MontClairVoyant: ShopRite, The Far Right and a School Budget Just Partly Right


On March 6, our Board of Education approved a tentative 2017-18 budget that includes a dismaying $2-million reduction in paraprofessionals. Do you blame Gov. Christie’s flat state aid and 2% cap on local tax increases?

He’s Mr. Unpopularity

Definitely. Given the guv’s hostility toward public schools, I’m taking the drastic step of selling my “Chris Christie’s George Washington Bridge Traffic Jam” playset.


Doesn’t the tentative budget also have good things — such as more dollars for professional development in the areas of special education, world language, and equity?
Amelia Rate

True. But losing many wonderful paras (even if the remaining ones are assigned more efficiently) is terrible for the paras and kids — including special-needs students. I’m also selling my “Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Betsy DeVos” DVD.


Speaking of Donald Trump’s anti-public-school Secretary of Education, will you be attending Montclair Cares About Schools’ forum on DeVos this Sunday, March 12?

I.M. Going

Yes, and I’ll also mark the one-month anniversary of Lincoln’s birthday by watching a Civil War reenactment between rifle-toting Judy Garland impersonators shouting “Antietam! Antietam!”


Weird “Wizard of Oz” segue from DeVos to Auntie Em, but why is the MCAS forum important?

Somewhere Over the Firehouse

We need to know as much as possible when opposing the school-voucher-and-charter-school-pushing DeVos — who never attended public school, whose kids never attended public school, and whose pet iguana never attended public school. If she has a pet iguana…


What does DeVos think of the deeply flawed PARCC tests?

Mitch From Michigan

Not sure, but I opted my daughter out of this spring’s tests, and am dead-set against New Jersey’s requirement that high school students take the PARCCs to graduate. If Pearson continues to put profits over our children’s well-being, I’ll…I’ll…fold that company’s math worksheets into paper airplanes.


Ooh — tough guy. Meanwhile, the enlarged, gentrified, cram-our-town-even-more Lackawanna Plaza of the future may have the silver lining of a ShopRite supermarket. Comment?

Aisle of Right

That neighborhood needs a grocery store to replace the departed Pathmark, and ShopRite is not overpriced. So, in tribute to Siskel and Ebert, I give that idea two plums up. (When in season.)


Please end this column with your weekly swipe at Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, who represents Upper Montclair and some moderate Republican towns yet gutlessly votes lockstep with Trump and other far-right politicians to stay in the national GOP’s good graces.

Titanic Heartlessness Will Go On

Every toy company thinks a “Rodney Hosts a Live Town Hall” playset is too implausible to manufacture. Would’ve been nice to see that playset’s NJ 11th for Change action figures.



 Dave Astor is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.

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  1. Dear Dave Astor,

    May I remind you and the Baristanet editors that in the Baristanet Comment Policy guidelines, it specifically states, “Don’t bore us – and everyone else.” Am I misinterpreting the policy, or shouldn’t Montclairvoyant find another place to play?

  2. Thanks for commenting, brigattista. I thought you said what you said in a very clever way. 🙂

    I’m sorry this week’s column or maybe all my columns bore you, but I appreciate you reading it/them. Some people don’t like my “Montclairvoyant” pieces, but many do. I’ve got the emails and positive Facebook comments to prove it (the latter not just on my own FB page) and the column has won or co-won a number of New Jersey Press Association awards since it began in 2003.

    To tell you the truth, my columns can bore ME! I reread and rewrite each one so many times that when a piece is finally ready to send for publication, my eyes are glazing over. On top of my eyes glazing over whenever Trump says something…

  3. My complaint with Montclairvoyant is his utter and absolute predictability-I can predict his views 100 percent accurately 100 percent of the time, making me Montclairvoyantvoyant! Sincerely man, is there any issue-local, state, national, or global-where your take does not absolutely toe the progressive line? Did you ever see a charter school, tax cut, or deregulatory act you actually agreed with? If so, try riffing on that for a change and surprise us for one. No offense.

  4. “Montclairvoyantvoyant” — love it!

    Thanks for commenting, elcamino. Yes, my opinions are almost always progressive, just as the opinions of some commenters are almost always conservative. 🙂 We all believe what we believe.

  5. elcamino, you asked: “Did you ever see a charter school, tax cut, or deregulatory act you actually agreed with?” My answer: very seldom. And, when it comes to opposing tax cuts, that has been at my own expense — because one reason my wife and I had to sell our Montclair house to move into a Montclair apartment was because of Montclair’s ever-rising taxes. But I think it’s a price worth paying to finance things such as paying teachers what they deserve.

    As far as predictability goes, my views might often be predictable (though I had more mixed feelings about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama than many Montclairites), but I try to be unpredictable elsewhere: sometimes bringing up unexpected topics, varying humor between silly and seriocomic, etc.

