Montclair BoE: Final Budget

BY  |  Monday, Feb 28, 2011 11:00pm  |  COMMENTS (67)

The BoE keeps schools open but nixes aides.

Updated with clarification on the funding going to the Montclair Community Pre-K.

Thank goodness for that $4.6 million in state aid. That’s about $4.6 million more than the Montclair Board of Education had hoped for.

This money means that all of Montclair’s schools–i.e. Edgemont and Renaissance–will remain open for the 2011-2012 school year. The current busing system (1 mile away from the school) will stay the same. The Montclair Community Pre-K will receive funding [for the use of the classrooms that house the DLC and tuition for the DLC children that attend MCPK classes.] “With the additional funds, we’re excited about funding additional programs,” Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez said. “We’ll create a budget that’s sustainable for the upcoming year.” Read the backstory here.

But not everyone was happy at tonight’s BoE meeting. Even though the emergency Plan B was scrapped, the board still had to make cuts. The overall budget was down by 2.5 percent with just 4.6 percent of the money coming from the state. Long story short: Cuts had to come from somewhere.

Mainly, the BoE chose to outsource Montclair’s 200 or so paraprofessionals. As of June 30, they will be pink slipped. Teacher’s aids, including special needs aids, made passionate pleas for the board to reconsider. So did several concerned parents, commenting until 10:30 p.m. But as the meeting ended, the decision was final: The system of hiring aids will be privatized through the Essex County Service Commission and no longer through the BoE. Current aids might have the chance to be rehired by ECSC, but they will be hired without their current benefits.

Board member Shirley Grill had a lot to say: “State aid has come through, but we dodged a bullet.” She went on to voice disappointment about the schools that will remain open. “Closing a school would’ve given us half a million dollars. This could’ve been done without eliminating choice.”

Here are more highlights from the meeting:

  • A private consultant will be hired to suggest cuts for next year at a cost of $75,000.
  • $25,000 in funding will go back to the IMANI program.
  • Part-time floating librarians will be hired.
  • $375,000 will be allotted to technology.
  • The tax levy will decrease by 3.6 percent meaning the average Montclair resident will pay $131 in school taxes.
  • A feeder school will be created from Bullock to Renaissance.
  • The busing system will be reconsidered next year when new contracts might be made.
  • The BoE hopes to bring in funding by bringing in out-of-district special needs students.
  • They hope to bring in revenue by creating a committee to rent out school athletic fields and theaters.
  • More money can be brought in by selling retail school supplies directly to students.

Next up is the 2012-2013 school year. “Again, we will be looking at closing schools,” Grill said. “We must have the courage to make changes to meet the needs of the community.”

This year’s budget passed, and the BoE will submit their recommendations to the county. It will be finalized at a meeting on March 14. “Hopefully, this is actually it,” Alvarez said.

View the entire budget document here. You can also see the Capital Budget here.

67 Comments

  1. POSTED BY bebopgun  |  March 01, 2011 @ 6:52 am

    75k for a consultant. Amazing. That money should be deducted from the good Dr Alvarez’s salary. Oh well, I guess consultants have to eat, too.

  2. POSTED BY qby33  |  March 01, 2011 @ 7:50 am

    Sad day. I wouldn’t call laying off over 200 people dodging a bullet. The school will go through a drastic change laying off the folks that do more for this school than most of the public will ever know. Outsourcing the people who directly impact the children and not the secretaries or janitors? Pathetic.

  3. POSTED BY saras  |  March 01, 2011 @ 9:01 am

    There were many better cost cutting options than outsourcing the assistants. This was a terrible thing to do. They only had one more year under their current contract. Montclair, like the rest of NJ, has bought into Christie’s mantra– blame the unions at all cost. Wake up Montclair– it behooves us to have a qualified, long term employees teaching our children.

  4. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  March 01, 2011 @ 9:08 am

    (Putting this as a teaser on b-net, forcing us to click to b-kids without even a link- which, I guess wouldn’t register as a “unique” visit, is shameless and obvious.)

    I sure hope the BOE is planning for next year.

  5. POSTED BY qby33  |  March 01, 2011 @ 9:33 am

    Hey, some of the pink slip people could be excellent consultants at a fraction of that price. They know everything that goes on in those schools and exactly where the “waste” is!!!

  6. POSTED BY bluecookie  |  March 01, 2011 @ 9:37 am

    How does half a million dollars (estimated savings of closing a school) create a sustainable budget of $110 Million dollars? Is that the change the vision for the district? Let’s be real! There are many more non-instructional items the board refuses to consider.

    The aids are critical to the learning environment. I hope that negotiations continue with the MEA and the Board. The aids are not only district employees, but our neighbors and Montclair tax-payers.

  7. POSTED BY dazedandconfused  |  March 01, 2011 @ 9:52 am

    Now onto the Municipal Budget, with the proposed 7% increase. The Town Manager keeps referring to all the cuts and layoffs and the best he can come up with is 7%????

  8. POSTED BY bethechange  |  March 01, 2011 @ 10:04 am

    The aides outsourcing is NOT a done deal…Parents and staff need to continue to fight over the next few months, AND the staff needs to demand that their union and Board “be creative,” as one parent said last night, and go back to the negotiating table. This is too big of an issue (that will have a domino effect on our schools and ALL of our students) to simply let it go and think that the proposed $1.7 million in savings with the outsourcing won’t cost more in the long and short run. I was at the meeting last night, and many aides and parents spoke passionately and articulately. It is not logical to think that Montclair can both bring back some of the Special Ed students who are currently out of district (an an average of $80,000 a year) AND attract students from other districts while getting rid of the very people who have the training to make our in-house programs successful! The powerpoint by Ms. Grill and Mr. Susswein said several times about the great revenue they would like to create by having great programs with highly trained staff. You do not outsource, pay less, and have staff who may or may not be trained in special education and expect people to come flocking back.

