Montclair BOE Budget: Take 2

At last night’s special Board of Education (BOE) budget meeting, Montclair Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez proposed an additional $2.9M in budget savings but the possibilities included closing Renaissance and Edgemont Schools.

At its last meeting, the Board called for Alvarez to present a Plan B in an effort to prepare for the possibility the state might cut all aid to the district. Alvarez projected $850,000 in saving by closing Renaissance School and transferring 105 of the students to Glenfield (for a total of 808 students in that school) and moving the remaining 141 students to Mt. Hebron (for a total of 749 students in that school). The savings would result from eliminating an administrative position, the nursing staff, the custodial staff and up to 13 teachers from the school. The Rand building would then be used by the high school.

Alvarez estimated closing Edgemont could save $550,000 by eliminating the salaries of the principle, nurse, custodian and five teachers from the school. Edgemont students would be split between Nishuane and Hillside Schools with 144 going to Nishuane for a new student body of 609 and 144 going to Hillside for a total student population of 741.

Alvarez noted, however, the number of students in each school would be at record highs according to this plan, and by closing schools the district would no longer have space to bring out-of-district special education students back into the district, thereby losing revenue as well as possibly incurring additional costs for out-of-district placements.

Other cost saving measures identified by Alvarez:

  • Eliminate courtesy busing, meeting the state mandate of busing from 2 miles out for a total savings of $900,000 (save $400,000 when reduce busing to 1.5 miles out and save an additional $500,000 when bus from 2 miles out)
  • Restructure Special Education services for a savings of $500,000
  • Restructure Glenfield and Mt. Hebron Schools, increasing class and house sizes for a savings of $250,000
  • Eliminate bus aides for $200,000 in savings
  • Increase rental fees for organizations like the Adult School, the Y, the MFEE and the MEA for a savings of $100,000

Both Board President Shelly Lombard and Vice President Leslie Larson expressed concern about reducing busing. “Busing is the heart of our magnet system,” Lombard said. “I’m concerned about gutting it.”

“What makes Montclair special is the integration of our schools,” Larson added. “We are under mandate to have an integrated system. If we take away courtesy busing, it completely spells disaster in terms of integration.”

Lombard called to bus from 1.25 miles out from schools, yielding a saving of $250,000 rather than the $400,000 discussed at the last BOE meeting. Board member Shirley Grill found fault with that. “We just lost $150,000 in savings. Where are we going to find that?”

Other board members felt more strongly about not closing schools. “I would rather go to 2 miles than close a school,” said Board member Angelica Allen-McMillan.

Grill didn’t completely agree with Allen-McMillan, but she did stress she didn’t want to see Renaissance close. She did not feel that same about Edgemont Elementary School. Grill asked Dr. Alvarez if Edgemont, a Montessori school, could work as a “School-Within-a-School” at Nishuane and Hillside. Alvarez explained that it might be possible, especially since Nishuane’s and Hillside’s magnet programs are split into “houses.”

Regardless of individual BOE or parent preferences, Lombard pointed out the missed opportunity to tackle the overriding issue. “What I really felt we needed was a plan to restructure the district.” She added, “What this turned into was individual lobbying on behalf of their school instead of stepping back and looking at the whole situation. It’s a mistake for us not to look at financial sustainability and viability. I am very, very concerned that we have not addressed that, and it’s the elephant in the room that we will have to face next year.”

For now if the district received no state aid and the cuts suggested last night were implemented, the school tax levy would decrease .13% from the 2010-2011 to the 2011-2012 school year. Without the cuts and state aid the tax levy would increase by 2.1% according to Business Administrator Dana Sullivan.

The meeting ended with Larson reading a prepared speech about her interactions with the Montclair Education Association (MEA) and the numerous passionate letters she received from teaching assistants. Although Larson regrets having to make cuts, she noted the difficult financial situation the Board is in with 80% of the school budget devoted to salaries, benefits and pensions; with the 2% raise the MEA is contractually obligated to receive in 2012; and with the attempts to modify the 2011-2012 budget unanimously rejected by the MEA.

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  1. “It’s a mistake for us not to look at financial sustainability and viability.”
    –This is very true. It’s a good effort though–a decrease of 0.12% that’s impressive.

    I say this sarcastically because I hope MTC teachers can get a 2% raise but Bloomfield teachers signed a contract where raises were promised and the BOE pulled the rug out and said–“We have no cash, we can’t give a raise.”

    Given the inflationary environment–did everyone notice the headlines yesterday where retailers said they would start increasing prices to deal with higher raw material costs–this is a tough time not to get a raise.

  2. Why has Edgemont been chosen as the elementary school to close? It’s a beautiful building in a neighborhood setting; what are we thinking we will do with the building? If the idea is to lease or sell to another school: have we found private schools that are interested? I think it is a terrible idea to let the building sit empty. $550,000, while a lot of money, doesn’t seem like a sufficient amount to save without a very good plan for how this space will be used.

    Renaissance does seem like a more logical choice if we must close a school. It serves a fairly small percentage of the school population, we have to go outside to pay for services like gym, we save a more significant amount of money, and the space can be used by the HS for promoting small learning groups, which I’ve heard many parents say are needed at the HS.

    Plus if we only close Renaissance, we could still use extra space to bring back out-of-district special education students.

    I agree with Lombard on keeping the busing. Our magnet system is unique and I agree with those who think we need courtesy busing to protect it.

  3. Schools will be closed. Pensions, benefits and raises will be maintained. It’s for the children and to maintain our high property values. So where did the 3 million dollar revenue shortfall come from? Here’s a hint. Not from our high property values.

  4. Teacher are still getting a 2.5 million raise. So let’s be absolutely clear why we need to cut all these things.

  5. @jinx- They apparently do have a plan for the Edgemont building. I came away from the meeting feeling like much of the BOE was in favor of moving Renaissance into the Edgemont building. Of course the savings isn’t quite $550 anymore. That assumes that a building is closed, and doesn’t need any custodians and general operating expenses.

    I empathize with the fact that the high school needs to improve, but I don’t agree that it should be at the expense of the elementary grades. Our class sizes are already higher than the state average. Next year, with the decrease in assistants, what will the student/teacher ratio look like? Why does the BOE feel so sure that when the current K class gets to the high school everything will be ok? Ah, they’ll have small learning environments. Problem solved! Since we’re failing at moving them forward academically, we’ll have vocational training set up for them.

  6. And yet we BUILT a new school.

    Was there any mention, any second-guessing about this? Or do did they just act like Bullock (which STILL looks like a prison!) has been here all along?

    So ROC, how would you handle the agreed upon salary increases? I was under the impression that we’re stuck with current increases until the next contract is negotiated. (And as someone about to be intimately involved with a large State contract negotiation, where we’ve been told we may be offered a “0%” increase-raise. Can’t the town offer a “O%” raise in the next go ’round. Will they? For my money, and despite my love of teachers, perhaps they should.)

    Better schools v. well fed teachers? Sorry. I think I side with the former.

  7. ROC/prof – teachers are still getting their 2.5M in raises and what’s the extra debt service that we are paying for Bullock?

    The instructional aids are members of the MEA. The MEA seems perfectly willing to sacrifice their lowest paid members in order to keep raises and overly generous benefits in a poor economic climate. I’m for going back to the MEA in stark terms with just how many teachers the district is willing to fire if the contract is not reopened.

  8. Jinx, Renaissance eliminated all outside services when they moved to the Rand building.

    If they are going to close schools then close and mothball them. Renaissance is a very lean, high performing school and to toss the program out the window only to keep the building open for the HS is just rotten. Sorry, HS kids, but if the goal is to save money then keeping a building open isn’t saving as much as we could. Still have to keep staff, heat and water, etc. Let’s be fair about this. Oh wait, that’s too much to ask for.

    So… let’s see. Close my kid’s school, then elminate the busing too. My 13 year old is going to walk 2 miles to and from school every day? Great. My property taxes hard at work!


