Proposed 2014-2015 Montclair School Budget Would Raise Taxes

Montclair School BudgetThe most notable topic of discussion at last night’s Montclair Board of Education meeting was the proposed 2014-15 school budget and a proposed 2 – 6 percent increase in the tax levy.

Chief  Operating Officer Brian Fleischer demonstrated that the fund balance had enabled the district to expand education programs and increase teachers’ salaries by 2.85 percent through retroactive pay and provide tax relief to Montclair homeowners in the two most recent school years, with more money remaining on reserve than spent. But, he said, with recurring expenses and rising health costs expected for 2014-15, the district faces a $6.5 million budget shortfall this fiscal year.

Stricter health benefit cost controls and cutting back on expenditures like custodial and clerical overtime, summer scheduling costs, consultant costs and the reduction of a supervisor position at the district level would only close the gap by 3.8 million.

“We do not believe we can cut more from this budget without staffing and program cuts that would materially impact instruction and other vital services to the detriment of children,” the report stated. “So our choices to balance the budget are to either increase the school tax levy or to make painful cuts.”

Fleischer sought to emphasize that the fund balance is ideally used for one-time expenditures, though sometimes it’s necessary to use it to cover recurring expenditures.  He also stressed that teachers’ salary increases were not the primary reason for the deficit.

“We want to pay our teachers well, we value our teachers and they deserve to be paid well,” he said.

Fleischer explained three budget scenarios, each of which carries a tax increase: a 2 percent tax increase that would cut staffing by fifteen employees, some of whom would be teachers;  a 4 percent tax increase that would keep current staffing at current levels and reduce non-salary accounts, and; a 6 percent tax hike to expand services.  All options are based on the premise that state aid – the level of which is contingent on Governor Chris Christie’s budget message to be issued today (February 25).  The monthly tax increase per homeowner, on a home assessed at $505,495 (a 2013 average residential assessment), would average out to $7.12, $14.28, and $21.40 per month, respectively, for each option.

montclair budget

montclair budget

montclair budget

This would be Montclair’s first tax increase in four years.

Superintendent MacCormack is proposing a 4% increase in the tax levy, at  approximately $171 a year per household, to ensure what she beleives are “vital enrichment and athletic programs as well as current staffing levels remain intact.” This would be Montclair’s first tax increase in four years.

“For the past several years, the district has leveraged a budget surplus to support lasting improvements including Elementary World Language teachers and Student
Assistance Counselors, Middle School curriculum support teachers, High School Small Learning Community teachers and nursing staff, key community partnerships as well as a contract that recognizes the contributions our teachers make every day,”  Dr. Penny MacCormack said.

“While tax increases are never popular, I am recommending this modest raise only after cutting as much as I can from the district operations without impacting the work in the classroom, our talented staff or the unique programs that make our community’s public schools among the best in the State.”

Board member Norman Rosenblum acknowledged that it would be difficult to figure out a solution that would allow Montclair residents to remain in town with the threat of increased taxes.  The budget, after receipt of state aid information on February 28, is to be worked on and tentatively adopted at a March 3 workshop, with a public presentation for the board’s March 17 meeting.

Board member David Deutsch, who serves on the board’s finance committee, says he is very happy with he presentation that Fleischer gave as it is “far more clear and lays out in greater detail than what we had in past years.” He said he is also pleased that Dr. MacCormack laid out three options.

See the full Budget Presentation with all the details here. Over the next several weeks members of the public will have the opportunity to weigh in on the budget at Board of Education meetings:

budget meeting calendar

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51 COMMENTS

  1. Given the Watchung Teachers gave an excellent presentation last night, it is a shame the budget information is overshadowing them. I believe whenever our teachers speak at the BOE meetings they are worth discussing and perhaps should have a separate article. To briefly sum up what they said, they denounced the Common Core standards, making it very clear they believe them to be developmentally inappropriate, citing as an example kindergarteners now being expected to recognize 60 sight words by the end of the school year, up from what they feel is the developmentally appropriate standard of 24 words. They also requested a moratorium on the quarterly assessments, emphasizing they force them to teach at too fast a pace, not allowing them to ensure their students understand the material and they indicated they are not getting information of value from the assessments. Also, I would like to acknowledge the two exceptional students from Mt. Hebron who spoke last night. They also spoke against the assessments and presented a poll of I believe 230 students and 227 said they found no value to the assessments. These kids were articulate, open about their feelings they were being taught to the test, made it clear they loved their teachers and school and just wanted their regular midterms and finals restored in lieu of the assessments.

