Montclair Board Budget Meeting: MacCormack to Restructure Central Office Positions

superintendent maccormack and montclair boeUPDATED: Clarifications made in bold.

The preliminary budget for the 2013-14 school year was discussed at last night’s Montclair Board budget meeting.   None of the details are finalized, but the document reflects the school board’s interest in evaluating teacher performance more closely, cultivating and recruiting greater educational talent, and implementing the Common Core curricular standards championed by School Superintendent Penny MacCormack.

“There is real need in our community to keep the strong, educational structure that we have,” said Dr. MacCormack, commenting on the feedback she has gotten in the numerous meetings since assuming the superintendent’s position in November 2012.  “There is a desire for focus on teacher effectiveness, leadership effectiveness, the developing of talent within, and the implementation of a set of rigorous standards . . . that we know are aligned to realize for our children college and career readiness.” She said that the budget would set the district toward those goals.

The total budget for 2013-14 would come in at $113.5 million, down slightly from the actual $114.6 million of the previous year.  Basic state aid would remain consistent at $6.6 million, as would the $97.5 million tax levy. Expenses on regular school programs and employees benefits would increase, however, while administration and transportation costs would go down slightly.

Dr. MacCormack proposed numerous changes to the central support staff. Currently there is one Head of Personnel who does all the hiring and oversees the logistics of HR.  Dr. MacCormack is proposing is to separate the functions into two jobs at annual salaries of $118,000 each—a Chief Talent Officer who will focus on strategic recruitment, development of internal talent, help retain talent and offer assistance with evaluation and professional development for our staff. The other position will be to handle all of the logistics of Human Resources, the forms, the paperworks the compliance and legal issues. They will be actively in the buildings.and  The Recruiter of Talent will focus on strategic recruitment, development of internal talent, help retain talent and offer assistance. The special assistant to the superintendent would be replaced by a talent officer overseeing both, with professional development of teachers and principals aligned to the new evaluation systems. Dr. MacCormack hopes to cultivate more principals in an educational leadership role, with managerial skills being referred to deans of students in the largest schools. The chief talent officer will be spending 1.5 days or 25% of their time in the buildings. The content area academic staff will be spending 2.5 days of the week or 50% of their time in the buildings helping to develop content area, improve instruction and evaluation, while Dr. MacCormack herself would spend the same amount of time in principal instructional leadership.

“To have these things actually happen,” she said, “you have to have a staff dedicated to these ideas.” The effort to get them to staffers from a central support office to spend more time in the schools was crucial, she added, to avoid a disconnect.

See the budget presentation in full here.

Dr. MacCormack also said that the strategies she hopes to implement will help the board budget more carefully as the fund balance decreases. For 2013-14, it’s expected to decrease 22 percent, from $6.1 million to $4.8 million.

The board members were mostly pleased with the spending plans emphasizing enhances teacher development and student achievement, with a few questions on the particulars.  Leslie Larson asked about the jump in food service from $25,000 to $130,000, and Interim Business Manager Nicholas Puleio explained the there was a deficit in the 2011-12 school year food expenses, with this year’s $25,000 figure an underestimation.  “We’re trying to project that money going forward,” he said, “to help offset the deficit in food services correctly.”

Shelly Lombard asked about the sharp capital outlay decrease from $1,265,938 in the current school year to $144,721 for 2013-14.  Puleio told her that the district had to place that number as an appropriation because the New Jersey Schools Development Authority required them to pay it a certain percentage on the bonds sold to find school construction.  “We feel that that is perhaps a little bit more than our share should be,” he said, “but that’s a given number to us, so we have to appropriate that . . ..  Any school district that had a grant from the Schools Development Authority has an appropriation that they have to put in.”  The larger sum was mostly for one-time capital expenditures, he said.

Board President Robin Kulwin took a moment at the beginning of the meeting to issue a progress report on the teachers’ contract negotiations with the Montclair Education Association (MEA).  The board met again with the MEA on Friday, March 1, and set dates throughout the month to continue talks to avoid mediation.

“The board and the MEA agreed that each side will maintain the confidentiality of the contract negotiation process and will not engage in any public discussion or disclosure of the content of their ongoing negotiations,” Kulwin said, promising to keep the public updated.  The board also made arrangements to pay through March the cost of COBRA benefits for seventeen employees who would have seen their health benefits interrupted after February 28.

The budget won plaudits from local residents, with Carol Schlein saying she liked what she heard about the emphasis on meeting goals of excellence in the budget.  Others, though, decried the rhetoric of the MEA at the February 25 school board meeting.  Resident Carol Evertsen said she was “torn apart” by the teachers’ union leadership, calling it harmful and divisive.