  9. Kay and others.

    Wake the ‘F’ up!

    They are closing schools, outsourcing aids, ending busing, charging for extra-curricular activities, removing librarians, removing language teachers, and the list goes on and on and on. They still are completely ignoring the area where 80% of the budget goes to.

    Salaries, healthcare costs and pensions!

    If the MEA (and the administration) won’t make a single sacrifice (and don’t tell me about last year’s tiny give back by the $100,000 per year teachers and the joke of an increase in what they now must pay for health care), well then let there be headcount reductions even if it means larger class sizes. What’s the difference between 27 and 30 kids in a class anyway? The MEA has decided to throw their classroom aides under the school bus. All to protect their raises and benefits.

    Is the MEA in it for our students? Absolutely, unequivocally, not!!!

    But the debate keeps raging over my school versus your school. Magnets vs. neighborhood schools. It’s what the board want you to do. They want to divert your attention away from the real 500 pound gorilla in the room.

    If the MEA and the administration won’t make any sacrifices, then it’s high team we sacrifice some of them.

    And the board should be terminated for building a new school and closing two existing schools exactly one year later. Now who appointed this board?

  10. Kay – I was at last night’s meeting and my take is that most of the board is not willing to close Renaissance. There are already too many issues at the middle school level. The schools have not met AYP, so the district already has a problem with the state regarding the middle schools. If Renaissance is closed, this will increase class size at Glenfield and Mt. Hebron, which many board members said they were not comfortable. Also, if the current Renaissance students were split amongst Glenfield and Mt. Hebron, there would be no room to bring back middle school aged special needs students that are currently being sent out of district. This would negate other cost savings that the Board is depending on.

    It seemed that Edgemont would be the most likely candidate for closure. Mrs. Grill stated that she was open to this as it would help solve other long term needs of the district – closing Edgemont would allow Renaissance to move to the Edgemont building and free up the Rand building for use by the HS. This would alleviate crodwing at the HS and allow them to implement the additional small learning communities that the Prinicipal and many board members felt were needed.

  11. I’m a bit confused here. Are they proposing elminating busing or just setting it back .5 miles? So if you live 2 miles or more from your school of choice you still have busing. I was and am still shocked at the number of people who qualify for busing yet they drive their kids to school everyday. There are only about 20 children that ride my daughters bus leaving it more than half empty. I also find it strange that I can see the kids at the stop before and after ours. Maybe we all walk a little more and less bus stops?????

  12. The Board stated last night that they will change the busing qualification from 1.0 miles from school to 1.25. This will impact 500 families and will save the BOE about $250,000.

    The original Plan A submitted last week by Dr. Alvarez called for a change to 1.5 miles. That would ahve saved $400,000, but would have impacted 900 families. There was concern stated by many board members that this would jeopardize integration and the magnet system. Now the board will need to find an extra $150k to cut from somewhere else.

  13. @njgator- By closing Edgemont, the BOE is freeing up space in the high school by overcrowding the elementary schools. How does this make sense? At the same time they’re privatizing assistants, and eliminating assistants altogether for most grades. Most of our elementary classes will have a 25/1 student/teacher ratio for the entire day. Destroying the elementary schools does not help the high school in the long run.

  14. “Destroying the elementary schools does not help the high school in the long run.”

    Neither does increasing salaries pensions and benefits if it will result in larger class sizes.

  15. Stu, you are right of course, but not many people are brave enough to say it out loud like you (and Prof) do. I have loved my kids’ teachers for the most part and it pains me on a personal level to support changes to their contracts, but in reality it needs to be done.

    That new school is a real thorn in our side and will be for years to come.

    This situation ‘bites’ !!

  16. saras – I’m just trying to explain what I heard to those who weren’t there.

    Quite frankly, I think we’re f’ed. The board seems not willing to play hardball with the MEA. Over 80% of our budget is salaries and benefits. If we have to continue to make significant overall budget cuts to under 20% of the total budget, then all of our elementary schools will be a shell of what they used to be. Add in the bad economy, declining real estate and the clusterf*ck of a decision to build Bullock and we are in a bad position that we will not be getting out of anytime soon.

    I agree with Andrew Gideon. I would rather have fewer elementary schools that are better funded, to mitigate the road we are going down. I would go further too. If we can’t afford the basics like librarians, then we can’t afford to teach Mandarin or offer 70 electives to kindergarden students.

    Maybe magnet themes should be reviewed and possibly changed. In the course of the history of the system, schools have closed, or schools have changed themes. I remember from watching the “Our Town, Our Schools” video, that we used to have a “Traditional Values” magnet in Upper Montclair. We don’t have that anymore. Nishuane became the “Gifted and Talented” magnet because 40 years ago, the rich folks in Upper Montclair wouldn’t willingly bus their kids to the south end until the town made that the “Gifted School”. That is not so true today. Nishuane is the first choice of a lot of families in town. Maybe Nishaune can be an arts magnet with a scaled down offering of Aesthetics and CI classes to trim expenses. If we can have a Global Studies magnet at Northeast without foreign language instruction, why can’t we cut here?

    And while we’re outsourcing Classsroom Aids, why can’t we look at every non-classroom position and start outsourcing there first? If a teaching assistant can be outsourced, I see no reason why security, janitorial, buildings and grounds, maintenance, payroll and other clerical staff can’t be outsourced as well.

  17. Kay,

    Don’t get me wrong. My son has a fantastic kindergarten teacher who is worth her weight in gold. Unfortunately, revenue is down and gold prices are up. Something has got to give, and it can’t continue to be our families who are facing all types of inflation and property tax increases without any wage or benefit inflation. Sick of paying more for less and less. Could swallow paying the same for less and less. Would really like to pay less for more and more. 😛

  18. Yes Stu, I’m awake. Bebopgun “It is a tough time not to get a raise.” Yes, tell me about it and pretty much everyone I know. Our insurance company raised their rates and we had no raises in this house. Most people I know are going through the same thing. I hate to sound like a fiscal tight wad but I’m waiting to hear a good arguement for increasing the teacher salaries and benefits.

    Something stinks with the whole busing system. Like I said why are the busses more than half empty? Why are the bus stops only a block apart?

  19. Holly – The buses are half empty because the routes are designed for everyone who is eligible. Many parents then opt not to send their kids to school on the bus. They might drive them. Or maybe their kids go to before care. So there are a lot of what the BOE calls “ghost riders” assigned to each route.

    There was discussion about asking people who did not plan to use the bus to “opt out”, so the routes could be designed more efficiently. But parents would have to do that early on, and then there would likely be a policy that you could not change that decision even if your circumstances changed. People would likely not opt out in order to reserve their right to occasionally put their kid on the bus.

  20. Andrew Gideon’s speech sounded nice, but I’m unclear as to what he means by “better funded” schools by closing one? The BOE has made no indication that they’ll better fund the elementary schools.

    They’re telling us that two of our schools can take 150 more kids, while still retaining the same number of phys ed, arts, and special needs teachers. Apparently they wouldn’t require extra custodians either. All this while getting rid of the majority of assistants? Please don’t tell me that they might need some of these positions, because quite frankly that diminishes the savings almost entirely. The $550 number has already been cut into significantly, as that assumes one school is empty.

    I can’t believe that the parade of parents complaining about class size would actually be for this. Once this is done, it’s not going to be undone. When times are more flush in our town (and yes, I believe we will rebound), it will not be possible to reduce class size. In fact, most likely it will go up further. That tends to be when more people move here.

  21. Oh, and I seem to recall from previous meetings that the buses routes are mapped out entirely by hand. We apparently own fancy GPS software to assist with this, but no one is trained to use it.

  22. Sara – From what the board was saying last night, I doubt the decision to close Edgemont would be for any dollar savings strictly related to closing down that school…although at the bare minimum they would eliminate a pricy Prinicpal headcount. I’m thinking the decision is more related to space for the HS. There’s certainly no construction money for that. Closing Edgemont gives them “affordable” extra real estate.