  2. It might be time to explore some sort of exemption, a tax credit to help long time residents with these increased taxes. If someone is in their 60s or older and wishes to remain in town, we might institute an income/asset based sliding scale to retain those most vulnerable.

    An option could be a tightly defined version of a reverse mortgage, maybe even fractional ownership, perhaps through HomeCorps and a bank partner. Let HomeCorps buy 10% of a person’s home, then have a position (first or second refusal) on the remaining 90%. Needs some brighter heads than mine to work through the details. Doing nothing, leaving these people to the market forces, seems to diminish our community.

  3. I agree with nycmontclair that the Watchung teachers’ presentation was extremely informative and deserves specific coverage.

  4. There will be another article on the Watchung School teachers and other education issues brought up.

    We focused on the budget first, since it was the primary focus of last night’s meeting.

  5. And exemption for “long-time” residents?

    Ah, no. The idea of a community and taxes in general is that you sometimes pay for what you don’t use. If I haven’t had a fire at my house, should I receive a discount on my taxes for the next year?

    If “long-term” residents cannot afford to pay the taxes, perhaps they should do what many have done for years– downscale, and/or move to a lower or NO tax State (Fla. has had a mighty increase of NJ residents).

    But the idea that one gets the benefits of living in Montclair (and having good schools is a benefit that even those without kids enjoy), without paying for it is presumptuous, wrong, and flies in the face of shared civic responsibilities.

  6. 1) POSTED BY Frank Rubacky | NOVEMBER 19, 2013 @ 6:05 PM
    Based on these numbers, I’m setting the 2014-15 tax levy over/under at 2.9%.

    Still stands, but will probably creep up next week. While the State aid number will likely increase, there is less “low-hanging fruit” to cut back and more items will be added from the “6% option” to the “4% option.

    2) The amount of the unbudgeted draw-down from the surplus to fund reoccurring expenses takes me by surprise. That was a big budget miss.

    3) When you project out the increases in reoccurring expenses over the next 3 years alone – many with built in escalators – I think the “glory days” of cost containment are essentially over and 3-4% avg increases will be the norm. C’est la vie.

  7. Another year, another fiscal crisis according to this fiscally responsible BOE and Superintendent? You don’t say!!!??!! And who is the blame? Why those teachers and their greedy self-serving contracts that allow them to live high on the hog. These same contracts agreed to by the BOE? Is anyone going to ask how the Superintendent and BOE squandered a $12 million dollar surplus?

    This is straight out the playbook that was seen 2-3 years ago when threats of closing schools were made, and teachers agreed to pay freezes and more health/pension contributions mandated by the state? And now we have another “shortfall”???!!!!?!!! How fiscally irresponsible are these BOE members and Super? And how much gall do they have to ask for further cuts to education as if this town’s schools aren’t thin enough? This is so transparent and so see through. It’s absolutely sickening.

  8. While it’s a small part of the budget (proposed $510,000), can anyone explain why the BOE allocates funds for the Adult School – if this is the “Adult School of Montclair” their website seems to say that courses have tuition costs and are available to residents of any town – not just Montclair. If this is correct, do other towns also contribute money to the Adult School as well? Do Montclair residents have lower tuition costs than non-residents?

  9. In the next election, I will be voting with my feet. It’s just too darn much money to shell out every year.

  10. What is the trend of student enrollments? I thought they discovered after they spent the money on the new school that the trend was a declining student population. If that is the case then it seems likely that expenses should be going down, not up.

    I like the way the data was used in the presentation to only use the last couple of years data to show taxing trends. The last 2 years were finally the years when they listened to the outrage & kept the school tax increases very low. So THOSE are the years to present on graphic form to show how low the tax increases were compared to surrounding towns, Well how would those graphs look for the last 5 years or 10 years? The last 2 years would be clear aberrations!

