Montclair BOE: Improving World Languages, Budget Woes and Interim Superintendent Found


The Montclair Board of Education discussed budget woes, videotaping of student teachers and a new interim superintendent to take over for current interim superintendent Ron Bolandi at its February 8 workshop meeting. The principal topic of the night, however, was reforming world language instruction. World-language consultant Jessica LaSusa explained her recommendations before the board and members of the public.

The Montclair Board of Education

LaSusa began by saying it was important for students to learn other languages to start with one language in kindergarten and stay with it through the end of middle school in order to reach what she called “novice-high” level ahead of continuing it in high school.  She said that it takes up to 540 hours of pre-high-school instruction to reach that level, but the elementary schools and the middle schools they correspond to reach only 290 to 300 hours at best, the exception being the Nishuane-Hillside-Glenfield continuum with 492 hours.   She advocated increased teacher training and development for the 2017-18 school year, with students and their families committed to staying with a single language and keeping languages consistent at the middle school level.  LaSusa found Mandarin, Spanish and French to be in the most widely taught languages at the high school level in Montclair, while languages such as German, Italian and Latin tended to draw fewer students.  (Watchung Middle Elementary School was omitted; LaSusa said this was her mistake.)

A breakdown of hours in world-language instruction in Montclair’s elementary and middle schools (Watching School was inadvertently excluded)

LaSusa said that ongoing professional development and a study of past data was important to improve language studies for the 2018-19 school year, and that class sections in one or two of the lesser languages could be eliminated to streamline the process and save money for critical-needs languages like Arabic and Hindi.  By the 2019-20 school year, benchmarks should be thoroughly implemented.  She said that there had to be a commitment from students and teachers alike.

Board member Joseph Kavesh asked if either Russian or Japanese could be considered critical-use languages instead, given their use in business instead.  LaSusa said that the choice of such languages was up to the board.  Board member Laura Hertzog expressed concern that three of the elementary-middle school streams were far behind Nishuane-Hillside-Glenfield. She asked if that should be changed and if ninth graders should be given placement tests to gauge how far along they are with world languages.

“It’s important to know the difference, especially as a parent,” LaSusa replied, “to select the schools based on their value of world language, so just in knowing there’s a difference, there’s value.  I don’t recommend the changing of the elementary school schedules right now.”  She elaborated that the district needs to focus on professional development before changing the schedules because schedule changes could take away from something else. Interim Schools Superintendent Ronald Bolandi noted that languages have not been a priority, so students are inevitable going to take something else.  He said the subject has always been a “back-burner” issue in Montclair.  He said they had to look at how to get more students in the courses.

World-language consultant Jessica LaSusa

Concerns About Videotaping in the Classroom

Superintendent Bolandi also said the state Department of Education started a pilot program for student teachers to teach in a public school to get their licenses and evaluated by an outside agency, in concert with the teachers’ colleges, and agree to be videotaped for review.  The Pearson company is in charge of the videotaping,  and Superintendent Bolandi found out that their tapes are used to instruct other student teachers.  The tapes, however, feature children in the classroom.  Superintendent Bolandi, aware that parents did not want their children to be videotaped and shown in training videos without their consent, said he would not allow student teachers to be taped.  Pearson offered to tape just the student teachers, but the superintendent said that half of an evaluation of a student teacher is watching how he or she interacts with children and such a compromise would be useless.  He hoped to talk to Montclair State University, which is part of the program, about this in the coming week.  Student teachers had been evaluated by live teachers in the classroom, a system Superintendent Bolandi preferred greatly.

Budget Woes: A Couple of Million Dollars in The Hole

The 2017-18 budget was another topic for discussion.  Superintendent Bolandi told the board that the 1 percent increase in teachers’ salaries and the changes in the district’s insurance policy have affected the budget to the point of “a couple of million dollars in the hole,” and he added that some schools were overstaffed.  He then got frank with the board and the public, saying Montclair has long thrown money at problems with special courses and that “boutique programs” have led to the need to tighten the belt.  He said it was important to re-allocate funds to programs that have proven to be effective and evaluate others, and he said the school system had been overstaffed for a decade.  He said he would go into further detail on the latte point at the next meeting.