    The assistant outsourcing is frankly what concerns me the most. All of the differentiated instruction in my son’s class is made possible by the existence of the teaching aid. Who knows how well that will work in K with outsourced aids next year. And what about 1st grade on? Or did I miss something and we solve the entire achievement gap this year?

    I’m not happy with a lot of what’s going on. That’s the primary reason why my son will be in a new school district next year.

  23. Speaking of ghost riders, there is one child who I’ve witnessed take our son’s bus only once this year.

    It’s funny. I never thought the appointed BOE would end up being the ones to dismantle our magnet system. I have a feeling that an elected BOE might have had the chutzpah to stand up to the unions in an effort to maintain the magnets. Where is the League of Women Voter’s now?

    Who appoints the BOE? If I recall correctly, Fried believes that all of our boards should be staffed by long-time members of our community, most with internal experience within that area of expertise. It is akin to letting the fox guard the henhouse. This is how you end up wasting 35 million dollars on a school which we didn’t need. Just a little bit of a perpective from someone on the outside (perhaps having a member or two with some private sector experience) might be useful. Fried behaves the same way with our municipal finances. He is so hell bent on leaving some kind of legacy that revenues are no longer part of the equation. We must build this streetscape, or we must build this community center. How about, we must get control of our capital budget and stop blaming Trenton for our fiscal problems!

  24. I attended the meeting with Stacey, not on behalf of Bartista Kids, but as a parent in this town.

    Closing schools, especially elementary schools, seems the worst choice to me.

    The idea that a Montessori program can still exist within a school is ridiculous. If Edgemont students get sent to Nishuane and Hillside, the philosphy and magnet program will be lost. It’s patronizing to those families who chose Edgemont.

    As a Nishuane parent, I also don’t want to see class size increase because we fit in another 144 students with only 1 teacher in the classroom. (only k and special ed. classrooms will have aides). I also realize that if Edgemont is closed and the children are sent to Nishuane, a principal will be cut. I believe that Edgemont’s principal Dr. Anderson may have seniority over Mrs. Clarke, which leads me to believe Mrs. Clarke may be the one to go.

    Providing our children with a solid, quality education when they are young will most likely develop students who succeed by the time they enter high school. Ms. Lombard and Ms. Grill are focused on the middle school and high school level so much, that in addition to not wanting any cuts at that level, they want to create small learning environments. Basically pour more money into the programs.

    So what to do? All the options stink. It’s painful to see the chipping away of our childrens’ education. Personally, I think cutting and outsourcing aides, which will save $1.7M needs to be done, as harmful as it is. I also would like to see more non-instruction cuts happen. Outsource security, maintenance, etc.. Start from the top down, instead of the bottom up.

    I am completely against closing any schools.

  25. Georgette – I wonder how the seniority would actually work for Principals. While Dr. Anderson may have more years in the district over Ms. Clarke, what about the other distrcit principals?

    Dr. Putrino at Northeast is in hist first year as Principal. However, he was an AP in the district as well as a teacher for a number of years. He’s been in Montclair for over 10 years. Dr. Anderson has been in Montclair for over 20 years. Ms. Clarke has been here for 7. Mr. Turnamian at Watchung is brand new to the district as of last March. Would he be the one to go?

  26. Njgator, thank you for answering my questions. So basically we want our cake we just don’t want to pay for it. I’m pretty sure we did not have GPS system growing up. We had one bus stop for the whole area and we had to walk more than one block to get there….can you imagine??? Ghost riders….priceless.

    So here is my other question…with all of the talks of cutting busing why is there a no biking policy at Hillside? It is a ‘green’ school yet kids are not allowed to bike there.

  27. I think the worst idea is to pay 3% to 4% raises when revenues are dropping. But what do I know? I only live in the real world where raises are only paid when the company makes money, not squanders it.

  28. njgator,

    You make a good point. I think if they do move Edgemont students into Nishuane and pretend that a School-within-a-school Montessori can actually work, they will want to put in Dr. Anderson since she has the most experience with the program to appease angry, and rightfully so, Edgemont parents.

    Perhaps Mrs. Clarke will be moved back to Watchung and the new principal will be out.

    Who knows? Either way, we all suffer.

  29. Any teacher who lives in the area and is not married to a big earner needs a raise to pay for higher property taxes, which then contributes to higher property taxes.

    Our systemic ponzi economy will soon hit a wall.

    …a hard rain’s a gonna fall-said a wise Dylan.

  30. bebopgun – But the rest of us who work in the real world and are not married to high earners just have to suck up the property tax increases without raises?

  31. Holly, that was my experience growing up in SoCal also. There were two stops to choose from in my nabe and depending on who I felt like hanging with that day was where I would go. And I could change every day, and get off at either one too! Plus, parents were not required to wait there for pickup nor be present for dropoff. Different times, I guess.

    But it is puzzling if they are stopping every 100 yards (like I see the DeCamp and NJ Transit buses do). Sometimes there will be a commuter on every corner and the dang bus has to stop for one person before it even gets up a good running start! Cantcha walk the short end of a block and wait in a group??

  32. Georgette-
    Principals are not part of a union. I’m pretty sure that the board doesn’t have to honor seniority the way they do with teachers.

    It also strikes me as odd that everyone on the BOE seemed worried about having kids ride the bus without an aid, but once they get to school it’s ok. There are far more kids in a classroom than there are on one of those buses.

  33. When my older daughter was entering kindergarten, her best friend lived two blocks away, and they were going to the same school. Imagine our surprise when we found out they were on different buses…

  34. stu, I am no fan of the Montclair BOE, nor do I necessarily endorse a system whereby that board is appointed.

    However, where did you arrive at the idea that the board is composed of individuals who do not have “private sector experience”? The current board consists of one educator, a nurse, an attorney, a bond analyst, a securities manager, and 2 human resources executives.

    Personally, I agree that teachers and administrators should forego raises in the next negotiation. But I also feel that the impending changes to the pension system, health benefits plan, and tenure rules will result in a large scale turnover in schools all over the state which will ultimately lead to a lessening of some of these pressures. However, lots of folks need relief NOW.

    Still, the argument can be made and the point stressed without erroneously representing the composition of the board or, even sillier, maintaining that raises and bonuses are only meted out in the private sector when the company makes money.

  35. saras, principals are indeed part of an association. It is not the same one as the teachers, but it is a bargaining unit and tenure rules apply just as they do for teachers.

    However, an administrator who is tenured as a VP, for example, and then is promoted to principal is not tenured as a principal until he/she has served the requisite 3 years and a day. So that person could be bumped down from the principal spot and into a VP spot, if there is a non-tenured VP currently in the district.

  36. I hear ya loud and clear njgator and that apparently is the message MTC’s BOE is sending.

    Home ownership in Montclair is basically unaffordable for a family not making well north of 100k. I guess that’s why it’s called tony.

  37. Croiag…My mistake on the makeup of the board and I apologize for not fact checking. As to getting raises when your company loses money, please tell me where you work? I would like to apply for a job there. In my experience at a boutique design firm as well as at a mid-cap publicly traded company, when heads were being cut for loss of revenue, raises were far and in between.

  38. Where to begin? I’ll keep saying it, this BOE is run by a bunch of fools!! We just built a new school and we SUDDENLY need to close one? Makes. No. Sense. But since I was one of few who voted for an elected Board, I guess those appointed members know best…

    The little prof is a ghost rider because I found out (by following and spying) that once his bus got to school, the Aide left it to go hang with the other bus Aids. Needless to say, the kids went crazy. The bus driver did nothing. The Aide also didn’t speak English (or not sufficient enough to communicate with me). I complained, nothing was done. I started driving him. (I would suggest others check to see if their kids are left unattended on the bus once it gets to school, or if the Aide speaks English. Imagine an accident and the Aid speaks no English.)

    @ njgator, like the Ouija Board* on an Aircraft Carrier, doing the bus schedule by hand might still be the easiest method.