  11. mtclsown — I may be out of the loop on other discussions happening on different message boards, and I wasn’t able to attend the meeting to hear comments and questions directly, but I’ve reviewed the Bkids article, the Montclair Times’ reporting and the linked slides from Montclair Public Schools, and I don’t see a few of the things you mention in your argument. Let me know what I may be missing as there is much to consider here for our students. In the slides and in quotes I’ve read, Brian Fleishcher, the district’s new business administrator, spoke in support of the teacher’s recently negotiated contract. (“We want to pay our teachers well, we value our teachers and they deserve to be paid well,” he said.) The BoE that heard volunteer committee ideas a few years ago that included scenarios of school closings had four different members compared to the current Board. I think only 3 of the current 7 Board of Ed members from that year continue to serve. Deutsch, Cummings, Merin or Rosenblum have been appointed since that time, haven’t they? And all those discussion happened under different Superintendent — Alvarez not MacCormack. Re asking where the surplus went – An explanation of the budget surplus’ status is provided in the presentation. Slides 7,8, and 9 in the presentation linked in the article and below detail where the surplus went. Someone may or may not agree with these surplus-spending decisions but the information is there for us to see. Looks like it was used to reduce this year’s tax payer levy, applied to fairly negotiated retroactive pay for our teachers, and other programs for students, professional development, etc. Would appreciate any information if these listed programs didn’t really happen or get funded. I don’t think the ’14-’15 budget scenario recommended by the Superintendent includes cuts in staff or curriculum. There was a comparative budget scenario presented that did include cuts (a loss of 15 staff positions and a +2% increase vs. a 4% increase with no staff cuts). The Super did not recommend the +2% budget. Please share any other links or sources you have to round out this information so we can all be fully informed for the upcoming budget workshops. It’s so important for public school advocates to pay attention to in-depth and fact-checked information from as many solid sources as possible.
    https://www.montclair.k12.nj.us/WebPageFiles/2281/budget-14-15-140224.pdf

  12. mcinmtc,

    …yet 3 of the names from the BOE, when the tossing around the idea of school closings, are still on the BOE, and one is the President.

    Additionally, these “programs for students” and professional development are being paid for by this surplus, but ask the teachers if they’ve received that PD. Teachers still remain untrained in many of the tasks they are being asked to do (PARCC testing implementation, which is going to cost the district a whole lot next year, new grading systems, “data analysis” training). As for student “programs”…which ones? For I haven’t seen any in action. In fact, programs over the past couple of years like AVID, Writer’s Room and IMANI don’t exist. Nothing has been created to replace them.

    Much money (upwards of $500k) was spent to create quarterly tests that were not mandated, as well as consultant fees, upwards $100k on a survey (the results of which were never seen or heard of). I read Mr. Fleischer’s quote with skepticism and noting that he’s a politician when he says that. While he may respect the job teachers do, it goes without saying that it is all-but implied that the budget issues, once again, boil down to the contracts of teachers, who have given up a lot in the past 5 years and will now be asked to give more next year.

    My issue is, some of the same folks who cried poverty 2-3 years ago, ended up with a surprise surplus of $6 million (the “one-time” surplus), the $12+ million surplus and did what with it that has actually benefited our schools? And now…a $6 million shortfall, where cuts to jobs may be necessary? Have you been inside a school and seen these classes and what more cuts would do?

  13. The most recent enrollment numbers from the summary (linked above) are odd and probably need some explaining by MPS. Clearly the MPS forecasting tool is flawed and which they admit to. I suspect the recent increases are substantially impacted by the SpecEd student strategy to bring more students back into the district. Maybe the full report will clarify this. The strategy was created as a cost-savings measure. Maybe the BOE will ask how this is impacting the budget numbers presented.

    I don’t see this budget as a crisis situation at all – just a predictable outcome this year and in coming years as the surplus is reduced and programs expanded. Actually, including the “4% Option”, the average School levy increase over the last 7 years has been 2% annually.

    Historically, as the MPS surplus has steadily increased over the last decade, the School levy has steadily decreased. Therefore, I am not surprised as the MPS surplus decreases, the levy is increasing. I can’t speak to causality, but that’s the 10 year trend.

  14. mtclrsown-
    With 3 kids in the schools for the past 10 years or so, you can indeed safely say that yes, mcinmtc has been in classrooms, gymnasiums, on ball fields, has hosted quite a few teacher toasts that I myself attended, and attended many different parent & district meetings-in a number of different buildings across the township. Just saying…

  15. Ok…so, since he/she has been in the classrooms, ask if more cuts, larger class sizes, and more funds to PARCC assessments ($250,000+ next year…and then a yearly upkeep cost) is really going to benefit children?

  16. Why are the free and reduced lunch numbers not included in the enrollment report? They usually are. Are they available elsewhere?

