Montclair’s School Board Adopts Budget

The chanting began as soon as the board members entered the room at 141 Park Street. “No outsourcing! No outsourcing!” the large crowd of Montclair Educational Association (MEA) members shouted while waving signs to protest the board’s decision to outsource the district’s aides.

The MEA, which had been largely absent from previous Board of Education (BoE) meetings, turned out in full force for the final budget meeting. Only one member, however, stood up to speak during the public comment portion of the evening, and after the rest of the commenters (three) took the mic, a majority of MEA members walked out of the meeting, shouting, “You should be ashamed.”

The exact nature of their frustration was unclear, but it appeared the members were upset by the short public comment session. Board President Shelly Lombard emphasized the board allows for all comments, but only four people had signed up to speak. They were all called.

The MEA members did not exit before listening to Board Vice President Leslie Larson’s prepared statement, which she read in response to union member Joyce Weeg’s question: “Why are you now cutting aides which will affect educational instruction?”

Larson said the choice to outsource the aides “seemed to be educationally sound” after stating how difficult the the decision-making process had been as a board member. She went on to note that many neighboring towns have already begun to outsource aides. She ended her statement by pointing out this recommendation had been discussed and available to the public since October. “Only in the last couple of weeks have we heard from the MEA.”

Indeed, last week the MEA presented the BoE with a proposal suggesting a flat tax of $131 (the amount of decrease on the school portion of residents’ tax bill in the current school budget). Weeg also recalled other cost cutting proposals the MEA made back in December to the Board, which hadn’t been fully considered.

Larson stressed the Board wished to continue working with the MEA and plans to issue them a counter proposal shortly. She hoped even after the adoption of the budget, the BoE could find opportunities to reallocate funds over the next couple of months.

The $110 million budget was unanimously passed, as well as a $1.6 million capital budget.

So, a ray of hope still exists for aides, which is a good thing according to resident Ira Shore. “It’s a grave error to outsource our aides, a decision for which we will be paying for years to come. The people in the classroom are more important than technology, facilities and furniture. We should not balance our budget on the backs of the most vulnerable and least paid – those who work the hardest for the least amount of dollars.”

High School art teacher Stephanie Nagorka agreed, and was glad to hear the BoE and MEA were working together. “There has to be give and take on both sides,” she said.

Later in the evening during the public comment session on non-budget items a resident stood up to chastise the teachers who walked out mid-meeting, stating their behavior after not having attended all the meetings is “rude and unacceptable.”

Montclair teacher Joanne Dedovitch concurred. “I’m embarrassed about how my coworkers behaved.” She added, “It’s raw emotion coming out.”

But, perhaps the real issue of the night was raised by one Montclair resident who asked, “Why is $110M required to educate the children of Montclair?”

The question was left unanswered.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. The final two paragraphs of this story leave a completely inaccurate impression. That question was asked with no interest in the answer. The real answer is in the budget book, which was again available to people walking into the meeting.

    Having spent a great deal of time going through earlier versions of BOE budgets, I found it annoying that someone would come in at the last minute and ask to be given a complete yet brief answer to so open-ended a question. All that was missing was for the speaker to be standing on one foot.

    Several board members tried to give simpler answers, but the speaker clearly wasn’t interested in answers to the question. Rather, he was simply using the question to make a point.

    People interested in a real answer to this question – and people *should* be interested in this, as taxpayers if nothing else! – can find information at https://www.montclair.k12.nj.us/WebPage.aspx?Id=1 and https://www.montclair.k12.nj.us/WebPage.aspx?Id=1708 (though I don’t see a copy of this latest budget book there yet).

    As I’ve said previously, I suspect that the budget process for next year will be as bad or worse than what we’ve seen this year. People interested in what we spend on our schools should get involved as early as possible, when there’s a chance to have some influence on the process and its result.

    …Andrew

  2. The MEA presented the BOE with a proposal for a flat tax of $131 per household?!? That would be side splittingly funny if it wasn’t so infuriating. Also the question of why $110mm is insufficient to run the towns school system is quite a valid one. The winds of change are blowing, and soon those people that blithely sought to dip their hands into the taxpayers pockets rather than entertain an alternative solution will all be attending job fairs. The status quo isn’t working anymore.

  3. The exact nature of their frustration was unclear, but it appeared the members were upset by the short public comment session.

    Nice tease, Georgette. Although the payoff was an anti-climax, since we never found out why they walked out of the meeting, the theory is so funny, and so outrageous, and yet so plausible, that it more than makes up for it.

    Perhaps the disgruntled attenders should seek refuge here, on Baristanet, or Baristakids, where no one gets cut off, no one times out, no one is turned away. Where we all can vent as obnoxiously as we want, for free, with impunity. Oh, hallelujah!

  4. The frustrating part is that the BOE pretty obnoxiously holds to the 2 minute rule when it is convenient for them.

  5. Andrew, I agree with the sentiment of your post. Stacey has not hid the fact that she thinks teachers are overpaid, have it easy, are greedy and that the public school systems of Verona and Montclair are inadequate so it is no surprise that she ended her story with that cheap “zinger.” As if the whole night can be summed up with that rhetorical question by an uninformed resident that had no interest in an honest answer.

  6. @qby33 I actually think that the BOE tends to be far too lax. Even the speaker under discussion went over his two minutes. He said he’d just be finishing up, but then clearly didn’t do so.

    The BOE needs a bouncer *laugh*.

    However, I also think that there needs to be an alternative to this “speak at a meeting” nonsense. The current BOE is good about letting additional people – people that failed to sign up – speak during the “non agenda items comments” period, but the basic process is an archaic one. How much substance can be expressed in two minutes? How much dialogue can there be if people must sign the list before the meeting starts?

    Why can’t the BOE (and the Town Council and other entities) deal with comments submitted to a public electronic forum for that purpose? This would open communication with those lacking babysitting and those that work evenings. It would permit considered responses rather than immediate and off-the-cuff comments, and it would permit those responses more than once a month.

    It would permit real dialogue.

    The closest I’ve seen to this is in BOE meetings of the past, where questions could be submitted at any point in writing. I thought a lot of good material covered in those meetings.

    The downside to this idea is that, by enabling improved and more efficient communication, we could end up swamping the little available time of these volunteers.

    …Andrew

  7. You’ve just raised the real issue of this thread, ‘roo. And again, the questions is left unanswered.

  8. Part of the answer to this “why” question is “it costs what it costs”. To see exactly what that is, take a look at the budget book.

    One can always ask: “why isn’t this particular item less (or more)?” Ask the vendor. Or, in the 80% of the budget covering staff costs, ask the staff (or the union representing them).

    FWIW, I’m not one of the people that believes that all teachers are overpaid. I do believe that some shouldn’t be paid teachers at all, but those that are good are worth what we pay (and more!). The comparison between headline sport figures or movie stars and teachers, considering what each does for our culture, is obscene.

    Read https://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/opinion/13kristof.html for an overview of why I believe that – good! – teachers should be paid more based upon the value they provide.

    …Andrew

Comments are closed.