    @ stu, As I’ve mentioned here before. Go hire teachers for 50k a year (is that enough for you?) and check back on the education your kid gets. ‘Round these parts, you pay for experienced teachers. Granted some are not very good, but most are. And if you paid less, you’d get less.

    @stu, Your dumb idea that teachers are underpaid is based on what? The continued assumption that a job- traditionally held by women- is worth LESS than what the average “professional” man gets? Many teachers have advanced degrees, most with such, get paid accordingly. It’s funny that we have a President and Ed Sec. who are looking to continue to “Professionalize” teaching, yet folks like you insist that teachers are paid too much. But stu, try this: if the money is so easy- TRY IT. You wouldn’t last a day with 25 3rd graders. Hell, a HS AP History would be too much for you!

    @stu, how do you still NOT understand that the Town and Union bargain for an Agreement that lasts a few years. For each side, it’s a gamble because neither can predict the future. The town offers certain increases- raises- not knowing that the economy is going to crash. The Union accepts certain increases not knowing that the economy is going to boom. Some Unions have “negotiated” a 0% raise, only to find the town/company booming. It’s a gamble that BOTH sides enter. So don’t blame the teachers for asking for the moon. Blame the town for giving it to them!!

  39. stu, AMCOR, Chrysler, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, General Motors, and the Chicago Tribune are just a few of the companies who doled out beaucoup bucks despite being in the red (and in several cases after accepting taxpayer assistance). There are many, many more. And while hourly and lower-paid employees may indeed get pinched, the execs always seem to do well, don’t they?

    Try reading this for one perspective:

    And not to ignite yet another battle, but if schools do not by definition “make money”, how WOULD you determine if or when or which teachers get raises?

  40. Kay, I grew up in warm sunny MI. We stood out in the snow and cold for the bus…and yes I walked to the bus stop and then home uphill both ways! I believe that the buses can let children off without a parent after 3rd grade.

    Njgator “There was discussion about asking people who did not plan to use the bus to “opt out”, so the routes could be designed more efficiently” Why don’t we try it and see what happens???? If someones situation changes I’m sure the bus would not be packed to capacity. I would settle for 75% full.

  41. holly – Would probably be a lot simpler if everyone went to neighborhood schools. What if no other kids in your immediate area went to your child’s school? Then adding your kid onto the bus at a later date is a problem, because there is not a spot close to your house. The routes are bid out before the school year begins, so the district would not be able to change them afterwards.

    We apparently run an extremely complex busing system because of our magnets.

  42. “Blame the town for giving it to them!!”

    Can’t really blame the town, because they’ll simply blame Trenton. Especially moreso when there is a Republican leading the state.

    And I understand the bargaining arrangement and contractual requirements. But this does not stop us from chopping heads. This of course will never happen as we would have huge class sizes (like we don’t already). So do you really believe that the next contract negotiation will contain a salary freeze or any kind of a give back? Absolutely not! Meanwhile, revenues are dropping rapidly. It’s completely unsustainable.

  43. “AMCOR, Chrysler, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, General Motors, and the Chicago Tribune”

    Outside of the Chicago Tribune, were any of these other companies not backstopped by the Feds?

    We don’t all work on Wall Street or at an investment bank (or are they all now commercial banks, although I tried to open up a checking account as Goldman, but couldn’t find an available teller).

    It’s not about schools making money. It’s about revenues matching outlays. If we don’t cut compensation to match revenues, then our students will have to make up the difference with larger class sizes and limited services. I am all for shared sacrifice. I’m not holding my breath for the MEA to share in our sacrifice. It’s said that a union that represents our teachers could be responsible for doing so much damage to our educational system. Of course it’s our fault though, as we approved the contract…right?

  44. The town can choose to take a tough line on negotiations, or not. While the cuts in state aid originate in Trenton, it is widely known that some towns in NJ pay teachers at a much higher rate than others. This is especially true in Bergen county vis a vis the rest of the state. So Montclair can choose to take a tougher line. Then teachers can decide to stay, or go. I’d be surprised if, in this climate, many (especially those with tenure) chose to leave for an extra few grand.

    but it would take a board who is willing to push a bit and, just as importantly, a community that would support that approach.

  45. “but it would take a board who is willing to push a bit and, just as importantly, a community that would support that approach.”

    So what do you think? Would the community at large support this gamble? I think not.

  46. I don’t buy the argument for one minute that the “union” is damaging the system. There are many changes that have to be made, but scapegoating unions is the easy but wrong way to begin.

    As far as backstopping, the firms I mentioned were giving out bonuses long before 2009. If you want firms that never received backstopping, how about Gillette or Home Depot? This whole private sector/public sector nonsense is a massive distraction and is rife with inaccuracies on both sides. There are just as many studies pointing to private sector compensation exceeding public sector compensation as there are those that suggest the opposite.

    Prof is right. You get what you pay for. You will not attract the types of people this country needs into the profession if the compensation isn’t seen as reasonable. At the same time, teachers and educators must come to grips with current realities and adjust their expectations.

    But then I guess that means that, when times are good and we’re flush again, we’ll make it up, right?

  47. croiag – Most of the districts in the state are having tough budget issues. Granted not all as severe as Montclair, but is hiring really the norm in many public school districts these days? How many tenured teachers would be willing to leave Montclair and be subject to the budget axe as a last hired, non-tenured teacher in another district?

    The district has a better hand to play than they think. Of course they will just fold because they don’t have the cojones to play it.

  48. And the district would likely have more money to pay teachers in salary if they negotiated a better deal for the taxpayers on benefits. How much is the expense for gold plated family health benefits increasing for the district each year? In my “generous” private sector company, every year my share of the premiums go up at least 10% while my coverage deteriorates.

  49. Will the community support it? I don’t know. But my fear is that here as in many other towns across the state, people will move in for the schools, stay as long as they have kids in the system, and leave immediately thereafter. Is that a bad thing? I don’t know. Americans are a mobile people, and the idea of picking up and moving hundreds or even thousands of miles away is not a big deal here. But I wouldn’t want to see a town where there are no singles, no retirees, no childless couples. But if you’re choking on 20K a year in taxes and have no kids in the schools, why stay?

    Right now, I think that those most personally invested (parents) have had their way and the rest of the folks have let that happen. However, I see that changing as the dam has been breached and more and more people just cannot afford to stay here. So I would say that there would be broad support for a tougher line, but it would be a bloody fight.

    Bring it on, as W used to say!

  50. Yes, but our BOE is appointed, not elected. They know better than the town, correct? We have an appointed board because the masses can’t be trusted to make the right decisions to run the school system.

  51. Cro,

    Our government is owned and operated by our corporations. We have about as much of a chance of changing this as we do raising taxes on the top 1/2 of 1% of our countries earners. It truly ‘bites’ to have to attack our public sector unions, but there really ain’t any chance in hell to lessen the impact the income gap. It really shouldn’t be the public sector unions versus the middle class, but unfortunately, we are powerless to change our pro-corporate structure. Got any better ideas as we sink into second world status? If we couldn’t do it with Obama (HOPE!)…we is in big trouble.

  52. For comparison’s sake, I’m paying over $400 a month for family health & dental, with co-pays and deductibles that increase every year! whoo hoo!

  53. Jaysus stu, you sound like a socialist!

    The public sector unions ARE middle class. And I do remember enough Marx to imagine the delight of fat cats as they watch the private sector/public sector peons fight over the crumbs.

    Be that as it may, only the most die-hard obstructionist could argue that NJ can afford to maintain this benefits system for public employees. Ideally, of course, those who DON’T have these types of benefits should be pushing for them, instead of lashing out at those who do. But that is a long time coming. In the meantime, I think that some of the governor’s and Sweeney’s proposals are reasonable starting points. 30% of premium paid in by employees. The option to tailor a plan to individual needs. Renewable 5 year contracts (though I would have to see who makes those decisions as well as the criteria used to make them). Retirement age has already been upped to 60 from 55, perhaps it should go to 65. And, perhaps those who are already retired and who would be exempt from ANY of these changes, should not be.