  17. Re: the Adult School, I asked about this line item last year. It was explained that the BoE has two line items for the Adult School, one as an expense, and one, generally exactly the same, as income. For budgeting reasons that I don’t remember, the cost of the programs is included as an expense but is cancelled out by payments from the Adult School back to the district.

  18. @Mara is right about how the Adult School is supposed to be budgeted. At least as of a few years ago, though, there were some “additional expenses” for the Adult School for which the district didn’t receive compensation. I believe it was employee benefits and facility rental, but it’s been long enough that I’m not sure. Perhaps insurance?

    These subsidies were supposed to have ended by now, though I suppose that plan may have changed somewhere along the way.

    …Andrew

  19. Last night was my first time attending a Montclair BOE meeting in person (although I’ve certainly followed the discussions here and elsewhere concerning the meetings for as long as I’ve lived in Montclair — and, to be honest, even a bit before, while we were considering moving to Montclair). As to recurring expenses, one question I had was whether the new budget is considering the approximately $500,000 that apparently got spent on the development of the quarterly assessments last summer as a recurring cost that is getting built into the budget again for this year. I was quite concerned about the Watchung teachers’ comments regarding the efficacy of those assessments in informing their classroom instruction vs. the costs of administering the assessments (and I know that teachers from other elementary schools in the district have echoed these concerns), and I’d like to know (by understanding if we’re budgeting for it) if the district is planning to continue implementing this approach.

    In the meantime, Georgette, while I certainly understand why you’d get the article about the budget presentation up first, I am very much looking forward to the article about the Watchung teachers’ presentation.

    Very late in the meeting, things got a little heated, and I do think the Board members were sincere when they said that the live and breath this Board. I think all of us should remember that, and even though we may disagree vociferously with the direction this Superintendent is moving in (and with the Board for letting her push us this way), the members of the Board are also members of our community, and they are giving a great deal of their time because they do care about the quality of the education available in our district. I think we’d be well served to start with listening to each other, and learning about each other’s points of views with open minds, and to remember that we are all human beings, and not just amalgamations of data points. I’ve been trying very hard to reserve judgment on this Superintendent while she was feeling her way in her first year, but now the data are coming in, my concerns are growing, and I’m concerned about whether our Superintendent is open to learning from the teachers (and parents) who are in the trenches with the students every day. Some of her comments at last night’s meeting did not increase my optimism — although I was pleasantly surprised at how open the Board was to listening to the Watchung teachers.

  20. “approximately $500,000 that apparently got spent on the development of the quarterly assessments”

    I’m curious where you received this information. An amount slightly less than this was spent on all the new curricula, which included those assessments. By themselves, the assessments were but a small piece.

    More, in case you’re unaware of this additional detail: the people doing the work weren’t consultants or employees of some text publishing company. A number of people like to claim that these assessments somehow enrich “publishers”. Perhaps other districts do it that way, but our curricula and assessments were built by our own Montclair teachers.

    “Superintendent is open to learning from the teachers”

    It’s too bad that this was your first meeting. You’d have been better served, for example, by the previous couple. In those, Gail Clark (and others) spoke of the various changes being made in response to teacher feedback.

    This past meeting, I’m afraid, was more “business” than “education”. Given that we’re entering budget season, we can expect more of these. It’s important, but I confess to finding the other topics more interesting.

    Most previous meetings are available at TV34’s “on demand” site: https://vp.telvue.com/player?s=montclair

    …Andrew

  21. as usual, mr. gideon serves as a walking press release for the super. go ask the teachers just how much real input they had in building the curricula and assessments. no mention, of course, of how many of the assessments were essentially copied from the state website. claiming the teachers helped create them has been a nice cover for the super…especially when propagated by ardent supporters like mr. gideon.

  22. “as usual, mr. gideon serves as a walking press release for the super”

    Are you suggesting that I am wrong, and that we did spend $500,000 on assessments alone?

    “how many of the assessments were essentially copied from the state website”

    By whom?

