Montclair BoE Meeting Went On Until After Midnight and Still No Real Answers

Monday night’s Board of Ed. meeting was packed with parents and residents, many of them Renaissance and Edgemont schools. One Edgemont parent stayed until 12:30 am before she headed home, and said she didn’t get any real answers.

The BOE is really just at the beginning of the process. Board member Robin Kulwin started with remarks about all the “rumors” about the closure of schools. “Nothing has been decided yet and these are just rumors.” However, the board also remarked, “There are NO SACRED COWS, nothing is off the table.” Shirley Grill stated that small schools are a luxury in this economic climate and that consolidating schools may be necessary, which clearly was aimed at Renaissance School.

Board members had a first chance to discuss the suggestions made by working groups who presented findings and ideas in the last few months: Finance Group, Pay to Participate, Transportation, Alternate Revenue and Special Education.

Some ideas discussed were:

  • Increasing the eligibility to ride the bus, at 1.25 miles instead of 1 mile, saving $145,000.  They would also consider eliminating busing from the 2 centrally located elementary schools (Edgemont and Watchung), with a cost savings of $240,000.
  • Eliminating bus aides, which could save over $200,000.
  • Bringing back as many of the special education students that go out-of-district (90 total, at an average cost of $85,000 per student)
  • Shelly Lombard, and half of the board, felt more resources need to be allocated to the high school. Principal Earle will speak at the next meeting on December 20 about creating small learning communities at MHS.
  • An Edgemont parent (a Real Estate Investment Banker and husband of Christine McGoey, one of the founders of SOS) made recommendations about a sell/lease option of the BOE building site, including the Montclair Community Pre-K and the garage. Another Edgemont parent, Jessica Freeman, had a commercial realtor assess the BOE building site, which is the only Montclair BOE building zoned for commercial purposes, at $12 million. She stated that commercial property in Montclair, now, is going for an average of 75% of assessed value.  She stated BOE could move to the empty rooms in Bullocks or the Rand building.
  • Full day kindergarten seems safe, as most of the board felt it would under serve the children who need it the most–low socio-economic.

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  1. Keep paying the pensions and benefits and watch the class sizes continue to increase in size. Good thing they built that new school. It’s truly sad that the town council has such praise for the BOE and their study groups when these volunteer study groups haven’t even glanced at the ONLY place where cuts will be effective. Someone needs to reach out to the unions to ask them to make a sacrifice. No one is going to volunteer pay and benefits. Though, this will be the only way for the Montclair school system to be able to minimize the damage to our childrens’ education. Unfortunately, without this give back, we will have less schools, less librarians, less language teachers, etc. The only thing that will be maintained will be the pensions and benefits of the remaining most tenured teachers.

    6.5 million is a lot of cutting. You could probably follow through with the most drastic cuts that these study groups recommended and you still won’t even get half way there. This town council of which three members are part of the BOSE are absolutely clueless. Their past and current actions speak volumes of their lack of leadership. Even at last night’s meeting, Mayor Fried spoke of meetings with Chinese delegates and sustainability conferences while praising and entrusting the BOE to do the right thing, as they can’t find their nose despite their face.

    Here’s a clue. Reach out to the teachers’ union and the administrators for some give backs. Just looks at the health care cost increases over the last two years (well over a million dollars) and this is with a much smaller workforce to cover. Givebacks work in the private sector and it will work in the public sector. It is occurring in various towns across the country. The failure of the BOE to really look at the cost drivers (pensions and benefits) in their budget will spell unfair damage to their customers, our children.

    Finally, don’t just remove items from the budget and then ask only parents of school age children to make them up as fees. This is as dirty as the sewer authority trick employed by our former town council. Yes there is less revenue to go around. It would be far better to have more teachers making less in compensation, then it will be to have less teachers whom are better compensated.

    Wake up people of Montclair! We must all share in the sacrifice.

  2. How is that on one hand, they say that small schools are a luxury we can’t afford, but on the other hand, ask for more Small Learning Communities???!!!

    Did I hear right that maybe Mr Earle needs some help at the HS? Didn’t one of the Board members equate the situation to the new chancellor at NY who is a business person and needs an academic person to support her? Does this mean we need to hire *another* administrator to help Mr Earle?!?!

    I have other issues with the targeting of Renaissance (and yes, I do feel like they are singling it out at this point) but probably shouldn’t include those comments here as I would surely get in trouble.

    I was glad to hear that they are auditing the health care coverage and ferreting out people who don’t belong. My company does that quite often.

    What’s puzzling is that they are proposing to bring back the special ed kids who are currently sent out of district. Uh… wasn’t that supposed to have been done already? Aren’t there classrooms at Bullock specifically designed for that purpose? I thought that was resolved last year?!

    I can’t believe we (Renaissance people) are going through this again!

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