  54. Tying teacher compensation to outcomes would be a big improvement over what we have today. There clearly is public support for these efforts and the (acting) NJ Education Commissioner was expected to announce some “sweeping” changes in the way teachers are evaluated, compensated and tenured. I haven’t seen any reports of what actually was proposed.

  55. kay – In my company, if you want family coverage with a crappy EPO with deductibles, you pay 7.3% of base pay up to $4,845. If you want out of network benefits for your family, still with plenty of out of pocket, you pay 12.2 % of base pay up to $7,990. The cheapest plan we have, a healh fun would still cost you 6.0% of base pay up to $3,995 for family coverage.

    Even for employee only coverage we pay 3.0% of base pay up to $1,305 for the EPO, 4.9% of base pay up to $2,340 for out of network benefits or 2.5% of base pay up to $1,115 for the health fund.

    The fact that the teachers don’t pay anywhere near this, for far more generous coverage is a big reason why we find ourselves in the bind that we are now.

    I believe that Ms. Larson said that the teachers would need to pay a minimum of 4.5% of salary towards benefits in order to keep the aides on district payroll.

  56. I’ll wait to see what eventually gets passed.

    The gov tried to pass a 2.5% budget cap, but the dems punched so many holes in it that Montclair will most likely face a 6% tax increase during a recession when there is supposedly a 2% cap.

    I’m not holding my breath for anything positive to come out of Trenton.

  57. kev, today’s LEDGER has a story on these proposals from Trenton.

    Using phrases like “tying compensation to outcomes” gets us nowhere. What are the outcomes? How are they measured? Over what period of time? With which students? These all have to be defined. Teachers are right to balk at any “solution” that ties compensation to performance of a standardized test.

    This is NOT to say that a real and substantive evaluation system cannot or should not be created. It should be. But that work should involve all participants, and should be solidly research based and free of what up to this point has been political posturing on all sides.

  58. Yikes, Gator! That’s steep. Although I like that yours is a percentage of base pay, ’cause at my Co. the price is the price, whether you are a grunt making $30K or a director making $150. (The very highest execs pay more.)

    Most of my career moves have been based partly on benefits since I am the provider (hubby has no option). The small companies just couldn’t afford to keep up (and I wouldn’t expect them to).

    It’s a fine mess!

  59. Cro, yes I saw the initial article but haven’t had the time to look for the results. I know the compensation issues get pretty heated but student results have to count for something.

  60. Absolutely kev student results have to count. But how do you measure that? Success on a one-off test? Or a long-term record of improvement? How to account for different populations of students? How to make certain that my buddy the principal doesn’t stack my class with all the “good” kids and yours with all the “bad” ones?

    These are real issues, yet when they’re raised so many react as if its a mere ploy to impede reform and improvement. These are people who are already sold on a “solution” and who don’t want to be bothered with facts.

    But there is, for sure, much work to be done.

  61. njgator,

    Sounds like you should have majored in Education.

    I still want to know if any of our APPOINTED Board says a word about why they built Bullock.

    Did anyone even address how obscene it is that we just opened a new expensive school- say it with me: That looks like a Prison- and we’re considering closing one.

    I have a hard time getting past this one to even listen to Plan A, B, C, D, or E because no matter what: we’re gonna be left with Plan F…ed UP!

  62. Kevin, you work in the private sector, correct? Well, it seems that you and unfortunately Christie think that our public schools would improve greatly if they were run more like a corporation. Granted, there is a problem with the tenure system and it should be easier to get rid of the deadbeat teachers (and I don’t think there are as many of them as one might think) but other than that, “privatizing” schools is a horrendous idea. Makes me shudder. People screaming for education reform are often the ones who espouse charter schools and privatization–even though the evidence that they are the silver bullet is not there at all–and want American schools to be more like Finland’s and Singapore’s despite the fact that these are public schools.

    Re: teacher salaries, it seems to me that all the education system complainers on this site are just paying lip service when they say they respect teachers. You complain about the benefits but say that teachers should be paid more. I’m guessing that when teachers start contributing more to their health care and pensions, you’ll then complain that their salaries are too high–especially when YOU personally don’t get a raise. Heaven forfend that a teacher gets a raise when you don’t! I guess teachers should only get a raise when the Wall Streeters get their bonuses or when the next dot-come bubble comes along. Really, there is no respect for educators in this country. It’s depressing as hell. I’ve just entered the field and I’m working my arse off–it’s a second career and by the far the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. And I’m willing to do it for a not so stellar salary because so far I love it and believe I can affect some change. But reading all of these posts makes me want to drink myself into oblivion. People read a few articles and tune into the buzz words–merit pay, accountability, charter schools–and think they are experts. But, walk even a block in my or any other teacher’s shoes and I think you may change your story.

    Then again, it’s only Baristanet.

  63. For those in the private sector not getting raises, perhaps you should have gone into teaching.

    I suspect many did not go into teaching bc you thought the private sector paid more. Now that businesses are keeping records amount of cash and not giving raises, maybe we’ll see more private sector unions established to help spread the spoils.

    MTC does attract talent with higher wages. The town just took a longtime Special ed director from Bloomfield for just that reason.

  64. Focus people. Bus Aides more important than classroom aides? Custodians more important than classroom aides? Secretaries more important than classroom aides? Can you imagine if Edgemont kids are put into Nish/Hillside? Those class sizes with NO aides except in Kindergarten. Remember folks, the aides accompany the children to lunch, playground, and all other classes. I can’t even imagine how this is going to play out…….And as for bus aides, Prof is right. My experience was horrendous and my kid was being hit for days in Kindergarten in the seat DIRECTLY behind the bus aide. They do leave the bus sometimes to go “chat” with the other aides. How can all those folks on the BOE tell us how important and usefull they are? They obviously never had a kid that takes the bus!

  65. I was unable to attend last night’s meeting. Heard/read about A. Gideon’s speech. Wondering where he is today? Usually see a bunch of posts by him. Wondering what he thinks of the Edgemont kids ALL going to Nish/Hillside??

  66. As I wrote on montclair patch earlier today, I am outraged. The board, led by Ms. Lombard, has demonstrated a stunning inability to manage this school system responsibly. I do not applaud them. The construction of Bullock (in an area regularly cited for drug deals) followed within a short period of time by proposed school closings is the most obvious sign of the absurdity. However, the focus of the school board on cutting services to our lower schools, while preserving everything (and even gaining at the direct expense of the lower schools) for the highschool goes against everything we know about educating children. As Dr. Alvarez himself said at the last board meeting, cutting services to lower levels, even at prek levels, goes against the best of proven pedagogical studies. I am furious at the board’s accusation of parents obscuring the issues by lobbying for individual schools. I point out that Ms. Lombard herself has a highschool student, and has her own demonstrable, current, vested, and very personal interest in leaving the highschool untouched, or better yet improved. It is not acceptable to ask one school’s families to bear the disproportionate burden of the town’s mismanagement troubles. The notion that edgemont families will willingly flock to nishuane/hillside, forgoing not only our current school, but also any semblance of the choice given to every other taxpaying family in this town is also absurd. If Edgemont closes, I for one will put every ounce of energy I have toward demanding a choice.