  9. POSTED BY kay  |  March 01, 2011 @ 10:06 am

    “Closing a school would’ve given us half a million dollars. This could’ve been done without eliminating choice.”

    Someone please help me understand how eliminating a school will not eliminate a choice?

    Also – Ms Grill states that they’ll be looking to close a school anyway next year. Since they’re earmarking Bullock as a feeder to Renaissance, I guess what she’s really saying is, “Hey Edgemont, your days are numbered, for real this time!” This stinks.

    Bluecookie says, “There are many more non-instructional items the board refuses to consider.” — Methinks you’re right!

  10. POSTED BY kyle41181  |  March 01, 2011 @ 10:19 am

    qby33,

    Couldnt have said it better myself.

    “Outsourcing the people who directly impact the children and not the secretaries or janitors? Pathetic.”

    I have been beating this drum for 3 years. We need to outsource as much as possible except when it comes to Safety(police, Fire) and Direct Educators(Teachers, Aides).

  11. POSTED BY njgator  |  March 01, 2011 @ 10:19 am

    bluecookie – the real motiviation here is not saving $500k. It’s reallocating space to the higher grades. We don’t have the money to build more space for the high school (we can’t even afford the $30M we have to pay off for Bullock), so we’re going to shuffle the deck chairs to make that happen.

    It seems to me like the Board is going to hide behind the hired consultant next year to validate all of the unpopular things they were looking at this year. School closings, transportation changes and school start times will all be up for consideration. Tell me, how many incoming K parents will be ranking Edgemont high this year, knowing it will likely be on the chopping block again next year?

    Also, there was a pretty big discussion about revenue generation for the district. The two big ideas for this were the insourcing of Special Education – this would be a two step process, first bringing Montclair resident special ed students currently being serviced out of district back into the district this September. This would be for cost avoidance. The next step would be to attract other districts to send their special ed students to Montclair and pay tuition to our district for this starting in Sept 2012. This would be the revenue generaton portion. It was discussed that it must be determined which special ed group would be targeted and that someone would need to be hired by April to coordinate this and market the district’s services to the parents in order to start bringing kids back in district for Sept 11. Hello. It’s March 1. We haven’t even started the hiring process for this. How on earth will we get someone qualified in for this position in only a month? It was also ironically noted that it would be difficult to market our services to this community when we are outsourcing and likely downgrading the quality of the assistants that will be serving this population.

    The other revenue generating idea is to be proactive about renting out the districts facilities to bring in more money. Again it was discussed that someone would need to be hired by April 1 to get organized for the summer and the upcoming school year. We don’t even have a job description for this position yet.

    All of these revenue generating ideas were first discussed when? And we’re just trying to implement them now? Chalk this up to another lost year.

  12. POSTED BY crankinmontclair  |  March 01, 2011 @ 10:31 am

    1) Can someone explain how making Bullock a feeder to Renaissance saves money?
    2) Can someone explain how we can feel good about taking benefits away from aides?

  13. POSTED BY njgator  |  March 01, 2011 @ 10:37 am

    carnk – Making Bullock feed into Renaissance does not save money. Making Bullock feed into Renaissance will increase diversity in that school and probably increase enrollment. I believe the issue is that Renaissance is not as integrated as the other middle schools. Currently no school feeds into Renaissance, only those who request to attend via Freedom of Choice end up there.

  14. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 11:34 am

    njgator makes an excellent point in that several tasks were discussed in the revenue generation presentation that must occur on a very short time-frame to have an impact within the next year. The modifications to the budget resulting from that unexpected $1.1M were presented only at a very high level, but I didn’t see these tasks in there.

    Does that mean that we’re already in trouble, in that we’ve tasks we’re hoping to perform that are already unfunded? I’m unclear about how that would work, or even whether the revenue-generation presentation was something being proposed for discussion or something that will be done.

    It seems to me that that $1.1M – which we need to view as a one-time boon – could provide a seed for something that could grow into a more sustainable district. But I’m not clear whether the BOE sees the same thing.

    …Andrew

  15. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 11:43 am

    Several BOE members used the phrase “dodged a bullet” last night. I think that wrong. A better metaphor might be “dodged a boomerang”. The problem will be right back next year.

    There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the reserve fund is being drained for this year’s operating expenses. This is no better than the idiocy of selling an asset to fund expenses for a single year, with the same consequence: we’ve the same expenses next year but no extra asset.

    This isn’t the BOE’s or central office’s fault, though. Apparently, this is being required by the state. That’s right: at the start of the process, we’re being required by the state to mismanage our finances. So much for the acclaimed “fiscal soundness” of Christie’s policies.

    This isn’t all, though. The second reason is that we’re once again depending upon a chunk of state aid for our operations. On one hand, this is as it should be. But on the other hand, there’s no guarantee of this aid next year. This means that next year’s budget process will once again be an exercise in multiple scenarios.

    Hopefully, this will be handled better than this year. As I’ve written previously, there’s a process that would smooth this out: prioritize items, and then simply pull from the stack – in priority order – those we can afford once we learn the revenue we can expect.

    So while we’ve dodged the boomerang this year, we cannot rest. We need to stay ready to deal with it as it swings around for our head once again.

    …Andrew

  16. POSTED BY sohobound  |  March 01, 2011 @ 11:47 am

    The reality is that the costs are out of control! Something has to give. Thanks Board of Education for making the hard choices. Now let’s work to get the high school back on track for better ratings, while continuing to look at ways to re-tool all the schools and make things more efficient. Otherwise, many will be priced out of Montclair!

    Let’s see the Town Council work as hard on the municipal budget!

  17. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 11:58 am

    A few people have said that there are non-instructional items still available to cut. I hope that people continue to pursue these. I don’t know why, aside perhaps from scale, we’re not looking at outsourcing more of the non-instructional staff.

