Montclair Schools Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez presided over his last public meeting of the Montclair Board of Education, and he thanked the community for their support after nine years of service. Dr. Alvarez, who will soon become the schools superintendent of Rye, New York, indicated that he would keep Montclair in his interests.
“It’s a great school system,” he said of the township’s public schools, “and I think you’re going to do great in going forward. I’m going to be watching you from afar.”
The bulk of the meeting was going over new business for the coming 2012-13 school year, as well as the evolution of the fund balance while making the transition from 2011-12 into the next two school years.
Dr. Alvarez announced that Joseph Schmidt, a curriculum supervisor and the district’s Anti- Bully Coordinator for the Morris School District in Morristown, will fill the role of principal at Watchung Elementary School in September. Schmidt is replacing Peter Turnamian who announced he was leaving for an Assistant Superintendent position with the Newark Public Schools.
The search for a principal at Mount Hebron Middle School has not been filled and Alvarez said it may be several more weeks. it was announced at the end of May that Principal Guy Whitlock would be leaving and taking a position in central office.
The Big Picture Leanrning Program at MHS
Damon Cooper, assistant principal of Montclair High School, presented a program for teaching and advising a selective number of high school students. Montclair High School plans to adopt the Big Picture Learning program to connect with high school students who learn in different ways. A language or math teacher would interact with a small group of students. The teacher would get to establish more personal associations with them, as well as bring more real-world scenarios to the classroom and teach a carefully developed and rigorous lesson plan to suit their needs.
“That person has to be able to really connect with the students at all levels – emotional, social, academic,” Cooper said of such a teacher. “They have to able to address all the needs that a non-traditional learner would have.”
The Big Picture program, which also includes internships, is slated to begin in September with twelve to fifteen sophomores.
On the budget side, Business Administrator Dana Sullivan reported projections for the 2011-12 school budget, which are not final until an audit can be completed. She announced a fund balance of $7.2 million that was generated in part by $1.8 million in aid, $1 million left over from 46 retiring employees who were replaced by employees at lower salaries, and $2.4 million left over from employee benefits, among other expenditures. Sullivan said that $1 million of the balance has already been used for tax relief in the 2012-13 budget, with $3.5 million more in tax relief for 2013-14 school year. Board President Shelly Lombard explained that the “tax relief” does not mean refunds for the taxpayers but rather represents money that the school board doesn’t have to ask taxpayers for to pay for mostly one-time expenditures.
The mundane matters of spending became emotionally charged when teaching assistant Jim Zarrilli spoke in the public comment forum. He lamented that the loss of benefits over the past year has been stressful on his life and his job, and he grew increasingly frustrated as he noted that teaching assistant (TA) benefits were taken away without negotiations but can only be restored through negotiations. Zarrilli was frustrated most by a scheduled June 13 meeting between the school board and the Montclair Education Association that had to be postponed until July 11. The TA contract expires on June 30.
“Where is the sense of urgency that you mentioned at a previous meeting?” Zarrilli demanded regarding the negotiations. “How in the name of God can this be done if you will not even sit down to talk? The clock is ticking for us [TAs] as we financially bleed to death, yet you continue to play this cat-and-mouse game with our lives hanging in the balance! Shame on you!”
Zarrilli’s remarks prompted an angry response from board member Deborah Wilson.
“We are not playing cat-and-mouse,” Wilson said. “We take our responsibilities very seriously.”
Kulwin explained that schedule conflicts, not a refusal to negotiate with school system employees, causes meetings to be postponed, as happened with the June 13 meeting.
Chartwells Lunch Service Contract Renewed
Toward the end of the meeting, board member Tanya Coke reported that, in response to a board committee’s request for proposal (RFP) for a new school lunch vendor, Chartwells, the current vendor, retained its contract after competing with two other vendors. The other vendors were found to be cost-ineffective, and Chartwells was given the understanding to continue to improve school lunches even as the new RFP tightens nutritional standards.