Save Our Schools Montclair (SOS) received over 1,000 signatures on their grass roots petition this week. The group has been collecting signatures since November 2010 to tell the Board of Education that parents and residents will not accept the closing of schools, shortening of the kindergarten day or increasing classroom size.
Christine McGoey, one of the founders of Save Our Schools, announced the latest petition numbers at last night’s town council meeting, explaining that, “People have signed from all walks of life, people without children in the schools, people who are concerned about property values and the use of their tax dollars to support our Magnet system.”
McGoey says, “People are telling us they are very concerned about the lack of due diligence in the decision-making process the Board is using to decide these cuts. Numerous petition signers have said that bad decision making has led to school closures in the past. Many have mentioned that the short sighted closure of the Grove Street School (which is now being operated as a private school) ended up costing tax payers tens of millions of dollars when the public had to pay to replace that school later. “
SOS supporters are concerned about the lack of due diligence since comments from BOE President Shelly Lombard at the last public meeting on January 10. In response to questions from SOS and the public, she and others on the Board admitted that “no studies have been done” on the potential impact of these school closures on academic performance or racial/socioeconomic diversity in school populations. “There just isn’t enough time,” Lombard and others said.
McGoey said that 33% of petition signers specifically commented that they moved to Montclair because of our schools and Magnets, and an additional 10% had concerns about their property values. “People understand that the stability of the schools and the town are linked.” McGoey adds that parents and school supporters are having to look into data on closures and consolidations themselves. School supporter Gabriela Bambrick-Santoyo, M.D., who has been reviewing the leading research said, “The best existing academic research data shows that school closures and consolidations do not save taxpayers any money and often cost money. Worse yet, in higher income districts they have been shown to actually harm property values by as much as 3.5%.”
Many petitioners say closing any of our schools as a primary way to cut costs is like throwing the baby out withthe bath water and offends common sense. These are all vibrant learning environments that are performing well. “No viable school, let alone excelling school, should be closed. Cut administrative costs, not teachers and classrooms,” said one petitioner, who was the 1,070th to sign. The two targeted schools, Renaissance and Edgemont, are high performing schools.
“This smacks of panic-thinking,” said another SOS supporter. “These are not wise strategic decisions. If our Board wants to make our Magnet schools sustainable, they will find a way to get through this without closing schools.”
Save Our Schools is asking the members of the Town Council on the Board of Estimates that approves the school budget submitted by the BOE to scrutinize the numbers and not to approve a budget closing schools without proper due diligence.
The next Board of Education meeting will be held on Monday, January 24 at 7 pm in the atrium of the George Inness Annex at MHS, 141 Park Street, Montclair, 07042.