigh's Law prevents people under 21 from driving with more than one passenger under 21, expanding student carpooling is not a viable option, students say.
Kithcell said it was absurd to "insist that taxpayers' money go toward this parking lot because they'd have to walk without any sidewalks. Lots of places have no sidewalks in town, and kids and parents are on them all the time."
Beth Salinardi said the parking lot was not a contentious issue to her. "People use the high school for lots of other things, and they have to park, too," she said.
Those who voted to approve the school budget said they were concerned about the quality and class sizes of the schools, and about property value.
Carol Davide of Chatham Township said she voted yes on the budget because "I think it's important to support the schools and keep the class sizes down so our students can continue to excel."
Township resident Dan Clark said he thought the budget was "responsible" and reasonable. "The cost per pupil in Chatham is among the lowest in the state [in peer districts], and the test scores are among the highest," Clark said. "I think the board does a good job."
Borough resident Ken Burkard said he voted yes on the budget because the thought it was important to support the community through the schools. "We need to keep a strong base for the community, and I think that's important nowadays in this economic climate."
David Gerridge said that he thought that voting against the budget would be "against [his] own interest," since the quality of Chatham schools helps to keep property values high.
Stacey Keenan said that after looking hard at the budget, she found it to be "viable" and that passing it would do more good than not. "Voting it down would not be helpful, even if you disagree with certain aspects," Keenan said.
Barbara Wong of the borough voted yes in part because of the staff addition of a fulltime librarian at both Washington Avenue School and Milton Avenue School in the budget. The schools previously shared a librarian who worked parttime at each school.
"It would be great if we could get a fulltime librarian," Wong said.
Polls close at 9 p.m. at Chatham High School for township residents and at Chatham Middle School for borough residents. Chatham Patch will continue to update this story as further results come in.
Editor's Note: The exit poll cited in this story represents a small percentage of residents and is not meant to be a scientific representation or prediction of the outcome of the elections, only a representation of the thoughts of some residents.