Board member Deborah Wilson, citing her experience as a human resources manager, praised Dr. MacCormack for her vision in reworking the central staff.  “[We’ve] never had that kind of depth and breadth in HR, let alone talent,” she said.

The meeting, which was relocated to the Glenfield Middle School auditorium, then adjourned, with plans to meet at the same location tonight, March 5, to adopt the budget tentatively.

See the tentative budget here.

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  1. It all sounds so lovely. That is, until you take into consideration those who are currently sitting in central office picking their noses doing nothing because they were removed from a school and now earn high salaries, doing nothing. Also, there is no consideration that we have Montclair State University at our door with tons well educated new teachers, rendering the expensive “personal assistants” to the superintendent unnecessary. Where are the evaluations of administrators, deans of whatever, principles and their personal assistants aka assistant principals? I see no development there. Once the budget is set for the year and the “new talent” is found, exactly what does the central office do with their expensive talent who sit with no determined amount of responsibility. Wasn’t there a principal removed from a school last year at a high salary right about the time it was discovered the assistant principal was sending her children to school while living out of district? What is he responsible for? Sorry, spending more on hiring expensive HR personal assistants is NOT what we need. Considering we have so much “talent” we currently pay too much for sitting around. Develop that. Fix the benefits packages of our current employees and work towards a less acrimonious relationship with those outside of the proverbial and most obvious loop.

  2. Speak of high priced personal assistants without discussion of resuming necessary needs within the schools is very disheartening. We need to give our children second language opportunities, we need more technology savvy teachers and we need more rigorous checks and evaluations on the currently corrupted system which provides and invites those who have the appearance of influence in town to red shirt and to retain their children against academic advice, costing the taxpayers millions. They allow for the same to instruct principals and assistant principals by hand picking which teacher their child and any younger sibling will have, selecting the best teachers, the best classes, all dictated to the aforementioned principals and assistant principals. If we truly place our children first, we need to do so with more teachers and fewer high priced administrators. If the job is too big for Penny, which it appears to be, she should be able to find another in a district that has tons of money for personal assistants to do her job. I am not at all amused by this inappropriate gesture. Schools have libraries and languages offered to students in areas of NJ that have much less to work with than we do. This is wholly unacceptable to me and many parents.

  3. “If the job is too big for Penny, which it appears to be, she should be able to find another in a district that has tons of money for personal assistants to do her job. ”

    such invective is unnecessary and bespeaks a person who has either a vested interest or an axe to grind. Either way, in my mind it makes your points unworthy of discussion.

    I think MacCormack is saying the right things, let’s see the right actions. She should be given a chance to produce results.

  4. I must have hit a nerve with ROC! Don’t worry ROC, most folks in town know who you are. It is obvious you don’t want to loose your sweet spot regarding your children. Or is it that your children learn words like “Invective” by cheating on the NYTimes crossword puzzle too! I find your blatent disregard for anyone’s views that do not coincide with yours to be rather trite and disrespectful of the full spectrum of diversity this town has flourished upon.
    We do not need to hire more people to sit in central office.
    We should repurpose those already sitting in central office collecting over 100K a year salaries.
    We do not need a talent scout.
    We do not need more money in the central office.
    We need to have children who learn Spanish, French and Mandarin in ALL of our schools.
    We need functional libraries in each school.
    Both are very important aspects of any propspective University Student.
    We need to make a township wide law prohibiting parents from retaining and red shirting. This alone costs us millions of tax dollars every year. Perhaps finding those who allowed this to happen repeatedly and then charging the parents who are adding an extra year to the taxpayers expense for these children and sending out 16K bills for each illegitimate entitlement and pure violation would close the $$ gap.
    We need accountability not corruption to close acheivement gaps.
    We need teachers who feel valued, heard and respected.

    Exactly HOW many NEW teachers do we need to justify this position? Explain why other highly fuctional districts can manage to have BASICS and Montclair cannot? I heard nothing of any merit to address the acheivement gaps and not a word about balancing the diversity issues we have at many of our smaller boutique schools.
    Obviously, I hit a bulls eye!

  5. Dear Blahblah — I was able to attend last night’s meeting, and I encourage you (and everyone) to take a look at the powerpoint presentation and full budget that are linked in the article. A few things you may find interesting:

    It was reported that the middle school principal you mentioned in your posts who was transferred to Central Office is no longer with the District, and the Superintendent wished that individual well.

    You mention some “assistant” positions at C.O. The position of “Special Assistant to the Superintendent” seems to have been eliminated in Dr. MacCormack’s proposed reorg. That headcount will be placed against a new “Chief Talent Officer” who will be in responsible for development of programs and systems that support the advancement of all teachers and staff. I would imagine that the suggestion of MSU’s education school as a resource for the district will be important for this person. The “Chief Talent Officer” will also be tasked with developing our District’s best and brightest talent for future leadership positions within our own system. Dr MacCormack stressed that all principals report into her and she will be spending 25% of her week working directly with principals to improve their effectiveness as well.