    I’ve watched this process play out and participated with the “extra” time I have as a full time working parent of 2 Edgemont children. I’ve given the BOE the benefit of the doubt given the tough situation, and I well understand the economics (coming at it with a finance background – I get numbers – though I ? whether the BOE does). However, I’m very angry now. The BOE’s bizarre focus on harming the elementaries in order to preserve and even improve the HS now is beyond the pale. Those small learning groups at the HS level (which we’d all love in a perfect world) will be waiting for generations of under-prepared students as they fall out of their overcrowded elementaries stripped of all extras. Those small HS groups will be required for remedial math and english, and behavioral management. The BOE forgets their mission is educating all students, not just the HS – school closures preferred over cutting courtesy busing -outrageous! By the Bullock school alone they’ve demonstrated their short-sightedness & incapacity to manage our schools well. It is terribly sad that a town so rich in diversity of careers, backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, and economics could have their prized school system run to the ground by such a myopic group. Also, the legality of forcing a small group of students to alone bear the cost- cutting burden, combined with the new idea that we will be shoveled into Nishuane/Hillside (I WILL NOT), requires analysis. I DEMAND MY CHOICE!
    School closings are the most dramatic and long term cuts on the table. Once closed, these schools cannot suddenly be reconstituted once the mistake is realized (think of the Deron school fiasco years ago). The buildings will be redeployed (although how and to whom?), the damage to two school’s worth of students and families will have been done, and the town’s school reputation will have been compromised for at least a decade to come (not to mention the effect on our already suffering home values). By contrast, other cuts on the table are reversible should they turn out to be the wrong move or the context changes. For example, if courtesy busing is cut now, it could easily be reinstated one day, more aides hired, more teachers hired, services returned. The schools that are axed now in a short sited and farcical claim of fiscal responsibility will not come back. I predict the purported savings will be less too. Families at other schools will soon be thrown into this mess in september when my kids start crowding in their kids – make no mistake – this damages all)


    You, Elbu, sound like a spoiled brat with that one. I don’t know you and you could very well be a polite and nice person. But please…hold the mustard. Perhaps all the MTC families could sell their ipads/iphones to help pay for teacher raises. Or do demand to have your iPad, too?

  68. Absolutely, bebopgun, I demand my choice. If my kids are forced out of Edgemont, then I demand a choice as to where they go after. In your eagerness to take a nasty tone with a fellow resident, you miss the point. My issue is why a singular group of families is being asked to bear a disproportionate burden of the district’s drastic cuts. Please explain to me why the taxpaying families whose children were placed at edgemont via the magnet “choice” system should now be forced to (i) lose their school community and (ii) get no choice about which other school to go to? Why should we be forced to nishuane/hillside? Please explain to me? And, not that it is relevant, I don’t even own an ipad, ipod , or an i anything. You sound like someone with a mean streak. 🙂

  69. I am still concerned by the decision to outsource/eliminate classroom aides. In my son’s Kindergarten class, it’s the presence of the aide…actually aides, because one of the students is assigned a personal aide so we have 3 adults in our classroom of 25, that enables the teacher to work in small groups with those students that need extra help, and also with those students that are more advanced. Already in Kindergarten, I regularly see general notes coming home from the teacher reminding parents to actually do the assigned homework with their children.

    Now did I miss something? Did we solve the whole achievement gap in Kindergarten this year? What is going to happen next year? At our librarian-less school, we get regular requests this year for parents to volunteer for library duty. If we don’t have enough volunteers, our kids can’t check out books. Next year in our aide-less first grade classes, I’m guessing we are going to need parent volunteers to facilitate every math and reading lesson.
    I hope the parents of this district are prepared to volunteer en masse to assist in the classrooms next year.

    I wonder how many of our schools will make AYP going forward?

  70. njgator: You are very right to be concerned! Looks like everyone things that these clssroom aides have been a luxury. They are very much needed in 1st grade and even 2nd as well. Test scores will continue to go down. There will no longer be ways to form small reading groups. I love the parents who say they will volunteer. I have seen them sign up at the beginning of the year and by late October….it becomes scattered. This comes up or that….it’s not steady. Really disappointing to see how the Board is making all the cuts at the elementary level. They need to do some research on how important Elementary Education is….
    I also agree with above post that Edgemont kids should NOT be forced to go to one school. Seriously, these Egdemont parents chose the smallest school/environment for their kids. Then the BOE/Alvarez says they will be placed in the school with the largest (by far) population. That’s just crazy. Even though I think Nishuane/Hillside is fantastic, I can assure you it is not for EVERY kid!

  71. Many excellent and well thought out posts above.

    My question is precisely why is the magnet system so sacrosanct? Shouldn’t we, by now, be able to offer the same curriculum and the same quality of education in all of the elementary schools, regardless of their location? Under the magnet system there are strong perceptions that some schools are far more desirable than others, have better curricula, etc. I say, move beyond the outdated concepts of of racism and income inequality which at one time theoretically fostered an uneven system of educational opportunities. Shouldn’t we have had ample time to address these issues? Times have changed since the current system was founded, and I would argue a return to the neighborhood based school model: that is, if the same level of education can be delivered and the same standards are applied. If this is not possible, I would ask why. Why? Have we perverted the original idea behind the magnet concept, to now operate a what is closer to a private school system under the public umbrella, with each school offering a discrete curriculum? I’ve seen parents utterly crestfallen if their children couldn’t get a spot in the “right” elementary school. Again, equality should be the goal.

    In addition, the magnet system has effectively impeded ability of children to make more friends in their neighborhoods, like most of us did growing up. If children can walk or ride their bikes to school, they can more easily get together with classmates because all of them live within the same general radius of the school. Remember when, as children ourselves it was common to see lots of kids out on their bikes, riding to their friends houses. You don’t see that anymore, and it’s not just a casualty of the more structured environment of planned activities. I would argue that the “play date” phenomenon is a significant outgrowth of the magnet system, since children need to be taxied across town to see their friends. Play dates are great, but impromptu games of tag and kickball with neighborhood friends don’t happen the way they used to when everyone went to the same school.

    At the same time, the proliferation of structured after school activities and the panoply of sports programs that we offer at the community level effectively encourages a natural mixing of kids with common interests from all over town, and other communities as well.

    In middle school, everyone comes together, just like they always have.

    Now lets look at the whole transportation issue. We could eliminate much of this Byzantine and costly busing system and dramatically bring down costs, traffic, and pollution. The number of buses crisscrossing town on any given morning is ridiculous by any measure. The savings immediately realized from a radical simplification of the busing system could immediately be applied to better the quality of education.

    The magnet system has served it’s purpose. Time to move on.

  72. Cro: Regarding your above mention of tying compensation to performance, there is an excellent chapter in on the potential unintended consequences of this. Seems teachers in the study were far more likely to take unorthodox measures to insure that their charges got better scores, like giving them the answers. I’m sure you’ve read it; if not, it’s worthwhile.

  73. First off deadeye, the district is still under court order to integrate the schools. So you don’t even know if this is a legal option for Montclair, let alone a good idea.

    Secondly, you have many kids in the existing K-8 population that are not attending the school closest to their home. Are you proposing disrupting all of those placements and moving these kids to different schools or phasing in neighborhood schools with the next entering K class? If you phased this in, what about all of the existing families with older kids at different schools?

  74. deadeye, perhaps you should know a bit about the Town’s history regarding segregation.

    Check the links below. The book was written by parents, teachers, administrators and kids wrote about the subject, the creation of the World Lit Program and why Renaissance was created.

    So while some folks don’t understand the Magnet system (why they moved here in the first place is an obvious question), or why some of us have no desire to see the Town’s schools re-segregate it’s important to know why we have a magnet system.

    Times Article:


  75. NJG: Time to revisit the integration issue. Last time I checked, this is Montclair in 2011, not Selma, or Boston in the 1960’s. This is as naturally diverse and integrated as any suburban town that you’re going to find, and the people like it that way. So, instead of applying some rigid quota, lets try to be realistic. Look around.

    As for the existing K-8 kids, I would advocated whatever measure can accomplish the desired result as expeditiously as possible. As to the implementation, whatever needs to be done to achieve the goal as expeditiously as possible with the fewest disruptions. I think you would be surprised how many parents would opt quickly for the neighborhood school and forego the bus. The kids might gripe, but they would get over it. Again, this is predicated on leveling the playing field educationally.

  76. I too am surprised that the District would be willing to ask the elementary and middle school populations to make such sacrifices (pre-K, busing, aides, closures, language teachers, librarians, etc.) while expanding the high school with another small learning community. Seems very backhanded.