    …Andrew

  23. Mtcsown, Thanks for your thoughtful question about my involvement in my kids education, and although it has been graciously answered already, I did want to let you know I am most certainly blessed to be in the schools now and during the last 10+ years. My children span the years between 3rd and 11th grade. From MHS to Hillside. I have volunteered in the classroom when work schedules allow and try to find other ways to support our kids and dedicated faculty — whether as a band booster parent, or behind a concession stand raising money at a sporting event or being a reading buddy to a little one in Nishuane school. I did not read Mr. Fleishcher’s comment about the fairly negotiated contract for our teachers with skepticism as you did He’s new isn’t he? You give no benefit of the doubt? Like all teachers and district staff , he is a Montclair public employee but he’s not an elected politician as you mentioned, is he? Didn’t I read somewhere that his mom is a former MPS Kindergarten teacher? Personally, he seems like a very decent man and, professionally, an upgrade compared to our District’s previous financial management system. The student programs that I alluded to in a previous post are only based on MPS sources, so yes, I do think they should be vetted. Again, if you look at slide 8 of the presentation linked previously, there are specific student program mentioned. You ask which student programs? Please, please follow a link and let us know what is wrong there. We need to know. It would be more helpful if your criticisms were specific to the district’s documents and not so broad and, at least in the case of Mr. Fleischer, so personal. (the list includes MHS nursing staff, elementary school Student Assistance Counselors , IMANI is mentioned, among other things). I don’t see anything in the recommended +4% budget that would suggest cuts or larger class sizes as you suggest in your last post, but again, after reviewing the budget documents, please call out what’s been cut or repositioned. Your other points touch on the our District’s transition to the state-mandated Common Core — something that I honestly cannot understand why our previous Superintendent and his staff did not prepare Montclair for given that NJ approved the standards and the PARCC testing schedule in 2009 (? Is that the correct date?) Yes, I know MPS is getting ready for PARCC tests in ways that are not mandated (assessments) and, yes, I do know the burden this rushed schedule is putting on our teaching professionals. But again, I feel that the District was left in a terrible position with a looming 2015 PARCC launch (not in our control) and we had an administration that did not serve our students or teachers well by ignoring the impending Common Core’s timing. I have such faith in the excellent teachers in this District and, even with the changes, this has been an overall positive year in the classrooms for my kids. I definitely think that there is a role for advocacy on the State level in Trenton on the Common Core’s implementation/roll out and on how school district’s will pay for all the technology related to its administration. It is clearly going to be a bumpy year all over the state and NOT just in Montclair.

  24. Andrew, Can you please break that figure of $500,000 down for us? Or maybe a breakdown of legal fees. The money spent because the assessments were left unprotected and vulnerable to malware. Along with paying Mr. Tabkin to do research on OPRA in order to learn how to reveal the least amount of information when tax payers attempt to hold the board accountable. I mean shouldn’t we be able to find out if all those wonderful power point presentations, such as Ms. Clark’s that you refer to, are actually implemented?

  25. Marcella raises some good points. I would be most interested to see a break down of the $500,000 as well as the curiculum was not actually completed over the summer and is in fact per Gail Clarke, still being revised. A breakdown of the legal fees would be very beneficial for full transparency.

  26. Actually, it was only north of $36,000 on the Modified Cash Basis accounting method. When we switched to the Modified Accrual Basis accounting method, the assessments cost was well South of $300,000. However, when you factor in the allocated costs, it could easily top $1,000,000. I can’t tell you which year this will be charged to because quite frankly I don’t understand why this was not a Capital Expense.
    I kinda of look at it like, “it’s done & the people involved were, at a minimum, careless”. Let’s not drill a new Nishuane well out of this.

  27. No matter where you stand on the Superintendent’s assessment tests, the Common Core, etc., there’s one truth that has been proven to be undeniable: this Superintendent and BOE are financially reckless, and cannot be trusted to make wise fiscal decisions.

    Consider their careless expenditures over the past year:

    • $490,000 was spent on the creation of assessment tests that are the centerpiece of the Superintendent’s Strategic Plan. The first round of these assessments in October ’13 were cancelled because the tests weren’t properly protected on the district’s server (the Superintendent felt that extra security wasn’t necessary), and were leaked onto the Internet. Regarding the most recently administered assessment tests, the Superintendent claims they were “successful”, but no metrics, facts, or benchmark achievements have been presented which validate, explain, or clarify how/why they were successful. While the ROI on the Superintendent’s $490K has yet to be determined, it’s looking like it was a tremendous waste of money. If it isn’t, where are the hard details to justify the cost?

    • $100,000 was spent on the Superintendent’s Tripod Survey in April ’13. The goals of this survey were poorly defined and murkily explained, and the survey itself was sloppily executed. The specific data/results (not generalities) garnered from this survey have yet to be shared with the district. The ROI on this cost? N/A.