    The new titles mentioned in the article and included in the powerpoint are not all new positions (I believe there is 1 completely new position). They seem to be, however, more specific (content- and grade-specific) jobs with very clear direction to be working in the buildings with teachers and principals — and not hanging out in Central Office. It will be interesting to see how this develops in practice.

    Finally, if you review page 34 of the budget book, you’ll see a summary of administrative expenses. The proposed salaries for the Super’s office = $396,880 for ’13-’14 or $96,260 lower than the current year (a 16% decrease, I think) District-wide administrative expenses are budgeted to drop $802,425 overall, which, if my math is right, represents close to a 40% drop. Take a look and let me know if I’ve interpreted things correctly.
    Your points about libraries and foreign language are critical. Thanks for your advocacy in those areas. Hopefully, a tighter rein on the budget will enable a smart and cost effective restoration of those student programs.

    Thanks and best regards.

  6. I would try and do the same thing as Dr. Penny MacCormack. It would be a lot easier to hire new people who are versed in my strategy like data driven instruction than re-train the current crop of administrators. As old administrators leave or are bumped back into the classroom, the new ones can fill their spots.

    The School Board is the one that has to wrestle with hiring elementary school vice principals or reduce class size. Or add things to the curriculum.

    With the new teacher evaluation standards coming this week, there will be greater opportunity to move out weak instructors. More the reason to bulk up the administrative staff.

  7. Not sure how our great state does it’s arithmetic. Bloomfield gets knocked down in aid, Glen Ridge gets zippo but Montclair stays the same?
    PAZ scratching his head in SJU.

  8. “very clear direction to be working in the buildings”

    Indeed, several positions are noted as requiring 25% time in the schools, and some 50% specifically at the HS. Along with our new superintendent’s emphasis on quality of instruction, I find myself excited as a parent of children early in their careers as Montclair students.

    A teacher spoke last night, suggesting the alternative of spending the $800,000 he computed as spending on new hires on teachers instead, thereby improving educational outcome by reducing class size. Using the state’s “report card” for the district 2010-2011, there are about 620 members of the faculty in the district. Using the latest enrollment report, there are about 6657 students. This yields a ratio of about 10.7. Clearly class sizes are larger than this, but this number only changes by about 0.1 if we add 8 members to the faculty.

    I don’t see 8 faculty hires changing class size over the district that much.

    On the other hand, Dr. MacCormack pointed out that the research shows that intruction quality is more important than class size in predicting educational outcome. I’m certainly not as familiar with the research as she, but my layman’s reading on the subject matches her statement.

    She has explained in great detail the basis of these new and changed positions she’s proposing, and it all centers around the new evaluations and using them to improve quality of instruction. The four new “dean” positions, for example, are intended to free those principals to spend more time, as instructional leaders, in the classroom and working with teachers.

    This seems like a good thing to me.

    Of course, this is all somewhat speculative. Will the implementation yield the sought results? We’ll see. If nothing else, though, I’m excited about a conversation at this level so centered on educational outcomes. I’m eager to see implementation of this plan to improve instruction, and I look forward to a review of the results of this at some point in the future.

    Finally, I am hopeful that these changes will result in an improvement in the qualify of our schools and the education received by our children. I’ve been a fan of the schools for a while, but that doesn’t detract from my excitement for improvement.


  9. “We need to make a township wide law prohibiting parents from retaining and red shirting.”

    Could you elaborate on this? My recollection is that “red shirting” is delaying a student’s entry into the school system. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing for the student I’ll leave for others to debate. But how does it cost the district money? If anything, wouldn’t it save money (though I cannot imagine this adding up to much) by giving us an unusually capable and mature student?


  10. “We do not need a talent scout.”

    While the description is not completely w/o accuracy, this pejorative seems a bit silly. More: I question the statement itself. What’s wrong with a “talent scout”? Why shouldn’t we, for any given position, seek out the best possible person to fill it?

    Teachers are not simply cogs in a factory-like enviroment that churns out educated adults, nor are the others involved in the educational process. They’re individuals with strengths and weaknesses. Addressing weaknesses, improving and sharing strengths, and seeking out those with the most to offer out students seems like a very wise investment for the district.


  11. Agideon makes a lot of good points. Who could argue with Dr. MacCormack’s quest to make teachers better. But, if you’ve ever met her, you get the feeling she thinks teachers are the problem with American education.