    As for tenure/merit evaluation for teachers, this is such a hard question I can’t even begin to sort it out in my poor brain. I have seen for myself how lack of accountability can sometimes lead to complacency. However, the problem here is the measure. Prof posted this link a little while back:
    What an an excellent article, which talks about the importance of home life to the success of a student. How can you judge a teacher on a student’s performance, if the home support isn’t there? If they’ve had a slower start? If the underlying behaviors are missing or undeveloped? That’s just as unfair as granting complete job safety No Matter What. Like I said, I am not smart enough to even offer hint of a solution.

    And educational equality aside, going back to neighborhood schools would result in segregated schools. I like the fact that kids of all stripes get to know each other from the very beginning here, rather than waiting til Middle School. I grew up in white-bread suburbia and starting in junior high, some kids were bussed up from a town near the Mexican border. There were no efforts by the school to introduce us nor handle any issues that arose (and there certainly did). Those kids didn’t want to be there and were angry about the whole thing. We didn’t know what to make of them. It was not pretty. I know our town is much more integrated than what I’m describing due to recreational sports, clubs and etc., but I just think the sooner everyone learns to get along, the better!

  77. deadeye,

    Your idea that “Montclair 2011” is different from those others is odd. This town- and NJ- is STILL highly segregated, much of this corresponds with income.

    But, drive around and take a look. You’ll see a fairly segregated town, with groups of integrated kids- that’s because of the schools!

    But you MAKE THE POINT about the magnet system- it integrates our schools. IF we go back to “neighborhood” schools, with our segregated neighborhoods, we’d have segregated schools (again) and just like that, Montclair 2011 will look just like Boston in the 60’s/70’s.

  78. deadeye,

    This is Montclair in 2011, and it’s a damn good town to live in for diversity. It’s the reason my husband and I, an interracial couple, decided to move here when we got married. But the diversity is largely due to the Magnet school system. If Montclair was a neighborhood school system, schools would be segregated by race and economics.

    I love Montclair, and feel it’s the best place to raise my biracial kids, but it’s not free of racism. Years ago, I was asking another mom I met in a gym class about the town pools. She was explaining each pool and said she wouldn’t go to Nishuane pool. When I asked why, she said, “The undesirable people go there.” When I pressed her for more, she got flustered and tried to change the subject. I guess she couldn’t tell that my daughter was half-black.

  79. Oh Georgette! I hate hate hate that kind of stuff! Sorry you had to endure such ignorance. “Undesirables”?! The nerve!

    What comes around, goes around. Karma will get her someday.

  80. Deadeye, yes it is 2011 when a person can hide behind their computer screen with a user name and shout their opinion without anyone knowing who they are. This is what “Deadeye” thought was appropriate to say about the man John Bonesteels name a few days ago on Baristanet,”Bonesteel? Is that a stage name of some sort? What else is in this curriculum?”

    I can’t possibly find any credibility in anything you say after such a immature remark.

  81. We moved to Montclair specifically to send our three children to Edgemont Montessori School–one of the only public Montessori schools in the country. There, they received an exemplary education. Since then, we have had experience with all three middle schools and the high school. Their post-Montessori educational experience in Montclair has been mediocre at best. It is sad that a beacon for excellence in this town is at risk.

  82. Tudlow,
    You are giving me the impression that you feel the private sector is somehow the enemy here? You seem to take my comments regarding recognition and performance evaluations to an extreme level, that I am one of those “Christie” guys out looking to destroy teachers. I can assure you that is not the case.
    Please point out to me where I “complained about the benefits but say that teachers should be paid more.” Also,given that you really don’t know much about me at all, I don’t understand how you can say “I’m guessing that when teachers start contributing more to their health care and pensions, you’ll then complain that their salaries are too high–especially when YOU personally don’t get a raise. Heaven forfend that a teacher gets a raise when you don’t!” What basis do you have for saying that? My raises,salary and compensation are based upon my success in my market and have nothing to do with what teachers make or any other profession.
    Honestly Tudlow, I would LOVE to take a walk in your shoes! You give me the time, date(s) and location and I will adjust my schedule to be there. Perhaps we can do a day a week or a few days a month? Let me know what you can accomodate.
    Finally, I must say that your responses seem to indicate to me that I should just shut up, pay my taxes and leave this to the educational establishment.If that is the case,let me tell you that is an unacceptable position (and somewhat offensive). I would offer up to you and the rest of the educational establishment that it is really self defeating to alienate the tax paying public.

  83. My my, Kev, I thought we were friends. My little note wasn’t solely aimed at you, specifically the part about salaries. Not at all and I’m being quite sincere. Perhaps I did get the impression from you that the charter school/school choice movement aligns with your ideals as it does with most who work in finance/the private sector. Of course it’s rather popular among “progressives,” too, so it crosses the political divide. I don’t like the push toward privatizing public education, that’s all I was trying to say to you. I believe strongly in public education.

    You would like to be a teacher for a week? You want to take over my class for a few days? Better brush up on your science! Of course the taxpayers should have a voice but there often seems to be a lack of humility on the taxpayers part. I sense that people think they have solutions–they know what’s best–without having any idea of the reality of teaching and its many challenges. Take merit-based pay, for example. It sounds fantastic, makes perfect sense. But how will it be measured? There are many, many factors that affect what a student learns that are completely out of control of what a teacher does in the classroom. And then you have to ask what exactly it is you want to measure with the assessments. For example, every single student in NJ has to now take a Biology course to graduate. Do you remember what you learned in your high school Bio class? Do you really think it’s important that an adult knows the phases of meiosis? Because that’s the stuff that’s easy to measure with standardized exams and standardized exams will be used for merit-based pay. Personally, I think it’s more important for students to learn to think critically about science (and the world in general) and to learn science as a process as opposed to just content. Because if students learned about the importance of evidence in science, I think we wouldn’t have so many adults that think autism is linked to MMR, believe in intelligent design as opposed to evolution and believe in all of this ridiculous pseudoscience stuff. Fact: more Americans today believe in astrology and occult phenomena than did people in medieval Europe. (Sad, sad, sad.) I could go on and on about this topic, but I won’t. I’m basically trying to saying that it’s much harder to measure the critical thinking aspects with standardized assessments and that’s another reason that merit-based pay bothers me. Yes, measure some content, of course–students really should know the difference btw mitosis and meiosis–but it’s hard to develop a good assessment tool. Oh, merit-based pay is coming, we all know it’s coming, but it’s so frustrating that the taxpaying citizens refuse to acknowledge the complexities of how to measure merit. People don’t like nuances–they want it all black and white. Human nature but still frustrating.

    Thank you for posting the link for the report. I think it speaks well to deadeye’s shortsighted philosophy on why we should dismantle the magnet system for elementary schools. Here is an excellent visual of how “integrated” and utopian Montclair is:
    Click on Black population and look at Montclair. Pretty integrated! Also very interesting to look the Household earning less than $30,000. Dismantling the magnet system or increasing the the mile limit for courtesy busing would be very detrimental to Montclair’s education system and the town. The map is very fun to play around with, btw.

    Okay, I have a day off today and I’m going to give the education stuff a break. Have a wonderful day, Kevin! You really do seem like a thoughtful guy even if I don’t agree with all of your thoughts.

  84. Good Lord, that’s a long note. It’s like a novella! Sorry about that, especially for those typos at the end. I hope it’s riveting to you, though, Kevin. 🙂

  85. Madame Tudlow, I always enjoy your posts, no matter their length! ;D

    I do miss seeing your mysterious avatar though, here on the Kids page!

  86. I’ve a bunch of ideas I’d like to add, but I’m short on time. I’ll try to do them one at a time.

    First: Let’s consider this oft repeated idea of “shared sacrifice”. It sounds nice, but it is being applied in an illusory fashion to the idea of closing schools. The claim is that one school suffers. The reality is that we don’t care about schools. We care about children. The illusion results because the wrong measurement is being applied.

    If we leave all schools open, we have more overhead. That translates to less money actually for the students.