    • $130,000 (and counting) was spent on legal fees. When the first round of assessment tests were made vulnerable, the Board’s President suggested that sabotage may have been the culprit, and launched an investigation. Unlawful subpoenas were authorized by the Board’s President that targeted her anonymous critics in the community (as well as Board member David Cummings), a lawsuit was launched by the ACLU to protect the anonymous critics’ freedom of speech, and the invoice for these totally unnecessary legal services continues to build. The ROI on this cost? None. It was a 100% waste of taxpayer funds that was spent on a vindictive, arrogant, and unconstitutional extralegal adventure.

    (NOTE: none of the above expenses are listed as line items in the BOE’s 2013-14 budget. So where is the money coming from? Is it being diverted from other areas of the budget? Is it from outside sources? No one in the district knows: the BOE hasn’t given us the answer. Obviously, in addition to being imprudent spenders, the BOE are also secretive and deceptive spenders.)

    If the Superintendent, the Board president, and their supporters/enablers in the community can justify the wisdom of these pricey outlays using data-based evidence, the parents and taxpayers of Montclair would love to see it. If not, then there’s no way to defend them – and there’s no way that the Superintendent and Board can be trusted to spend our money efficiently.

    I’m hoping that the City Council will demand accountability and answers from the Board, and insist on close oversight of their future spending patterns at the next Board of School Estimate meeting. If not, expect more wasteful and sneaky spending – which will surely add to our property tax increases in the future – as long as this Superintendent and BOE are in power.

  28. “$490,000 was spent on the creation of assessment tests”

    This is simply untrue. That amount was spent on the development of all the curricula. The assessments were but one small part of this.

    If this oft-debunked statement is still being used to show that anything has “proven to be undeniable”, then I think the definition of the word “proven” requires some review.

    …Andrew

  29. “When we switched to the Modified Accrual Basis accounting method, the assessments cost was well South of $300,000. However, when you factor in the allocated costs, it could easily top $1,000,000.”

    Are you addressing only the assessments or the curricula development in total? Where are you getting these numbers? I’m guessing you’ve access to something I’m not seeing in public, and I’d like to know enough to ask for it.

    Or am I simply missing something?

    “I can’t tell you which year this will be charged to because quite frankly I don’t understand why this was not a Capital Expense.”

    Huh. That’s a very interesting question. I know that we have been spending, and will continue to spend, money on tweaking the curricula. But, at a certain point, is that not like maintenance on physical plant? That does seem to suggest that building curricula could be a capital expense.

    That’s a great question to ask at the Budget Workshops. If we can spread the cost of the development over multiple years, of course, we end up requiring less in tax revenue over any single year.

    …Andrew

  30. “I’m hoping that the City Council will demand accountability and answers from the Board, and insist on close oversight of their future spending patterns at the next Board of School Estimate meeting.”

    I hope so, too. I believe the full proposed budget is due today.

    However, your examples are not compelling and too few to support your premise.

    As an aside, those advocating scrapping the CC have to acknowledge they can accept the write-off of ALL related expenses to CC. So, to take issue with just a portion is bad strategy. I have to say any critique of a survey called a Tripod is probably deserved. As to ROI, neither local, County, State eduction use ROI on any expenditures. It is interesting that the MEA is now doing public hindsight and hopefully this BOE initiative of What Working/Not Working at their meetings will be maintained and expanded going forward.

    Another “truth” is that the issues you raised have been going on for may years and is probably embedded in the education culture. It will take time to change the culture.

    As to the budget, I believe the BOSE should push hard for a more aggressive and accurate budgeting with less padding. The padding leads to excessive and probably unnecessary expenditures.

    As has been often stated, 85% – or around $97MM of the $114MM budget of the MPS budget is comprised of salaries. I assume a vast majority of salaries are fixed by contracts. This suggests to me there should be an extremely low variance to original (approved) plan and final (after transfers) plan. So rather than banking excess tax levy dollars, I think a 2% excess above the legally allowed surpluses is a reasonable expectation. So, by my calculations, there will likely be an extra $3MM cushion in the 2014-15 budget. I don’t think this amounts to recklessness – just a result of the BOSE not being demanding enough over the many years.

  31. “It’s in paragraph 15”

    Is that the paragraph containing:

    “The project was much bigger than just writing the tests, MacCormack said. It also involved developing the curriculum for about 70 courses in all 11 of the district’s schools. More than 100 teachers were paid to work on the project, which took several months and cost about $490,000, MacCormack said. ”

    ?

    …Andrew

  32. “Or am I simply missing something?”