    The BOE mentioned last night that there were still some open issues that had been created by the various working groups. These are possible changes that would save money that have yet to be reviewed by central office (or so I presume). We need to make sure that these don’t get dropped by a board or a central office that is busy breathing a sigh of relief over having “dodged a bullet” (with which I disagree; see my previous note).

    However, I really do wish that people would listen to why some ideas are rejected. Once again last night, someone brought up the issue of selling central office. I’ve no opinion on whether we should keep central office there or move them, but SELLING AN ASSET TO FUND EXPENSES IS FOOLISH.

    Forgive me the virtual shout, but this point doesn’t seem to be sinking in. We’ve seen the township play this fiscal chicanery with us – selling off the old DMV inspection station and using the funds for a year – and they’re even apparently considering it again. We should be fighting to block such games that benefit nobody but the politicians (and perhaps a developer) rather than proposing more of them.

    There was mention last night of a new graduation requirement involving “financial knowledge”. I was excited to hear that, as an informed citizen/taxpayer/parent/voter must have some basic understanding of finance so as to know when someone’s trying to “pull a fast one”.

    Selling off an asset to fund operating expenses is “pulling a fast one”, whether it’s the schools or the town committing this. We need to push back against such chicanery.

    …Andrew

  18. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

    There’s one thing I should add about outsourcing non-instructional staff: Some of this has already been done in previous years. However, I do believe that there’s room for more, at least in theory.

    …Andrew

  19. POSTED BY Georgette Gilmore  |  March 01, 2011 @ 12:20 pm

    “Putting this as a teaser on b-net, forcing us to click to b-kids without even a link- which, I guess wouldn’t register as a “unique” visit, is shameless and obvious.”

    Damn! You got us prof. That’s exactly why we didn’t add the link. I’m so ashamed at my obvious manipulation of clicks to our website. You’re one smart cookie prof.

  20. POSTED BY montclair97  |  March 01, 2011 @ 12:30 pm

    Is Renaissance going to increase it’s enrollment, or will the number of Bullock students who automatically get into Renaissance just reduce the number of other students who’d like to attend? I’m not for or against either way, but it might make a big difference in how many people choose Bullock as their elementary school.

    I, too, don’t understand how we will attract special needs kids back into our district if we’re outsourcing aides…

  21. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

    One aspect of last night’s meeting that was especially interesting was that some of the speakers were finally addressing the MEA. There seemed to be a sense that the MEA was doing nothing for the aides.

    Not being privy to whatever discussions have been occurring between the MEA and BOE, I’ve no idea what’s happening or not happening. However, I did notice a few things last night.

    For example, at one point – defending the MEA against some of the speakers – an MEA representative (or so I presume; she wasn’t “Marge” but had been sitting with her) claimed that the BOE had not said anything about what the MEA could to do prevent the aides’ jobs from being outsourced. A BOE member then responded that she had offered exactly that previously. She repeated the offer: if the MEA took a 4.5% cut, the aides would not be outsourced.

    This suggests that the MEA representative was not being truthful, or perhaps hadn’t received full information from those in the MEA negotiating with the BOE.

    Rather than running with this offer, and perhaps offering a counteroffer or even a desire to take the conversation private, the representative simply rejected it. That was a wasted opportunity.

    This suggests to me that the MEA-complainers were correct. It looks like the MEA is playing tough, perhaps in anticipation of the larger teachers’ contract negotiation that’s coming up.

    The MEA representative also used the phrase “don’t air dirty laundry” to try to shut down those complaining about the MEA. That was especially amusing to me given the effort the BOE has been putting into transparency.

    …Andrew

  22. POSTED BY njgator  |  March 01, 2011 @ 12:40 pm

    I was actually pretty appalled by the comments made by the head of the MEA. She said she was out of town for the previous meeting and only “read about it in the Montclair Times”. Seriously? With the jobs of so many of her members at stake that’s it? No watching the meeting on TV34? Reading the minutes? Dialogue with members of the board? Having another member of the MEA represent her at the meeting? She’s had no interaction with the BOE since the last meeting that she attended?

    Our aides deserve better.

  23. POSTED BY stu  |  March 01, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

    If I was one of the union fee paying aides, I would be livid with their union representatives. We should all be grateful that they will continue to work as they are contracted to do, but if it were me I’d be inflating a rat outside their office.

  24. POSTED BY Peter Simon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

    Andrew,

    Seems to me that the chicanery runs very far up the food chain. Municipalities in NJ are in a fiscal pickle because of policy decisions and structural issues that are much bigger than any amount of line-item cost-cutting can address, and pretty much beyond the reach of those municipalities’ governing bodies.

    To take one example: health care costs are a problem because of macro-level trends and policy decisions at the federal level. If those macro issues were addressed (single payer, anyone?), this community and this country wouldn’t be facing a future of unsupportable health-benefits expenses. Bitter denunciations of the benefits plans that teachers negotiated for, especially when delivered in a “my-benefits-suck, so-why-don’t-theirs?” tone, is divisive and counterproductive. The problem is a national one, and our anger would be more productively directed toward Washington than toward our friends and neighbors who work for our municipality.

    Does that mean that we shouldn’t discuss efficiencies and cost savings here in Montclair? No, of course not. But I think it does mean that we should try to divide our energies as citizens into different compartments and do our best to advocate for change at the appropriate levels of government. Exploding health care costs are best dealt with by all of us speaking out in one way or the other at the national level. The peculiar structure of education funding in NJ, which is part of the reason for our high property taxes, is something that we can best address by confronting our elected officials in Trenton. Redundancies at the administrative level of any of our municipal departments can only be addressed in township meetings. And so on.

    For every issue, there is an appropriate level of government at which the issue is most productively addressed. And some issues seem almost tailor-made to lure municipalities into distracting and unproductive debates that use up people’s time and energy, leaving them too exhausted to cause trouble for the policy-makers further up the food chain. Knowing which is which is an essential civic skill.

