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.