The budget schedule itself has been thrown into chaos by Governor Christie’s decision to release school-aid figures late, on March 2.  This prompted the board to revise its meeting schedule.  The February 21 meeting has been cancelled, while the budget meeting that is scheduled for February 27 will go on as planned.  An additional meeting for adopting a preliminary budget will be held on March 6, with a meeting to adopt a final budget – after which the budget would be submitted to the Board of School Estimate – tentatively slated for March 13.  Superintendent Bolandi would like to oversee the budget process toward the end of the month, and the board plans to ask the state if he can stay through March 24.  The superintendent insists he only worked for the district for five days in March 2015 and should be able to stay a little longer.

Meanwhile, Board of Education President Jessica de Koninck announced that Superintendent Bolandi’s interim successor, Barbara Pinsak, will attend the February 27 meeting and introduce herself to the public.  Pinsak retired as the superintendent of the Teaneck district in September 2016.

Also, board member Eve Robinson said work on the Straus-Esmay bylaw/policy page has been completed, and it is now on the district Web site and can be accessed through drop menu on QuickLinks, as shown below.

the Montclair school district’s Web site’s Quicklinks drop menu, with the Strauss-Esmay-based bylaws/policies link highlighted in gray

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  1. I would just like to clarify the student teacher videotaping requirement that was discussed to ensure parents understand that their children would not be adversely affected. I understand district and parent concerns, but I think in this case there has been misinformation about what is happening. I’ve been very involved with the state roll out of the new student teaching requirement (I don’t work for the state DOE) and speak from that lens. 1. The videotapes are NOT used by Pearson for any other purpose than to evaluate the student teacher who is being videotaped. Their system is secure and they make student teachers sign off saying that they will not post their videos anywhere (otherwise they can receive a score of zero). Educators are wary of Pearson, but it is inaccurate to say that Pearson uses the videos to teach others. The assessment that this videotape is being used for is the sole purpose. 2. No student faces need to be shown, only backs of heads. 3. Only 4-5 students need to be in the camera frame, the rest of the class can be outside the frame and still participating in the lesson. 4. Student teachers have to get explicit permission via permission slips from parents to have their children included on camera. 5. The universities are requiring student teachers to use recording devices that do not have internet connectivity.

    On a final note, the Pearson assessment (edTPA) is a state requirement and if Montclair does not permit videotaping of student teachers, universities will not be able to send student teachers to the district anymore. As most parents I’m sure can attest, having a another person in the classroom is a real bonus. These days, student teachers don’t “take over” classes while the real teacher just watches. Now they work together. In addition, research shows that when schools have student interns from universities, teachers tend to step up their game. The culture changes much like what happens in teaching hospitals. Montclair benefits greatly from having student teachers in the district.

  2. “the 1 percent increase in teachers’ salaries”

    I’ll have to watch the video when it is released on the TV34 web site, but I don’t believe that this is quite correct. I believe that the budget assumed a 1% increase; the actual increase was well over 2%. reports:

    “The salary increases for MEA members are 2.8 percent for the 2015-2016 school year retroactive to July 1, 2015, 2.7 percent for the 2016-2017 school year retroactive to this past July 1, and 2.6 percent for the 2017-2018 school year.”

    The same article also reports that these salaries compose 73% of the district’s budget. Using that, the 2.8% increase causes an increase in our budget of 2.044% – which is already slightly over the “cap” maximum the district can rause taxes.

    That 0.044% in a 120 million dollar budget is, all on its own, 5.28 million.


  3. One question within the language discussion that was left unanswered was how many of Hillside’s students actually take a foreign language in every trimester. I’d two students go through there, and we never even realized that that was an option.

    I mention this because that “maximum” number cited for Nishuane->Hillside->Glenfield may look great but may also be largely mythical. Still, that leaves 358 which remains better than elsewhere.

    The article cites Laura Hertzog’s question about equalizing these numbers “for equity”. It wasn’t made clear, though, whether this involved raising all or reducing one. That was a little scary, though I’d hope that choice obvious.

    Perhaps what left me pondering that choice is that there was some discussion of a school year of 180 vs. 183 days. Being in the “school is good” camp, I was astonished to hear that people preferred 180. Wasn’t it just recently that people were complaining about insufficient time during the year to cover all the material?

    It’s worth noting that our HS requires a slightly higher number of credits than the state minimum. Should we reduce that too?

    Minimums are *minimums*.


  4. “The assessment that this videotape is being used for is the sole purpose.”

    Mr. Bolandi asserted that the video would be owned by Pierson and that there would be no restrictions on the use of those videos by Pierson. Is not correct? That is, is Pierson legally precluded from using videos for any purpose other than the evaluation process?