  25. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 12:58 pm

    I’m no fan of the MEA representative, but to be fair: TV34 was not able to record the previous BOE meeting due to a scheduling conflict (and a lack of support on the part of the BOE for TV34′s efforts, but admittedly the BOE has been a little busy recently *grin*).

    On the other hand, given that the MEA representative didn’t know that the meeting hadn’t been recorded, it does seem a fair bet that she’d not sought the recording.

    And yes, that does still leave reading minutes, talking to the BOE, sending a replacement to represent her… all actions she’s apparently failed to take.

    …Andrew

  26. POSTED BY njgator  |  March 01, 2011 @ 1:25 pm

    Peter – I do truly hope that one day single payer health care is a reality, but that day is a long way off. And while we should keep fighting for that, that is not going to bring financial relief to this district NOW.

    Unfortunately with employee salary and benefits at over 80% of the total BOE budget, there is really no solution to the problem of a longterm sustainable budget that does not address these issues. For every 5% reduction in the budget that we need, if we ignore 80% of the total pie, we have to cut 25% from everything else. That’s a recipe for disaster for our kids.

    It is simply unrealistic to continue to ask taxpayers – many of whom are jobless or working under pay cuts or wage freezes to continue to bear the brunt of larger than inflationary tax increases in order to fund benefits that are far more generous than those available to the public at large. The rate of tax increases in Montclair is unsustainable. And if you think people are angry now, wait until that reassessment comes along in 2012 and people see in black and white that they are paying over 3% of the value of their home each and every year in taxes while services are cut to the bone because of layoffs and user fees increased 50% all for existing employees maintain those great benefits. How many people will want to buy your house then? If we don’t address the financial issues that the town is facing our property values will nosedive after the reassessment and we will be right back to square one with the revenue disaster.

    Call me selfish and cantankerous if you’d like, but I’d rather see more people employed by the township and the BOE with realistic benefits.

  27. POSTED BY njgator  |  March 01, 2011 @ 1:28 pm

    One other thing also comes to mind from a funding perspective. I’ve heard time and time again people talk about our DFG grouping. How Montclair is grouped with some of the wealthiest communities in the state, even though we have a much higher low SES population than those towns. This results in diminished state aid to the schools. I’ve heard at previous board meetings the idea of challenging this. Is there a specific reason that this hasn’t been done? Or is this just one of the many ideas that no one has picked up and ran with?

  28. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

    @Peter I’ve no argument with the idea that the chicanery and games go up the “food chain”. I’m not convinced that single payer would *reduce* health care costs – at least by itself – but it would at least consolidate them and remove health care as a variable in so many of the choices being faced by everyone in the US. It would simplify the issue as we could deal with health care costs to one side and all these other issues to the other side.

    With respect to “my-benefits-suck, so-why-don’t-theirs?”: I assume everyone’s heard by now some variation of the “that union guy wants a piece of your cookie” joke. That’s an unfortunately apt description of the current political situation.

    With respect to different levels: I do believe that we need to be dealing at the state level with the funding formula. Given our lack of industry in town combined with the socio-economic realities of the town, I believe that the state can and should do better. However, this is an area where I’m very ignorant so I could easily be wrong. Still, depending so heavily on property taxes seems an unfair burden on people that might have owned their homes for a long time, people who’ve seen their incomes drop significantly – by choice or otherwise – since they invested in a home, etc.

    …Andrew

  29. POSTED BY kay  |  March 01, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

    I copied this data about Renaissance from the NJ school report card for 2009-2010 6th graders and figured out how to make Excel calculate the percentages (yay, me!)

    total: 85
    male - 43: 50.59%
    female - 42: 49.41%
    white - 44: 51.76%
    black - 29: 34.12%
    asian - *
    hispanic - *
    economically disadvanted - 12: 14.12%

    let’s say for the sake of argument that there are 6 asian students and 6 hispanic (although the hispanic students could also be counted as “white” or “black”, hence my issue with the census and the whole pick-a-race thing, if any of you remember my rant last year. But I digress.) That would mean that asian and hispanic students each hypothetically represent 7% of the 6th grade population. Add that in with the “black” category and the total non-white population ends up at about 48%. Granted, I am guessing here but at least it’s a rough idea.

    I couldn’t find overall demographics for the entire school in a nice, neat place and unfortunately have to go back to work now. My point is, Renaissance is fairly well integrated IMHO and I don’t think that was the reason for the feeder change – thought it had only to do with generating a direct path similar to the other schools.

  30. POSTED BY Peter Simon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

    njgator,

    I wouldn’t call you ‘selfish or cantankerous’. You’re clearly engaged and concerned and have done a ton of research. And you’ve lived here long enough to have strong, well-informed opinions.

    Where you and I (seem to) agree is on this point: as services are cut to the bone, and as Montclair’s schools are (perceived to be) not living up to the community’s expectations, Montclair property values will suffer. You also believe that tax increases will have the same effect on property values. That’s where you and I part ways: I think the negative effects of the former far exceed those of the latter.

    Though most of the comments here on Baristanet take it as a given that cuts are needed and a 0% tax increase is the best of all possible worlds, I’m of the opinion that if the fervor for cutting gets out of hand, exceeding the actual financial realities on the ground (i.e., if the real financial condition of Montclair’s households is such that most of them could shoulder a low single-digit % tax increase each year), then it’s possible that the damage done to Montclair’s property values will eclipse whatever short-term tax savings we’ve secured for ourselves.

  31. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

    @njgater You’ve set up a conditional that’s almost axiomatic: If we cut more than we need to cut then we’re doing something bad to the schools. How can this possibly be wrong (assuming, as is clearly the case, that our schools are not overburdened with excess cash)?

