Alvarez Announces All Montclair Schools to Remain Open

At the Board of Education meeting last night Dr. Frank Alvarez, Superintendent of Montclair schools, announced that he did not plan on closing any of the district’s schools.

“My recommendation would be to keep all 11 schools open,” he said to a room of much relieved parents.

He did however warn, “There will be some pain around the aides, transportation and the DLC [Developmental Learning Center].”

Alvarez identified five areas under consideration as measures to cut costs. The first was the possible outsourcing of school aides. “We might be able to save $2MM,” he stated. The second was the possibility of moving the DLC to another building. Alvarez is also looking at cutting busing for students who live within a mile and a half of school. The Superintendent is reexamining the district’s relationship with the Adult School of Montclair and other organizations that have use of school facilities as well for a possible savings of $100,000. Finally, Alvarez said he was considering pay to participate at the high school level.

Alvarez was also expecting additional savings from a number of retirements, possibly amounting to $700,000 in savings. He added that he was looking at ways to maximize efficiencies as well in such areas as the central office and supply accounts for possible cost savings.

Alvarez stressed his interest in preserving instructional programs and his commitment to small learning communities. With his proposed measures, presented to the BOE for the first time last night, Alvarez was confident the district would be in good shape even without state aid.

“If we are not to receive any state aid, I believe we can do this with minimal tax increase.” One of less than 1% Alvarez stated.

The Superintendent also declared reducing the kindergarten program was “not an option,” and announced the Quest Academy charter school application for Montclair was denied by the state.

With all the good news, parents still expressed some concern and offered additional cost cutting advice. One such parent recommended outsourcing such positions as mechanics, carpenters, electricians, plumbers and painters, who are all on the pay roll full-time. He also suggested looking at the number of employees in the Business Office, noting that the combined salaries of 14 employees amounted to $1.1MM. Other suggestions were to consolidating telecommunications, to use an all online platform for school communications and to eliminate the Human Resources payroll software program, which costs $145,000.

Board President Shelly Lombard  responded to the suggestions, stating “many of those staffing and budget items were cut.” She added, “We’ve gotten the message. Give us the time we need to execute.”

Lombard emphasized, “Non-instructional cost savings is our first priority.”

Some parents, though, disagreed noting the role of the paraprofessional is an instructional one. According to one parent privatizing the aides will only result in a high turnover rate. “They will only work until they find a salaried position elsewhere,” said Sarah Santora.

Another pointed to the qualifications the aides in the district have, noting 30% have college degrees, 20% are certified teachers, 30% are certified in CPR and 50% are Montclair residents. “Why not work with the MEA [Montclair Education Association]?” she asked.

But no final decisions were made in regard to the Superintendent’s recommendations last night. Lombard said the BOE needed time to consider the proposals.

“We are deeply committed to being transparent, thorough and rational throughout this process,” Lombard said.

Alvarez said hard numbers will be presented in late February once the district hears from the state about aid.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. Great to read these answers to a good portion of the BoE’s question marks. Thanks for the nice reporting.

  2. Bully for the Ren parents but, AGAIN, Mtc. BOE avoided the elephant in the room: pay and benefits for the teachers. Either we address this issue soon or we’ll be closing more than 1 school.

    Shelly Lombard needs to take herself up on her “Mexico Evacuation Plan”–she’s become terribly cantakerous and combative. Warez will help her cool her jets.

  3. I see $945,000 of wishful thinking in his proposal. Where’s the other 5.7 million going to come from? Let me guess, taxes?

    Let’s see some hard numbers Dr. Alvarez. Let’s see it add up to 6.7 million in cuts necessary.

    Will the teachers still be getting a 2.5 million dollar raise?

  4. With all due respect, I feel those % numbers are low. They were based on a 50 people panel and I believe the amount of aides who have college degrees is much higher. Many are certified teachers and so many are real professionals. Are they going to find this quaility of Paraprofessionals from an outsource company? Who will be the new Paraprofessionals that will be working with our young children next year??

  5. I agree that the role of a good aide is instructional. I have spent enough time in classrooms to see that the entire class benefits from having another adult in the room. The DLC and special ed aides are specifically identified by Dr Alvarez as areas where there will be “pain” yet they serve to support our most vulnerable population. Investment now in children who are classified means far less cost down the road. Short sighted thinking will increase the taxpayers’ burden later.

    Interestingly, I noticed the other night at the Special Ed Parents Advisory Council (SEPAC) mtg at Mt Hebron that the school had recently taken delivery of 12 Sony Bravia 40″ HD televisions and 2 iMacs. Even presuming that they were funded by the PTA, it seems ridiculous in a district that is contemplating such draconian cuts (and especially so in a room where the superintendent is telling special needs parents that they need to brace for some hard times). Perhaps the PTAs of each school can freeze their technology spending for a year and put the money toward their aides. I like new stuff for our kids too, but I like having support staff who aren’t being forced out of their benefits too.

