The referendum to restore $800,000 to Fairfield's education budget failed by a wide margin.

Low voter turnout doomed Tuesday's referendum proposition to restore the money cut in May by the Representative Town Meeting even though more voters cast a "yes" ballot.

In order to be successful, the yes votes not only needed to be in the majority, they needed to constitute at least 25 percent of the town's total registered voters -- or 8,640 -- out of roughly 34,500 voters. However, overall voter turnout was only 22.78 percent, with 4,311 yes votes cast compared to 3,553 no votes.

Even though more "yes" votes were cast than "no" votes, the 25 percent town charter-required threshold was the referendum supporters' downfall. The yes votes would have at least doubled their turnout in order for the referendum to qualify as valid.

John Convertito, the Oyster Road resident who spearheaded the referendum drive, was at old Town Hall for a brief time after the polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday, but left before complete voting results were tallied. When contacted for a comment later Tuesday night, Convertito said he was in a meeting and would release a statement later, but none was forthcoming.

Interim First Selectman Michael Tetreau, who supported the referendum, said that, at first blush, he wasn't sure what to make of the results. But, he added, the total turnout was large even if it didn't meet the threshold requirement.

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HOW THEY VOTED Here's the district-by-district breakdown of the vote in this week's referendum on the Fairfield education budget. The overall tally was 4,311 "yes" votes in favor of restoring $800,000 to the education budget and 3,553 "no" votes. The referendum fell short of the 8,640-vote threshold the "yes" voters needed for the count to be valid. • District 1: 345 yes, plus 5 absentees 486 no, 19 absentees 23.07 percent turnout • District 2: 570 yes, plus 3 absentees 446 no, 13 absentees 26.57 percent turnout • District 3: 388 yes, plus 6 absentees 405 no, 13 absentees 21.42 percent turnout • District 4: 524 yes, plus 8 absentees 300 no, 6 absentees 29.47 percent turnout • District 5: 237 yes, plus 4 absentees 159 no, 8 absentees 13.99 percent turnout • District 6: 443 yes, plus 5 absentees 266 no, 6 absentees 20.54 percent turnout • District 7: 390 yes, plus 6 absentees 285 no, 8 absentees 22.03 percent turnout • District 8: 464 yes, plus 8 absentees 366 no, 7 absentees 22.62 percent turnout • District 9: 448 yes, plus 4 absentees 354 no, 19 absentees 23.67 percent turnout • District 10: 450 yes, plus 3 absentees 373 no, 14 absentees 23.86 percent turnout

"I think the results send a clear message to all the elected officials, and not only because we have an election coming up, that we need to make sure more people's voices are heard and more people are involved earlier in the budget process," he said.

Balloting was low tech, with votes cast on paper ballots and deposited into wooden boxes instead of the usual opti-scan voting machines. The ballots were hand counted at each of the town's 10 polling stations.

The absentee ballots were counted at old Town Hall, with the no votes easily beating the yes votes 113 to 52, but supporters of the referendum won in eight out of the town's 10 voting districts.

As a result of the referendum's defeat, the approved budget for the Board of Education stands at $145.6 million for 2011-12, an overall reduction of $2.8 million from what school officials had initially requested earlier in the year.

The town's current education budget is $141.6 million.

Members of the Board of Education, meeting in regular session Tuesday night, expressed disappointment that the referendum had failed.

"I'm disappointed because if it went through we were definitely getting a world language program -- 100 percent back -- into the schools," said board member Sue Dow of the 50 percent cut imposed in the program. "We were going to get the full program back."

Dow said $400,000 of the $800,000 that advocates wanted to add back to the school budget would have restored the world language program to full status.

Board member Perry Liu said, "I think I've been very outspoken about wanting to do better as a board, as a school district, to put our money where it can be best used and how to use it better, and I still think we can do better and I'm not always happy with some of the outcomes of the votes of how we use our money, but stripping the budget so much is not the answer.

"The answer is if you do have a problem with the amount of money the board has and how it's being used, get on the phone and talk to these board members and tell them you want changes. But stripping the board of $800,000, as some kind of example, is just hurting the kids," he added.

Pamela Iacono, the school board's vice chairwoman, said, "I appreciate the democratic process and I thank everyone who got involved on both sides of the issue and now I think it's time for all of us to come together and accept the budget and start planning for next year."

Staff writer Kirk Lang contributed to this report.

HOW THEY VOTED

Here's the district-by-district breakdown of the vote in this week's referendum on the Fairfield education budget. The overall tally was 4,311 "yes" votes in favor of restoring $800,000 to the education budget and 3,553 "no" votes. The referendum fell short of the 8,640-vote threshold the "yes" voters needed for the count to be valid.

- District 1: 345 yes, plus 5 absentees

486 no, 19 absentees

23.07 percent turnout

- District 2: 570 yes, plus 3 absentees

446 no, 13 absentees

26.57 percent turnout

- District 3: 388 yes, plus 6 absentees

405 no, 13 absentees

21.42 percent turnout

- District 4: 524 yes, plus 8 absentees

300 no, 6 absentees

29.47 percent turnout

- District 5: 237 yes, plus 4 absentees

159 no, 8 absentees

13.99 percent turnout

- District 6: 443 yes, plus 5 absentees

266 no, 6 absentees

20.54 percent turnout

- District 7: 390 yes, plus 6 absentees

285 no, 8 absentees

22.03 percent turnout

- District 8: 464 yes, plus 8 absentees

366 no, 7 absentees

22.62 percent turnout

- District 9: 448 yes, plus 4 absentees

354 no, 19 absentees

23.67 percent turnout

- District 10: 450 yes, plus 3 absentees

373 no, 14 absentees

23.86 percent turnout