    Left unaddressed is the question of what exactly we need to cut. More specifically: how much of a tax increase each year is tolerable to Montclair households? You point out that many are assuming that the number, at least now, is zero. You imply that you believe this number is higher. How high do you think it is?

    …Andrew

  32. POSTED BY qby33  |  March 01, 2011 @ 4:06 pm

    The MEA should be embarassed of themselves. It is “dirty laudry” and it will continue to get aired! Teachers did not get a vote whether the aides would be outsourced…. nobody got a vote. If the aides had time to inflate a rat, they probably would. They are busy right now doing their JOBS.
    Andrew…not so sure I agree with you about the transparency of this appointed Board. The jury is still out on that one.

  33. POSTED BY montkid12  |  March 01, 2011 @ 4:15 pm

    As a student at Montclair I can assure you that outsourcing the aides will not change the school environment in any major way. When in the classrooms the teacher is running the show, so they just sit there and make sure that the student they are assigned to is not uncomfortable or interfering with the learning environment. Quite often they are texting. From what I understand to be an aide there aren’t very strict requirements beyond a high school diploma, which means that they are not professionals just hired help. Which means anyone can do it, and they don’t need to be employed directly by the district.

  34. POSTED BY njgator  |  March 01, 2011 @ 4:33 pm

    Andrew – My numbers above were just to demonstrate the affect of making fairly sizeable overall budget reductions over just a small percentage of the total budget. We’ve seen the board do this over the last 2 budget cycles to, what I believe, is the detriment of our kids.

    Honestly, as you’re well aware, we have a lot of bigger picture financial issues in this town that are or will be really tieing our hands. There’s our ticking time bomb of Municipal and BOE Debt which are going to increase our expenses a lot, even if we hold the line on everything else. What’s the BOE’s 5 year budget plan look like as we start to pay the prinicpal on the Bullock School? While our expenses are increasing, our revenue is decreasing. I know I sound like a broken record on this, but we are burning a bloody fortune with this tax assessment mess. $1.7M to keep the aides on payroll? Well we’re throwing away at least $3M this year because town management ignored this. That’s $3M that we are getting NOTHING for. And while there has been talk of fixing this for 2012, I have not heard yet that we have gotten approval to reassess. Until we receive the approval for that, it’s entirely possible this situation will continue into 2012.

    Many of us who have been railing the loudest about the tax situation in this town are not railing solely about the amount of taxes they pay (if that were our only issue, Stu and I wouldn’t be moving to Glen Ridge) but how the money has been spent. I want to see more of our tax dollars actually benefit the kids or the town as a whole, and not just burned up in a bonfire at 205 Claremont while we befriend the Chinese and add more electric car charging stations.

    I seem to recall Cary saying recently that the municipal tax rate will go up in 2012 by 2 points solely from debt service. This does not even include the additional increase to the rate that will occur from this year’s decline in ratables (for this year that was 2 whole points for the BOE). We could easily be up over 5 points in the rate before any additional spending occurs. Reasonable increases to expenses could be tolerated by most, if the first two issues did not exist. This is not sustainable.

  35. POSTED BY montclairdad  |  March 01, 2011 @ 4:49 pm

    @montkid12 – Good for you kid, telling it like it is and putting an end (albeit temporarily) to all the “expert” chatter. Would like to hear more students chime in with their views.

  36. POSTED BY njgator  |  March 01, 2011 @ 4:52 pm

    And Andrew – I agree very much about your idea of making a priority list and cutting when necessary based on that list. What are the district’s priorities? And I do mean DISTRICT priorities. Not Northeast or Edgemont or Renaissance or Nishuane priorities. What do we value and need to preserve in the district?

    I often find myself arguing with folks that say that the cost of progressivism is/will be the downfall of Montclair. I don’t think progressivism is the problem here. I think mismanagement is. There is nothing progressive about balancing our budget on the backs of the kids, especially the most vulnerable amongst them and the lowest paid classroom staff.

    For those who disagree with the decisions that the BOE is currently making, how many of you regret that vote against an elected school board?

  37. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 5:07 pm

    @montkid12 Thanks for reminding me of another question that came up for me regarding last night’s meeting.

    A big deal was being made about the aides knowing the kids, and how awful it would be for new aides to be in the room that didn’t know the kids. What I wonder, though, is: doesn’t this happen every year anyway? Won’t aides not in the MEA have to do the same as aides in the MEA?

    This isn’t to take away from the significance of aides in the classroom. I do believe that they can help a teacher manage what’s occurring in the room, giving more opportunity for the “differentiated education” that’s supposed to go on in each class.

    But is hyperbole supposed to help?

    That said, I have to disagree with some of what @montkid12 wrote. In my admittedly small experience (one K class and one 2nd grade class), the aides were not disengaged or texting. They played an active role in managing the class. The teacher is in charge, but can make use of that extra pair of hands, eyes, and even a brain to keep things running as they should.

    …Andrew

  38. POSTED BY chuckles  |  March 01, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

    I am not proficient in deciphering budgets – can anyone tell me if the board spent the entire “found” $4.6 MM or is any of it set aside in a surplus fund?

  39. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 5:14 pm

    @njgator You make a good point about arguing over $1.7M while the town council burns $3M for the fun of it. At least the BOE is listening to us and trying to achieve some measure of sanity and control in the spending.

    Beyond a tiny minority, there’s no sign of [fiscally] intelligent life on the town council.

    When we hired the new manager, I had some hope. If memory serves, his previous job wasn’t as a town manager but it was on the financial side of a town. One would expect him to understand the issue of debt, and how this can undermine our town’s financial situation.

    What I don’t grasp is how we can change councils, change managers, and nothing changes. Who is running things?

    …Andrew

  40. POSTED BY Peter Simon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 5:16 pm

    Andrew,

    I think you meant to address me, not @njgator.