  5. The more Montclair re-invents the wheel, the longer we keep repeating ourselves. Make WL part of the curriculum for EVERY child starting in K, and continuing through eighth grade. French, Spanish, Mandarin, with others offered in HS, on three/four levels of instruction. If that sounds familiar, it should be…prior to the slash and burn years it was how WL was,offered district wide. Nishuane-Hillside-Glenfield is the closest to past practice.
    The Assistant Superintendent for Equity was the top recommendation of the AGAP Committee. Wasn’t there a push to have those recommendations implemented?
    And, once again, looks like our dedicated Paraprofessionals are on the chopping block.

  6. % Increases, 1999-2017: 5.00, 5.92, 9.91, 9.30, 9.55, 6.82, 6.24, 6.18,4.68, 5.49, 4.15, 4.37, (3.55), 0.00, 0.00, 4.08, 4.15, 3.99

    Sorry, I missed the slash & burn period. I’ll go ask the historical society what their archives show.

  7. “Make WL part of the curriculum for EVERY child starting in K”

    With a few exceptions, discussed at the meeting, it already is. The problem is that it is being done ineffectively, and that has apparently been the case for decades. An issue – I don’t know that this is yet considered a “problem” – is that different K-5 schools offer vastly different amounts of WL education (measured as total hours in WL class).

    When asked, LaSusa asserted that improving the quality of the education should be prioritized over tweaks to scheduling.

    The few exceptions are a separate issue, such as SpecEd students that aren’t given WL classes. This wasn’t discussed much, though Mr. Bolandi did say that it was improper unless it reflected something in the IEP.


  8. “slash & burn period”

    It might appear that “(3.55), 0.00, 0.00” was three years of “slash and burn”. It certainly can be argued that those numbers were too low.

    What must be recalled, though, is that during this period the excess surplus collected over many years prior was being spent. The idea, expressed by BOE and BOSE at the time, was to give back to the taxpayer what was over-collected in previous years.

    There’s merit to that argument, but it can be taken too far. Even if one does agree with the choices back then, the decision to raise taxes “only” 4% last year was a mistake in my opinion. That cost us approximately $500,000 that we’ll never get back.

    If you were to plot a line of steady 2% increases since the cap was introduced in 2010, you’d find us below that line today. While our current budget crunch has several causes, this is certainly one of them.


  9. The new MEA 3-yr contract calls for increases of 2.8%, 2.7%, 2.6%. The 2012-2015 contract had similar increases. As you said, we have been capped at 2% since 2010. What current budget crunch? It’s ongoing.

    And school debt went from $30MM in 1999 to $77MM in 2016. And when we had a surplus, did the MPS set aside some prudent amount of the surplus to capital reserves? Nope.

    Just wait until we see the debt request this May. The will be an eye-opener.

    I don’t see a slash period. I do see a period when we burned through the money.

    Do another 2-3% increase. Add another $6-8MM in net debt. But, to say the MPS have/are/will be deprived of funding is just not based on real facts.

  10. And, Mr Bolandi promised us in December we would have his $45-50MM Capital Improvements Master List last month.

  11. “It’s ongoing.”

    Well, yes, but when we’d that surplus to burn the hole into which we were diving was less apparent.

    “And when we had a surplus, did the MPS set aside some prudent amount of the surplus to capital reserves? Nope.”

    This was one of the suggestions for that $500,000 that the BOE/BOSE instead gave away. But, as I noted above, the hole wasn’t obvious to those only looking at the short term (or hoping that citizens were only looking at the short term).

    Certainly, the current “crunch” is no surprise to those paying attention. It had been discussed by auditors and BAs over the several years of surplus spend-down.

    But this also goes to the salary increases. As I noted above, that alone has created the majority of the “hole” cited by Mr. Bolandi at the meeting. I don’t understand how anyone can agree to increases that are in excess of cap. What do they expect will be cut to pay for that excess? Or are they unwilling to consider that question?

    The irony is that we’re once again in a situation where a salary increase (going mostly to teachers) will be balanced by a cut involving the paraprofessionals. How many times must this happen before people recognize the pattern?


  12. Not to worry. Healthcare costs, among others, is not subject to the cap. I think we will live with a 2.99% increase, but my past tendency has been to overestimate the increases.

  13. “The irony is that we’re once again in a situation where a salary increase (going mostly to teachers) will be balanced by a cut involving the paraprofessionals. How many times must this happen before people recognize the pattern?”