    Yes, I was being facetious. Whether the costs were insignificant or astronomical, they are immaterial to the issue – from either side.

    Capitalizing:
    Bandwidth & scoring machines are prerequisite capital costs to CC/PARCC. The enterprise costs of related software, materials & training may then be considered for inclusion in that capitalization.

  33. “I assume a vast majority of salaries are fixed by contracts.”

    This gets a “yes, but”. End-of-year retirements are typically announced after a budget is locked down, but these do impact some portion of that salary cost.

    I recall one year where the MEA was somehow – I don’t recall how, at the moment – given an incentive to pre-announce retirements so as to eliminate this particular variable. I don’t know how well it worked nor if this is being continued.

    …Andrew

  34. Retirement costs:
    I have no idea what the retirement costs are and how they are booked to a budget year. Let’s assume that the salary costs of replacing retirees would likely be distinctly lower. This wold be exactly my point about budget planning discipline.

    MPS would have a unplanned surplus, “a good problem” from a purely financial perspective. However, it can become a bad problem when they use the in-year budget surplus transfers to fund higher spending in other budget accounts – particularly reoccurring costs. In effect, it acts to neutralize the positive gain from employee turnover.

  35. “Let’s assume that the salary costs of replacing retirees would likely be distinctly lower.”

    Yes. That’s what I meant.

    “However, it can become a bad problem when they use the in-year budget surplus transfers to fund higher spending in other budget accounts – particularly reoccurring costs. In effect, it acts to neutralize the positive gain from employee turnover.”

    That’s a good point. Ironically, had the district spent more in the fashion you describe over the “excessive surplus” years, there’d be less complaining.

    If I’m grasping what you’re describing, a way to prevent this – or at least to have us all know if/when it is occurring – is for BOE meetings to include reports on movement of funds from one budget line item to another. It needn’t be a part of the meeting as such; it could merely be an item in the agenda paperwork.

    I wouldn’t expect this would require an excessive amount of work to generate each month, would it?

    …Andrew

  36. “I wouldn’t expect this would require an excessive amount of work to generate each month, would it?”

    Not if MPS truly used zero-based budgeting when they developed the 2013-14 budget.

    “a way to prevent this –…”
    The Municipal finance law requires the Township Council to approve via resolution all intra-acccount transfers and only at certain time windows. I don’t know how NJ education finance law works. Regardless of the general public transparency/oversight, it is more important that there are established MPS policies & practices that also gives the BOSE a clear expectation level.

    In short, the MPS should not feel unencumbered to transfer/spend in-year line item surpluses unless there is a prior understanding with the BOSE (our elected representatives). Such a practice then allows taxpayers to hold BOSE accountable, too.

  37. agideon – You are correct on the paragraph 15 point about the $490K, but that doesn’t take away from my main argument: this Superintendent and BOE are reckless, non-transparent spenders whose behavior/decisions are harming our schools and raising our taxes.

    If you believe that they’re delivering quality results, please support your position with verifiable facts that apply to the district overall, and not anecdotal evidence of what you’ve experienced in your household.

  38. “that doesn’t take away from my main argument”

    It is a key part of what you claim has “proven to be undeniable”. You assert how money was spent as evidence that it is spent badly, but your assertion turns out to be false.

    Meanwhile, will you be sharing your new discovery with all those people that remain misinformed about the cost of the assessments? Or are we going to read in the next school-related thread about these mythical “$490,000 assessments”?

    …Andrew

  39. “….this Superintendent and BOE are reckless, non-transparent spenders whose behavior/decisions are harming our schools and raising our taxes.”

    Yeah…..like this statement is limited to this group only. Since I have lived in Montclair the same can be said about the last superintendent/BOE and all of the counselors and mayor (especially that last group). Under their watch the schools also took a perception drop in quality (statewide rankings) and in the last 10 years, those in charge made the financial decision to sell a couple of schools for like $2MM and then turned around and built a new one for $35MM or so. This super has been here for about a short time, too early to see if she is delivering “quality results” IMO. And, at least this group is trying to provide more information to residents. You may loathe the woman for whatever your reasons (which are unclear to me outside of you hate common core), but as someone who is merely a parent and taxpayer, I am willing to give this some time before pronouncing judgement either way.

  40. Sorry, I keep forgetting my rule for determining ultimate educational accountability in Montclair. It’s BOSE for anything financial and you drop the “S” for everything else.

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