    Anyway, I don’t really think I’ve offered up a tautology. It seems pretty straightforward, but I can try to add a concrete detail to give it more oomph: I’m willing to bet that, if Montclair’s schools (especially the high school) were to slip below the state averages in NJASK and HSPA assessment categories, the money that each and every Montclair homeowner would lose in resale value would far exceed whatever tax savings were realized via cost-cutting.

    I suppose this could *seem* tautological, because none of us can really know ahead of time which cost-cutting measures, and what level of cutting, might tilt the balance. Perhaps the cuts could be very deep indeed without seriously undermining student outcomes. I suppose our resident fiscal hawks would say this. But my gut tells me that this is wrong, and that there is a real danger of doing much more damage to residents’ long-term financial health by being too narrowly focused on short term savings.

  41. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 5:17 pm

    @Chuckles There is a “reserve”, but the state is forcing us to use approximately half of it. We haven’t the option of expanding it by taking some of that revenue and storing it in a fund.

    We do have the option of *investing* revenue in ways that would facilitate the creation of future revenue streams, but I’m not clear on whether this has been done (it’s actually something I mentioned much earlier on this discussion thread).

    …Andrew

  42. POSTED BY bebopgun  |  March 01, 2011 @ 5:27 pm

    The union or the BOE seems to have done a poor job negotiating health insurance coverage. How can it cost my company $15,000 for pretty good higher end coverage, and $22,000 for teacher’s insurance. If whomever was on the buyer side of the negotiation said we’re oinly going to pay $18,000, would insurance companies say no?

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-01-13/nj-governor-proposes-health-care-cost-increase.html

  43. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 5:36 pm

    @Peter Oops. You’re right about my misdirecting a reply. Sorry (and to @njgator too, whom I probably confused with my misdirected reply).

    Thanks for explaining your logic further. I see your point. FWIW, the HS is already “failing” (as per AYP). This is why, I presume, the BOE is looking to invest in it (eg. this “small schools” concept, which was finally explained in a way that I could grasp it last night).

    Of course, so are the two main middle schools failing to meet AYP.

    I do see one flaw in your logic regarding spending and home values. The taxes going to our schools have been rising steadily for quite a while now. This hasn’t helped the perception of value provided by our schools. This suggests a disconnect between spending and results. If that’s so, then simply throwing more money at the schools won’t cause them to increase the value they contribute to housing.

    A more worrisome aspect appears if one looks at the result of the ever-increasing tax rate. This forces people out of town. Would that not cause a downward pressure on home pricing?

    Even if not, it will result in a town of people less concerned about taxes. While that can be a good thing from the perspective of the town looking to expand revenue, it means a number of current and potential residents being priced out of town.

    If we were speaking of income tax, I’d be less worried. But a high property tax means that a home-owner must maintain a high income to stay in town. No retirement. No cutting back on hours to spend more time on kids or community.

    …Andrew

  44. POSTED BY saras  |  March 01, 2011 @ 5:47 pm

    Sorry Montkid12, I’m glad you’re participating, but strongly disagree. Quite possibly you’re one of those kids who is a self starter, and needs little assistance. We need to look at all students and how our district will do overall.

    The aids for kids with IEPs actually do follow them from year to year. My kids are young, so I’ve only had the experience of four different classrooms. Is it just our luck that our aids have been college graduates, and highly engaged educators? I do volunteer in the classrooms, so this isn’t just something I see at drop off. What I’ve witnessed is people working tirelessly to educate our kids. They offer much needed one on one assistance.

    I hear a lot of talk about priorities. It’s hard for me to imagine what could be a bigger priority than who is directly working with our children.

  45. POSTED BY bethechange  |  March 01, 2011 @ 5:56 pm

    Andrew – I am a parent of a special needs student who spoke last night. By “know” the kids, yes, we mean know nuances and how to deal with certain special needs. This is especially critical when they are younger and have less of a voice than many will develop, hopefully, as they get older. My son has great aides and needs them now. My hope is that by the time he is in high school, or even middle school, he won’t need them as much or at all. That is the goal. The Montclair student who wrote points to the fact that not all aides are good, not all are needed. If they are, in fact, “texting,” the issue is: why isn’t the teacher saying something? Where is the principal or special ed supervisors in seeing or knowing this is going on? Maybe several aides need to go do to not being needed or not being good. But many ARE needed. You can’t lump them all together, just like you can’t lump all teachers together. What we need is for the new Special Ed Supervisor, along with the people under her, and the principals who are in charge at each building level, to find these “texters” and get rid of them. The kids in my son’s class are too young to write here about what a good aide means in the younger years… The whole point is to fade them. “Differentiated instruction,” which it seems you are being sarcastic about, is not only best practice – it benefits ALL. It is hard. A lot of teachers DON’t do it, or don’t do it well. It sometimes takes an extra set of hands or two. With special needs kids, it takes more. I do not want my kid, if it is at all possible, in a self-contained classroom. That actually costs more, in the long run, than integrating him with his peers and perhaps having an extra set of hands.

  46. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 6:09 pm

    @bethechange I am not being sarcastic about differentiated education. However, I do recognize that it happens far less than it should. My problem with it is that we fail our children if we assume otherwise.

    My son’s 3rd grade math/science class has a “finish folder”. This is extra work kids can do on their own when they finish their “real” classwork. This is necessary because the teacher cannot move much more quickly than the slowest student.

    This is ridiculous. There is no way that this is benefiting the kids that spend a lot of time on work from the “finish folder”. This is not “differentiated education”.

    In contrast, last year there was no “finish folder”. There was no need, as real differentiated education was occurring.

    But we’re comparing a teacher with years of experience to a teacher with decades of experience. Can we afford to be the district where our most junior teacher has 10 or 20 years of experience? Can we afford to be the district where we’ve teachers than cannot do what we assume is being done?