    And this is the very sad truth. Paraprofessionals always the one on the chopping block. While other seem to be cashing in.

  14. Re: World Language in the Nishuane-Hillside-Glenfield track.

    Yes, there are a small number of students (maybe a dozen or so) who take 9 cycles of world language at Hillside. For instance, my daughter took Spanish all 9 cycles she spent at Hillside (I think world language instruction is important, so it was part of the agreement when we requested to transfer her from Watchung to Hillside). So at Hillside my kid took Spanish on 50% of her days enrolled there (3 days out of every 6 day A/B cycle). At 40 minutes/class x 90 classes (assuming 180 day school year), that’s 60 hours/year x 3 years = 180 hours of instruction at Hillside. She (along with some of her peers who followed the same path) is now placed in 7th grade Spanish at Glenfield. The issue of placement decisions for foreign language this year is a whole separate can of worms.

    At Nishuane my little one takes Mandarin 2x/week. Over a 180 day school year, if the kids are taking Mandarin 2x/week that’s 72 total days/year (2/5 x 180). At 40 minutes/class, that’s 48 hours per year x 3 years = 144 hours of instruction at Nishuane (my big one didn’t attend Nishuane).

    The numbers for Glenfield appear significantly incorrect, however. At Glenfield the students take world language every day as one of their major subjects. So at 180 days/year x 40 minutes/class that’s 120 hours/year x 3 years = 360 hours of instruction at Glenfield.

    So a child who took Mandarin starting in K at Nishuane, took Mandarin every cycle at Hillside, and then continued with Mandarin for 3 years at Glenfield would have a total of approximately 684 hours of Mandarin instruction by the time s/he started high school (~144 hours at Nishuane + 180 hours at Hillside + 360 hours at Glenfield = 684 total hours). 684 hours is substantially higher than the 492 hours noted in the presentation, so I’d like to know from the consultant where my mistake is or, if the mistake is hers, whether her analysis would change based on using accurate numbers. Even with ZERO language instruction in Grades K-2 at Watchung, my kid is still on track to log 540 hours of total language instruction (180 at Hillside and 360 at Glenfield) before she reaches high school.

    And I am happy with 183 school days. I just used 180 to make the math more convenient (and presumably they do miss a few days here and there due to testing, assemblies, field trips, etc.) so the actual numbers are likely slightly lower.

  15. “The irony is that we’re once again in a situation where a salary increase (going mostly to teachers) will be balanced by a cut involving the paraprofessionals. How many times must this happen before people recognize the pattern?”

    I don’t understand the irony. If you have to balance a budget and one increases payroll budget center in one area, one needs to decrease payroll in another area.

    No, if there is irony anywhere (which I doubt), it would be that other cost centers are totally off the table for adjustments. The public has made this explicitly clear. The BOE won’t even broach t subject publicly. The super just came the closest to actually saying it. So, inefficiency is the order of the day and will rule our future. If the truth be told, the paras are the lowest on the “gotta have it” list.

  16. “I don’t understand the irony.”

    It’s not really that important in the scheme of things, but this occurred a few years ago and very few people were willing to recognize that the MEA had participated in the choice. I’m betting that that’ll happen again; there will be complaints about the staff cuts but nobody will look at the trade off of the salary increases well above what can be sustained by the cap.

    “other cost centers are totally off the table for adjustments…inefficiency is the order of the day”

    I didn’t hear this in what Mr. Bolandi said. What I heard is that he did see inefficiencies, and that these would be addressed in his proposed budget. If you heard him state that some inefficiencies would be deliberately left untouched, I’d appreciate it if you’d be more specific.


  17. “Healthcare costs, among others, is not subject to the cap.”

    That’s true, but I don’t see how it changes the situation. The 2.8% increase already puts us over cap, even if health care costs remain unchanged.

    What am I missing?


  18. I found his phrasing provocative. Specifically in two instances. Firstly, using both clauses, “special courses” and “boutique programs” indicating they are distinctly different. Secondly, same parallel phrasing of “some schools are overstaffed” and the global “the school system had been overstaffed for a decade”. Putting the high school aside as applying both would be redundant, he is talking about the magnet system. I have no doubt he wants “to go there”. I don’t believe there is constituency that will let him do more than that.