    So we can run a larger district with more money spent on overhead and less on the children, or we can run a smaller district with less overhead and more money spent on the children.

    I’m all for reducing overhead and spending the result on the children.


  87. Someone above asked how I feel about having Edgemont become a house in Nishuane and Hillside. I assume that this refers to the number of students, as I’m not qualified to speak to “schools in schools”.

    Given one of the reasons we chose Nishuane/Hillside, I see running closer to capacity as a Good Thing. The more students, the more opportunities.

    Consider some terrific but unpopular class that combines art, math, and gymnastics. My boys would love this. But let’s say that only about 4% of the student population shares this interest. Let’s further assume, just because I need a number, that a class must have 18 students desiring it to get on the schedule.

    In a school of 450 kids, my boys get to enjoy that class. In a school of 300 kids, there’s not enough interest to hold the class.

    More students means more diverse opportunities, more opportunities to explore the bizarre little niches of interest that make our children unique.


  88. Someone above mentioned the idea of reviewing the magnet themes, and this was also mentioned at the last BOE meeting. I think the idea a good one.

    But…I have to admit, whenever I think too hard about the idea of magnet schools I feel sorry for someone. Because of our magnet system, only one school can have a broadcast studio? Well, that sucks for everyone else. Only one school can have a greenhouse? Everyone else loses. Only one school has Chinese? Too bad.

    It’s a “someone always loses” scenario, and I find that sad. What if we decide to have one magnet with an artistic theme and another with a math theme? That would put us in a terrible position, as our children have a passion for both.

    Any way we divide features or themes like this, someone loses!

    I don’t know the right solution. Perhaps some expert could come in and show us how to run magnets where nobody loses. That would be nice.


  89. Another theme mentioned above is short-changing the elementary (and even middle) schools for the High School. I agree with those that think this a ridiculous and terribly short-sighted idea.

    More, there is a bit of chicanery of numbers going on when we speak of moving a middle school to make room for the High School. First, it was made quite clear that no renovation dollars were wasted, so that is a good thing.

    However, if both Rand and Edgemont buildings remain in use, much of the $550,000 savings disappears. Not all, but a fair sized chunk. So it is unreasonable to be, on one hand, promoting an idea that saves over half a million dollars while also promoting ideas not accounted for in the numbers that will significantly shrink that number.

    The “not accounted for in the numbers” aspect is where I get most annoyed. For good or ill, Central Office is building a budget. But the BOE is changing the terrain beneath CO’s feet. We get enough of that nonsense from the state. The BOE is creating the problem they’d hoped to avoid by adding variables quite late in the process.

    This really should be stopped.


  90. Tudlow,
    Of course we are friends! Don’t take anything there as being “unfriendly”. I’m up in the air about charter and school choice at this point. I can see advantages/disadvantages to each argument. I do think that some of these alternative are being put out there because the educational establishment has resisted any changes. This situation reminds me of the old Bell System situation back in the 70s. Had they been responsive to the public’s demands rather than resist, they might have been able to perserve the system.
    No, I didn’t mean that I wanted to come teach your class. It has been a long time since I took Biology but I do have fond memories of disecting frogs! (These days I just prefer having thos little legs sauteed in garlic and butter.) I would enjoy observing the class and/or having the opportunity to speak with teachers and administrators.
    As far as measurements, we really shouldn’t be doing things that we can’t measure. I think your ideas regarding critical thinking are good however if we can’t measure it, how do we know it is better? If you (and the principle?) decide that you want to take a critical thinking approach to Biology, that is fine with me. We all just need to understand that the students have to take/pass a test at the end of the course.
    Here’s my advice to you Tudlow, and this is based upon my personal experience of having my butt kicked by the public.Get out in front of this thing! Develop some reasonable measurements that you propose to be used in teacher evaluations. Otherwise you leave the door open for others to impose their measuremments on you and that won’t be pretty! I had a great boss who,(during some very dark/tense days) once quipped,”Hey, when you are getting run out of town, get in front and make it look like a parade!”

    Good luck and thanks for the census info! The detail there is amazing. Kinda scarey actually!

  91. The idea of “spending too much on teachers” simply because revenues are down is not a valid perspective. Something costs what it costs; you don’t get to have it at a discount just because you’ve less cash on hand.

    Yes, cuts make sense in the current economy. That’s what most of us are experiencing. But that’s a smaller part of a much larger puzzle that is…well…puzzling me.

    We clearly have a problem affording education in Montclair. What I cannot quite grasp is why this is so.

    Our per-student spending isn’t extreme. Our administrative overhead isn’t extreme. There’s nothing I’ve seen to suggest that we’re outrageously expensive.

    So: What am I missing? Are we spending monies that don’t appear in the “per-student spending” comparisons that keep appearing at BOE presentations? The alternative is that we’ve significantly less revenue than other districts. Is this just our lack of industry in town?

    Perhaps we can open a coal mine?


  92. Andrew, always nice to hear from you!

    Perhaps the money question comes down to why are we only getting X dollars in aid from the State. I vaguely recall that our DFG was changed toward the higher end and there was some ruckus about the concurrent loss of assistance. Though maybe I’m mistaken. Problem is we have a huge bell curve of incomes in this town and I envision people with sunvisors and glasses in a Trenton back room deciding that because we have a certain percentage of folks making a gazillion dollars, we obviously don’t need any help.

    So that leads me to believe that the less aid we get back from the State (which remember, is actually our OWN money!) the more we will have to pay for schools as part of our municipal bill.

    I have heard that ratables are a great help. Logically it seems that they would, though I can’t speak from experience, other than as a visitor to a district that had lots of them…. Flemington. My kid was invited to a choir thing there a few years back, and we spent the day at one of their schools. It was stunningly beautiful. Of course nosy me, I checked out their district website. Amazing. And I believe Flemington has a nice share of retail/auto/office space ratables. So it would seem…non-tax-exempt ratables are beneficial…

  93. @Andrew-
    I’m guessing that the “not accounted for numbers” you are referring to are the added costs of the high school’s learning environments in the Rand building. I have yet to hear any numbers put to Dr. Earle’s extensive list.

    While I agree with the advantages you give for having a large school, there are advantages to a small school too.

    Quite frankly, it surprises me that Nishuane/Hillside can comfortably fit so many more kids. The fact the I’ve heard Nishuane parents speak out in favor of this, leads me to believe they have a lot more space than what is obvious.

  94. Kay, you kind soul, thank you for the compliment. Someone figured out who I was and I prefer to remain a woman of mystery so I ditched the avatar.

    I think you’re correct about Mtc’s DFG. This town has an incredible range of incomes compared to neighboring towns and it complicates things somewhat. And the state wants the teachers to do more–more standardized testing, which means more preparation, more inclusion, which means more differentiated instruction and co-teaching, etc. But they want the schools to do this with less money from the state, so it gets put on the residents of the town. Not a good situation.

    And Kevin, thanks for your words of encouragement. Have you considered a career change? You seem to have a lot of interest and passion and the world of education could use you! I think that a teacher can change things within a school, yes, but that is much harder to do on a state-wide level, unless, of course I can have the ear of Mr. Cerf.

    There are many students who are very likable, nice kids but they do very little outside of the classroom. It can create a real hurdle for teachers, but that’s another story for another time.

    Times they are a-changin’ when it comes to education. It will be interesting to see where we stand once the dust settles.

  95. agideon – What did you mean when you said “If we leave all schools open, we have more overhead.” This makes sense in consolidating business operations, but does it work in public education? Since we already own the buildings, I’m wondering how much overhead are we talking about? The numbers don’t seem to make any sense – the BFWG report showed $840k in savings from closing Ren. (was that all overhead?), and Alvarez showed nearly the same number, derived solely from staff reductions. If overhead reductions account for $840, and staff for another $850, then we should be talking about a savings of about $1.7 mill. And are you saying the idea in the BFWG report was that we would eliminate overhead by having empty school buildings in our district?

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