    …Andrew

  47. POSTED BY qby33  |  March 01, 2011 @ 6:59 pm

    Mtckid,Mtcdad and Andrew. Your statements are quite ignornant (sorry kid, they are). The safety of these kis WILL be in jeopardy next year. The Aides do know the kids, they know their behaviors and all of your comments clearly show that NONE of you have actually ever worked in an Elementary school setting. I certainly wouldn’t comment on anyone’s job I haven’t done or observeved for any length of time. And for those Aides that were texting, and I have no doubt they were, they were not doing their job. Those slackers are found in every profession.

  48. POSTED BY qby33  |  March 01, 2011 @ 7:03 pm

    Sorry, bethechange, I hadn’t read your post. You hit it on right on the head! And thank you for speaking last night.

  49. POSTED BY montkid12  |  March 01, 2011 @ 7:12 pm

    Regardless of how efficient and/or effective the aides are, reallocating the way they are funded is not going to change the quality and safety of those being educated. The town is going to be getting more bang for its buck this way, and thereby avoiding a substantial amount of layoffs, and since layoffs can directly affect the safety and quality of our schools, it seems like a no brainer to privatize the aides.

  50. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  March 01, 2011 @ 7:26 pm

    Truth met with snark: “Damn! You got us prof. That’s exactly why we didn’t add the link. I’m so ashamed at my obvious manipulation of clicks to our website. You’re one smart cookie prof.”

    How unattractive.

    But at 50 posts, I guess you did win!!

  51. POSTED BY qby33  |  March 01, 2011 @ 7:31 pm

    Hey, hope you are right kid. Just glad my child is past the age of needing the extra hands/eyes in the classroom. BTW, have you ever witnessed a kid being restrained in a Kindergarten room or 1st grade? Do you remember who took you onto the playground? Did that aide ever help any of the kids get untangled from the monkey bars? Did you ever see a kid run out the front door of a school right towards a street and the Aide catching them before they got hurt? Just so you know, I saw that ALL happen this week (and it is only Tuesday).

  52. POSTED BY saras  |  March 01, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

    Yes, it’s probably true that our children won’t actually be in jeopardy by having transient hourly employees in the classrooms– they will be bonded after all.

    But, come on Montclair. Is this really the best we can do? We spend so much time, energy and money on the education of our children. These are the people that work one on one with our young children. This means everything in the younger grades.

    It isn’t the most ethical approach either. Just because much of the private sector has been laying of salaried employees in favor of hourly ones, doesn’t make it the right thing to do. People in this country are suffering because of this. We don’t have to be part of the problem.

  53. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 8:42 pm

    @Saras you make a good point, but Montclair taxpayers include many of those private sector employees that are being replaced, having salaries and/or benefits reduced, etc. The town cannot afford to be an exclusive provider of the solution either.

    [And let's not even discuss what's going to happen to the town side of our taxes this year.]

    I think that this is where something that Peter wrote is so important. We need to be addressing many of these same concerns beyond Montclair’s borders.

    More, I hope that something comes of the conversation that appeared for a moment at last night’s meeting between the BOE and MEA. It sounds to me like there’s a natural direction in which to look for a compromise. Admittedly I’ve no experience negotiating at that level, but I’m sorry that the MEA didn’t hop on the BOE’s offer right there and suggest the obvious compromise. I think it would have been tough for the BOE to push back too hard in that venue (esp. since given its stated desire for transparency {8^).

    Perhaps I’m wrong, but I still have some hope the outsourcing isn’t a done deal.

    …Andrew

  54. POSTED BY bethechange  |  March 01, 2011 @ 8:56 pm

    Andrew – Again, you are right about a lot of it.. A finish folder is not differentiated education. It may be a start.. it is hard being a relatively new teacher, believe me. You do your best… veteran teachers, principals, workshops – all help. Some knock it out of the park year one.. some never do. It doesn’t mean we quit trying. You keep saying “the slower student.” When work is differentiated, it isn’t a matter of fast and slow… Teachers should give less work or different work to those students you call “slow” (not your son). If I recall in a prior post, you wanted tracking again for your kid.. That goes to show me that you don’t see the benefit, ESPECIALLY when young, of students being all students living and working together in the same classroom – seeing some are better at math, art, music. I taught in a “gifted” school – believe you me, I STILL had to differentiate. And I didn’t always do it or always do it well..I had up a sign in my classroom .. “It’s not how smart you are.. it’s how you are smart.” Even students with my disabilites, like my son, have talents that I am sure other children lucky enough to be exposed to him in their classroom can attest to. It is often the parents, who didn’t grow up with kids with differnces, in their classroom who don’t see the benefit in learning we are living in a society where we benefit from knowing and appreciating differences. Funny, I believe my son with a disability was once in your son’s class. I also believe that you and I have similar educational backgrounds. And funny, too, bc with the luck of the draw, I got a kid with Autism and you did not. Luck of the draw? Yet I wouldn’t change it for the world! It has made me a better person, mother, teacher, and more empathetic in general. I know you are smart and I am sure a good father. I only hope you will see one day that my son being in your son’s class, I hope, along with the aide who may or may not help him, may actually make your son “smarter” – in a way that may not be measurable.

  55. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 11:24 pm

    @bethechange I’ve rewritten this response several times now. It turns out that I’m not comfortable discussing here too much about what one too easily identified teacher is doing. If you want to continue that discussion, please email me privately.

    Suffice it to say that I do recognize benefits to classrooms that are mixed in all sorts of ways. One of the aspects of our previous school that I miss is the mixing of more ages more often.

    But that benefit comes with an increase in complexity that imposes a cost. We need to be realistic about it; ignoring it is a disservice to our children. Simply using the words “differentiated education” isn’t sufficient. If we’re depending upon it occurring, we need to be sure that it is occurring.

    I’m not convinced that the schools are doing this in any systemic way.