    My point was that I fully expect the 2017-18 school budget will easily exceed the cap even if we have no banked reserves to apply because of non-capped costs increases and flexibility in the classification of these costs. That excludes items that may move from expense categories to capital costs.

  19. “The 2.8% increase already puts us over cap…”

    I estimate MPS needs to find $1MM to meet the cap based on payroll increase. I’m assuming the current 2016-17 budget has reserves built-in for around an anticipated 1.8% increase to meet BOTH the retroactive pay of 2015-16 and the increase for 2016-17. We’re apparently over by $2MM.
    Since the BOE made it a priority last year to have interim reporting on budget vs actual, and assuming this was done prior to now, something else besides payroll and insurance has put us over the top. Hazarding a guess, I’d say curriculum costs. I would not say headcount.

  20. And just to get you thinking in another direction, how is the 2% cap calculated if Montclair’s total assessed value base changed from LY?

  21. “I estimate MPS needs to find $1MM to meet the cap based on payroll increase. I’m assuming the current 2016-17 budget has reserves built-in for around an anticipated 1.8% increase to meet BOTH the retroactive pay of 2015-16 and the increase for 2016-17.”

    Mr. Bolandi apparently indicated that there was but 1% in the budget for salary increases. You heard something different? I’m not clear why you’re assuming 1.8%.

    More fundamentally, though, I’m not sure how you’re seeing those numbers used over time. Let’s look year-by-year…


    Increase: 2.8%
    Budget: 1.0%
    Shortage: 1.8%
    Shortage: $2,044,800

    I could be wrong, but my understanding is that this shortage is being paid out of this year’s budget.


    Increase: 2.7%
    Budget: 1.0%
    Shortage: 1.7%
    Shortage: $2,096,100

    This would have to come out of this year’s budget.


    Increase over post-increase 2016-17 costs: 2.6%
    Increase over budgeted 2016-17: 4.3%

    That 4.3% percent seems high, so please check this (I actually get 4.344%). I’m trying to determine the amount by which the salary portion of the 2017-18 budget must increase over the salary portion of the 2016-17 budget. The 2016-17 budget excluded 1.7% of the salary increase from that budget year, so one must account for that 1.7% increase in 2016-17 as well as the 2.6% increase in 2017-18 to determine the total increase in the salary portion of the 2017-18 budget.

    Assuming that 4.3% is correct, though…

    Assuming that this is still 73% of the budget, this yields an increase in the total budget of 3.14% assuming nothing else increases (or decreases). That’s obviously above the 2% cap.

    Just using the 2016-17 budget size of M$123.3 (which is going to be roughly M$2 too small for 2017-18), that’s $3,870,380.

    This is the increase *only* for salaries.


  22. “Putting the high school aside as applying both would be redundant, he is talking about the magnet system.”

    I don’t think the HS is excluded. During the World Language discussion, for example, Mr. Bolandi made it clear that he saw those undersized sections of certain foreign languages as an inefficiency. He’s also specifically mentioned HS teachers teaching fewer than five classes as a problem.

    However, he has also made it clear that he does see a problem with how our magnets are implemented. He has stated repeatedly that he sees core academic instruction getting insufficient time as a result of “magnet themes”. So I agree with you that this will be something he’d target for change.

    How specifically he’d correct this, though, I couldn’t say. In general, though, I have no problem with reducing the time spent on “magnet theme” classes if it is necessary to bring the amount of time our kids get in math, language arts, and other core subjects to what’s needed for them to succeed.

    I admit that I was originally concerned that Mr. Bolandi wanted to kill the magnet system. After all, it would be a quick way to save money both in the schools and in transportation. The court order under which we remain represents a barrier, but I fear that – in the current era – it could be successfully challenged.

    Still, as you wrote: he’d have no constituency for this. I don’t believe the BOE would support this, little as I trust it today. And, finally, I’ve become increasingly convinced that this has never been his goal.


  23. Andrew,

    Let’s agree we’re unnecessarily and deeply into the weeds on what might be the figures behind the quotes. Sorry for my part in that.

    Mr Bolandi said we are $2MM in the hole due to salaries & insurance. I think we can agree that $2MM on a base of over $100MM will yield less than 2%. T/f, a 2% cap should not be the issue. So exactly what is the man’s point and why did he not say it earlier in the fiscal year?

  24. And just so we don’t repeat a mistake of the past, I hope the MPS CFO checks in with the Montclair Tax Assessor’s Office on the total assessed value the school levy is calculated on.

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