SUSSEX-WANTAGE - The Wantage Committee trimmed $200,000 off the defeated Sussex-Wantage 2004-2005 school budget before approving it at a meeting of school board members and town officials May 5. Sussex Borough agreed with the cuts. "The report was received well by the Wantage governing body, the Sussex Borough governing body and the Sussex-Wantage Board of Education, and the proposed reduction in the tax levy was agreed upon by all parties," said Wantage Township Administrator James R. Doherty. The $21.2 million school budget failed, 602-428, sending it to the governing bodies of both towns for reduction and approval. "The budget reduction will not have an effect on students, staff or programs," said Superintendent of Schools George Papp. "It will slow our progress down on things we wanted to do." Papp noted that the district is in the last year of a five-year strategic plan and needs to develop a plan for the next five years. One of the district's goals is a proposed referendum for repairs and renovations to the district's three school buildings. An alternative plan would include the construction of a new all-inclusive $55-million school on land owned by the district. Forty percent of the construction costs could be funded by the state under the Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act. "We will be meeting with the finance committee at the end of this month," said Papp. "We should know more then how the budget cut will affect the taxpayer. Doherty complained to town officials that asking property owners to subsidize education through a voter-approved budget submitted by elected officials is fundamentally flawed. It leaves governing officials and schools boards between a rock and a hard place. "The law asks voters to offer a vote of approval or disapproval for school budgets," said Doherty. "But it excludes that right from the public when it comes to town, county or New Jersey state budgets. Let the governor and state legislature submit their annual proposed budget to the voters, and then we can celebrate a truly democratic budget approval process." Doherty believes students, taxpayers, municipal and board officials are penalized by the process. But he agreed that the "will of the people" dictated that the 2004-2005 tax levy be less than the proposed budget. The district educates children in Wantage Township and Sussex Borough.