    …Andrew

    P.S.

  56. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 01, 2011 @ 11:31 pm

    Oops. Here’s my P.S.:

    I have the opinion that many of the more odd political mindsets in our country today could not have become as popular as they are were children inculcated with the mental discipline that comes from learning mathematics and science. It’s not about the facts (I can never remember how many legs has an arachnid {8^), but about the process, about following a chain of reasoning, and about spotting the fallacies into which one can fall.

    In other words, school is important!

  57. POSTED BY walleroo  |  March 02, 2011 @ 8:13 am

    Do I have this right?

    The town draws up a budget that includes cuts right down to the bone, but which still requires a 7 percent increase in the municipal portion of the tax rate. Can’t cut any further, already draconian, etc etc. Then, as if a miracle, $4.6 million appears out of nowhere from the State of NJ.

    At this point the town has a choice: a) Use that $4.6 million to lower the tax rate to, say, 3 or 4 percent (I’m just guessing at this number); or b) reinstate the cuts and hire a consultant, at $75,000, to look into what cuts could be made next years. Tax increase stays at 7 percent.

    I’m not arguing for a) or b). But is this essentially what just happened?

  58. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 02, 2011 @ 9:46 am

    @Walleroo No. You’re mixing town and school. The school has a budget – with the state aide to which you refer – that actually yields a small tax reduction. This was especially tough to achieve because the town’s value has dropped. If no other numbers had changed (that is: state aide and school spending were unchanged from last year) we’d still have seen a tax increase thanks to all the tax appeals over the year.

    In contrast, the town budget process is looking to give us a 7% (or so) increase.

    I emphasize this distinction because I think it important. The school district has been working since the summer to get spending down while still providing a proper education to our children. The township has…um…been….uh…

    …Andrew

  59. POSTED BY kay  |  March 02, 2011 @ 9:51 am

    FWIW, my girl had a class with something like a ‘finish folder’ available and I thought it was totally worthless. I didn’t feel that that “differentiated instruction” means to put a pile of worksheets on a table and tell the kids they could do them if they wanted to. My girl was bored out of her mind but certainly wouldn’t voluntarily ask for more work!! I didn’t know this was happening until March, when it was too late. And no teacher looked at her and said, this kid can do more, let me see how I can encourage and challenge her. What a disappointment.

    By the way, these were ‘veteran’ teachers, not newbies.

    Just goes to show that you can’t paint people with a broad brush – new teacher or experienced – styles are different.

    I learned the hard way that getting in on the first early session of conferences (in the fall) is crucially important!

  60. POSTED BY hereswhatithink  |  March 02, 2011 @ 11:08 am

    Elementary school parents really need to take a step back in their concerns about differentiated learning. I used to get bent out of shape over it because it did happen sporadically, and it seems that 5 years later nothing has changed. Differentiated learning does occur in the middle schools and at the high school and this is where it really matters. The high achievers can be taking algebra and geometry in 7th and 8th grade as well as being in a SAIL language arts class. Middle schools also have ROGATE and many co-curricular programs to provide for these kids. Children who need additional help in math and language arts can take additional classes in these areas as their electives if it is needed. At the high school every class is tiered. Your child will decided to be in regular, honors, or high honors/AP for every class taken. The level and amount of challenging courses we have at the high school is amazing. You start to realize this as you go on college tours and see what students coming from other schools are given as opportunities.

  61. POSTED BY walleroo  |  March 02, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

    Oh righteo, thanks Andrew.

  62. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  March 02, 2011 @ 2:06 pm

    And remember, if your kid didn’t read by 2, is not in the Sail program, wasn’t “G” or “T,” didn’t take algebra and geometry in 7th and 8th grade, well ALL IS LOST.

    (I won’t even describe what will happen if they don’t take ROGAINE.. Oh, wait. That’s ROGATE. Sorry.)

    Your kid will be a LOSER!!

    And you WILL NOT have a prestigious bumper sticker for your car, so you too will be a LOSER.

  63. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  March 02, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

    Isn’t this “outsourcing” just private company that will hire and pay the aides? So why the fear that badness will happen? Currently we pay a lot for the service. And while so are excellent, some are not.

    But does anyone know about what happened to districts that made this choice?

    I side on the “our taxes MUST be reduced” side of things. So this, and other BOE folks should be “outsourced” if we can find suitable private companies to do the work without a reduction of service.

    HOWEVER, all of this is BULLOCK!!!! If you know what I mean. What a waste of money…..

  64. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  March 02, 2011 @ 2:15 pm

    (so=some)

  65. POSTED BY kay  |  March 02, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

    LOL Prof! I hope you’re right that all is not lost when my kid is rejected by Princeton and ends up on skid row, jobless and homeless!

    I know you laugh at us (we?) ninny parents, worrying about this stuff… but don’t you agree that Good Teachers make a Big Difference? (they did for me – and my kids, so far!)

  66. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 02, 2011 @ 5:48 pm

    @ProfWilliams I’m afraid that I’m the example you don’t want to see. My lousy elementary education has haunted me through life. I ended up attending a third-rate ivy league school; my parents had to move to the other side of the country for the shame of it. I was so hopeless even after extra years of school that my only chance of employment was to help start a new company.

    So beware, parents! Avoid the horror of a poor elementary education lest your children end up like me.

    Just call me The Cautionary Tale of Montclair.

    …Andrew

  67. POSTED BY agideon  |  March 02, 2011 @ 5:55 pm

    @ProfWilliams you’ve just given me a terrific revenue generating idea for the schools. We can sell bumper stickers.

    For $10, “My Child attended Montclair Schools.”

    For $100, “My Child attended an Honors Class in Montclair Schools.”

    For $1000, “My Child attended passed an Honors Class in Montclair Schools.”

    For $10,000, “My Child attended a High Honors Class in Montclair Schools.”

    …Andrew

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