  6. Absent from the article — and perhaps this can be added to clarify the point and inform Baristanet readers — was the announcement during last night’s meeting that the Board and the MEA will be meeting in February. At this point, there is no indication on where that meeting will lead in relation to the current contract (i.e., salary increases, benefit contributions) but to say the BoE is ignoring the area of spending that represents 80% of the budget is just plain lazy. As I’m sure you know, last year the Mtc BoE was the 1st in New Jersey to ask its teacher’s union to reopen their contract last year, and the MEA did respond. We can all certainly have an opinion on the level of the MEA response — but to say that this area is being avoided is factually incorrect.

    Re the comment on Shelly Lombard’s demeanor: Her “Mexico” comment is out in the public domain and all can remark on it, but have you, jingoistic, been to/watched a meeting or the series of meetings on the budget that have been going on since October? Whether or not you agree with the positions Shelly holds, she is a professional, dedicated leader who has worked tirelessly to manage through this difficult budget situation. It’s very easy to post pithy, critical, personally directed comments from the comfort our keyboards. Unfortunately, the obligations of an active, responsible citizenry require so much more. We can all participate, dissent, support, protest, inform. Shelly should be acknowledged for her determination to set up the structure and timeline that allowed/allows the residents of Montclair to do all of those things during her 1st year as BoE president.

  7. (That guy in the picture is scaring me….)

    Was the issue of school capacity addressed? From what I hear, Bullock has lots of room. IF true, and if another is also low, why is a consolidation off the table? To appease parents?

    I’m sure closing won’t save all the money (because it may not reduce payroll). However, I’d still like to know how much could be saved.

    So, rather than a closure, we’ll have severe cuts for everyone? Spreading the pain?

  8. @ prof WIlliams:

    After diving into the literature for school consolidation scholarly articles, the consensus is that they save little money if at all. In rural places with a very low population this might be a bit better but it is still not always financially beneficial. In a study done by Andrews, of 49 districts that consolidated schools only 4 reported savings. It is an extremely complex issue. If any town is planning to consolidate and save, it must first do a thorough study of all the costs. Experience says that doing it based on the apparent simplicity of it leads to no gains.

  9. “At this point, there is no indication on where that meeting will lead in relation to the current contract (i.e., salary increases, benefit contributions) but to say the BoE is ignoring the area of spending that represents 80% of the budget is just plain lazy.”

    In a not lazy way please cite one mention by anyone at the BOE that there should be a reopening of the contract or salary freeze? One single mention…

  10. Margaret Astorino:

    ”The contract is written. It’s good until June 30, 2012. We have no intention whatsoever of reopening that contract.”

    I heard all i needed from the MEA earlier this year. After last year when they gave a small concession from their highest paid only, now we have come full circle and the Union is digging their heels in.

    With that type of attitude the membership roles will be shrinking real fast!

  11. prof williams-
    Utilizing the extra rooms at Bullock for Special Ed and/or the DLC will save far more than consolidating elementary schools. You can’t have it both ways. The school is large, but not that large.

  12. Never one to be called lazy, I can tell RoC and others that the issue of salary and benefits has been mentioned/highlighted by either Board members, PTA leaders and parents or meeting attendees at every single one of the Board meetings I have attended October – January. Last evening, the upcoming Feb session between the BoE and MEA was noted by both a Board member and the MEA rep. I believe the MEA rep also mentioned two previous meetings they have had with Board reps, but you’ll need to confirm that by watching Ch 34 as I missed the MEA remarks. As noted in a previous comment, the MEA rep emphatically stated that the current contract (which runs to June 2012) will not be re-opened. I think that is an unrealistic position to take in the current environment with the cuts that are being considered, but I am encouraged that the Board and MEA continue to meet/talk regularly during this budget planning cycle. Negoiations must be approached differently by the BoE and MEA — just as they will be in every other district in the state — when the time for the new contract approaches.

  13. One of the “empty” Bullock classrooms is actually used by the OT there. So while it isn’t used all of the time as a classroom, it is certainly utilized.

  14. “when the time for the new contract approaches.”

    No. It should be done now. The union should be offered a dollar amount cut, they can choose to take pay cuts and preserve jobs or take the cut as lay offs.

    Period.

  15. Now I realize why Jerseygurl thinks taxes will go up 4-5% every year. There’s lots of ‘maybes’ on the table. And not enough maybes make a difference in the budget.

  16. When I first read the headline, I was thrilled because I thought it meant tomorrow’s weather would not bring another snow day.

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