    Hints of what Dr. MacCormack values in her curriculum are what worry me. She seems to be back to the basics of reading, writing and math. That seems all fine if there wasn’t a problem called the achievement gap. Everything Dr. MacCormack and the School Board cut out of the budget still gets taught to the kids with money. But, the poor kids lose the opportunity to learn it. It might actually be the origin of the achievement gap in Montclair. Just look around town. There are so many places to get art, music, foreign language and tutor support … for those parents who can pay. The parents I talk to say there aren’t enough days in the week for all their after school activities.

    If enrichment classes help with math and English, and that’s what all the research says, then Dr. MacCormack’s strategy will come up short. At the very least, Montclair’s elite will be well rounded and the poor kids won’t.

    Some research:

  12. Paine, I so agree with your post. All those so called ‘extras’ are essential components of an good education. I recently sent Superintendent McCormack a letter about making sure that the arts continue to be available to all Montclair students. And to add to your links,there is a very interesting group out of Rhode Island School of Design called STEM to STEAM, who advocate for adding Art and Design to the STEM curriculum:

  13. How to tell if your School District is Infected by the Broad Virus

    Schools in your district are suddenly closed.

    Even top-performing schools, alternative schools, schools for the gifted, are inexplicably and suddenly targeted for closure or mergers.

    Repetition of the phrases “the achievement gap” and “closing the achievement gap” in district documents and public statements.

    Repeated use of the terms “excellence” and “best practices” and “data-driven decisions.” (Coupled with a noted absence of any of the above.)

    The production of “data” that is false or cherry-picked, and then used to justify reforms.

    Power is centralized.

    Decision-making is top down.

    Local autonomy of schools is taken away.

    Principals are treated like pawns by the superintendent, relocated, rewarded and punished at will.

    Culture of fear of reprisal develops in which teachers, principals, staff, even parents feel afraid to speak up against the policies of the district or the superintendent.

    Ballooning of the central office at the same time superintendent makes painful cuts to schools and classrooms.

    Sudden increase in number of paid outside consultants.

    Increase in the number of public schools turned into privately-run charters.

    Weak math text adopted (most likely Everyday Math). Possibly weak language arts too, or Writer’s Workshop. District pushes to standard the curriculum.

    Superintendent attempts to sidestep labor laws and union contracts.

    Teachers are no longer referred to as people, educators, colleagues, staff, or even “human resources,” but as “human capital.”

    A (self-anointed, politically connected) group called NCTQ comes to town a few months before your teachers’ contract is up for negotiation and writes a Mad Libs evaluation of your districts’ teachers (for about $14,000) that reaches the predetermined conclusion that teachers are lazy and need merit pay. [“The (NAME OF CITY) School District has too many (NEGATIVE ADJ) teachers. Therefore they need a new (POSITIVE ADJ.) data-based evaluation system tied to test scores…”]

    The district leadership declares that the single most significant problem in the district is suddenly: teachers!

  14. Below is an email I received from a former NJ DOE employee whose moral fatigue forced her from a good paying job with the State. Read it and then you will know why the Eli Broad calls his kind of philanthropy investments rather than grants.
    I am a former NJ DOE employee who resigned recently because I could no longer be a part of the extortion and fraud that is taking part there under the Broad Administration of Chris Cerf, Penny MacCormack, Peter Shulman, Bing Howell, ad nauseum.

    Cerf first tried to get rid of the County Exec Superintendents offices, but was stopped when the legislature reminded him that they were created by statute. How inconvenient! So he hired a Broad Intern (for $90,000 named Rochelle Sinclair) who came up with the idea to overlay the state with 7 Regional Achievement Centers (RACs) staffed with “Education Rockstars” from around the country (read Broad Academy grads) who would go in to schools that were failing, assess them, replace the principals and hire new teachers (Teacher 4 America, anyone?). The problem was the cost.

    Enter Arne Duncan and the NCLB waiver, plus the Race to the Top funding. Now Penny MacCormack is trying to divert the SES money we still have ($56 million)., to pay for the RACs. Oh, and we have thrown out the NCLB report cards and replaced them with our own in-house “measures of proficiency” which is a lot of speculative data manipulated by another bunch of Broad interns since none of the in-house data people would go along with this scheme. They have all been “rubber roomed” in other departments for not being “team players.”

    So far, so good. Now, armed with his new proficiency data, Cerf has swooped down on a bunch of “underperforming” charter schools, presenting them with two options: we pull your charter, close you down, and your kids are on the street OR you select from this DOE-approved list of Charter Management Organizations (more Broad buddies) who will TAKE OVER YOUR CHARTER. This is extortion. The first to fall will be Paul Robeson Charter in Trenton which has a fund balance of $1.6 million. They are even forcing them to change the name of the school to Scholars Academy!!!

    Save us from the pirates of education reform. I know you guys are not really fond of charters, but Cerf is after the public schools, too. (See Newark, Paterson, Jersey City, and Camden). First he comes for the charters, then he comes for the public schools.