Last night, teachers, administrators, school staff, PTA leaders, parents, Board of Ed members, town council leaders, students and concerned citizens filled the cafeteria at Montclair High’s George Inness Annex. Chairs were taken by 7 pm, and by the time the meeting started around 7:40 pm, there were people standing in every open space and spilling out into the halls.
The feeling in the room was of respect and appreciation for our teachers, especially in light of the MEA’s (Montclair Education Association) decision to accept a pay freeze in order to prevent staff layoffs. Teachers and school staff were wearing white t-shirts that said “I care about your kids”. Parents and teachers’ conversations filled the room as we waited for the meeting to begin– stories of teachers who grew up in Montclair, went to Montclair State and got their first job teaching in the district. When the president of the MEA, Dennis Murray, spoke of the union’s decision to accept the pay freeze, the crowd broke out in applause.
But despite the union’s efforts, 82 cuts will be made. Superintendent Frank Alvarez presented the budget, which is at a loss of $5.4 million in state aid, and assured us that, “in all the cuts, we have tried to preserve the core of our programs.” He went on to state that the Board worked hard to create equitable cuts throughout the schools, but reminded us that because of the very nature of the magnet school system it required great balancing. He spoke of options that the Board considered: making kindergarten half-day, closing a school down, getting rid of transportation. But in the end, he said these were things that were too important to Montclair. He assured worried parents that the classroom instruction component will be preserved.
Here’s the breakdown:
5.7 cuts from central office
39 cuts from the elementary schools
15.9 cuts from the middle schools
19.9 cuts from the high school
Comments from the public ranged from sadness for our teachers to concern of the school programs. PTA members urged the Board to protect their magnet school programs. Concern for the world languages program was shown by one parent who said, “you can’t replace a teacher with Rosetta Stone.” Angry parents urged central office to take cuts in order to save jobs. Accusations of lack of transparancy were thrown out. It was the crowd against central office and Governor Christie. Parents urged the crowd to sign petitions against Christie’s budget cuts, saying we don’t have to accept this.