  6. As I think I said last time we chatted here, aren’t you happy that Ms. DeVos is against any testing standards like you? I think you would agree with me that testing does not matter at all. I think she is great. What is this MCAS you describe? Are they your employer? Thanks again for your kind support.

  7. Thanks, betsyk! I appreciate hearing your thoughts, and that you came back to comment again.

    I’m actually unsure of where Betsy DeVos stands on standardized testing. Just googled for a few minutes and couldn’t find anything. Do you have a link you could post about her being against it?

    But, even if she is, DeVos’s support of school vouchers and charter schools, and her zero exposure to public schools, are all deal-breakers for me.

    MCAS is Montclair Cares About Schools, and I am absolutely NOT an employee of it. Heck, the organization is all volunteers, as far as I know. I agree with many MCAS positions about education.

  8. Great column, Dave!

    I think your point about Christie cannot be over-stressed. He has, in seven years, cut education funding to such a terrible degree, and while the property tax cap certainly adds to our current financial troubles, it is really the state budget that is to blame. What’s happening is certainly not unique to Montclair as district after district is being forced to make painful cuts – cuts which frequently cause tension and acrimony within communities as there are never any easy choices. I agree with you, though, that the paraprofessionals need our support, as they are the ones who support our kids when they need it the most.

  9. Thank you, flynnie! Much appreciated — and very well said!

    You’re absolutely right — what Christie has done and is doing greatly affects education and other things in Montclair and other towns. Many Montclairites think the town should and needs to spend a bit more on education (to keep all our much-needed paraprofessionals, for instance), yet the state has put Montclair in a financial straitjacket.

    It’s ironic (though not surprising) that Republicans often talk about the importance of local autonomy but don’t allow enough of it when local governments and boards of education want to do things the GOP doesn’t want done.

  10. “Do you blame Gov. Christie’s flat state aid and 2% cap on local tax increases? Definitely.”

    It’s been a while since Montclair school budgets came in at/under Christie’s cap. The few times we came under the cap was because we mistakenly overtaxed our residents in prior years. How? Poor fiscal management, again. Our superintendent blamed our own fiscal mismanagement for the budget we face today. The paras took the big hit because they were overstaffed and were not key drivers of academic performance. If there wasn’t a cap, do you think we would have made the cuts we made. Highly unlikely. So, we would have been facing a 5-7% increase in our school taxes. And who get’s priced out of town with these types of increases? 55% of our households don’t have children in the public schools. They will leave first, replaced by more families of school age children who get the subsidy & which drives up our costs (now 56% of our taxes) even faster. I know you have to cater to your audience, but it’s civics lite – to eschew a serious discussion.

  11. Thanks for the comment, Frank. Well said.

    I’m very sensitive to taxes going up too much (as I stated in one of the comments above: “one reason my wife and I had to sell our Montclair house to move into a Montclair apartment was because of Montclair’s ever-rising taxes,” and it’s not always easy in a modest apartment with a nine-year-old and decades of accumulated stuff 🙂 ). But 2% is too rigid, given inflation, people getting modest raises, etc. I agree that a 5-7% annual tax hike is usually too high; maybe something like 3-4% would do the trick. But Montclair no longer has the autonomy to decide that. (I realize health-insurance increases can go over the cap.)

    I agree with you — tax hikes do affect the economic demographics of our town. But I think a much bigger factor is the high cost of the housing itself — including all the pricey new rentals and condos being built, with only a small number of affordable units that developers grudgingly accept.

    Also, I respectfully disagree that paras are “not key drivers of academic performance.” I’ve watched many in action, and they are so important to a classroom — for kids who are special needs and not special needs.

  12. You are using the autonomy argument selectively. You don’t apply it rising cost of housing and the factors that we control. Taxes & user fees have a big impact on lower & fixed incomes. For example, water and sewer rates are going up double digits in each of the next 3 years. The annual MPS Capital needs, on average, are $10MM/yr for the next 5 years which will significantly increase debt service costs. Affordable & workforce housing is another subsidy that increases housing costs. We can’t control heating, electricity, food costs, etc. and they, generally, affect all communities.

    As to the cap, we had the leeway in the cap this year to increase the overall school levy 3.3% due to health costs alone. I believe we could have gone as high as 3.8% if we had funded the capital reserve/maintenance accounts by $500k.

    The 3.3% scenario have allowed us to retain 60% of the paras scheduled to be cut…but, it would have required leaving the staff and special ed cuts as is. Do you think a consensus buy-in would exist for that set of choices? I think not. So, I don’t think a 3-4% would work once you look at where the dollars go. It’s a nice top-down number, but that is exactly what was wrong with our approach over the years. We picked a target number that seemed appropriate and then fought over the distribution. That is how we ended up with 20% of our 3rd graders unable to read at grade level.

  13. Frank, I’ll defer to your obvious expertise with numbers, budgets, etc., and just address your last sentence: “That is how we ended up with 20% of our 3rd graders unable to read at grade level.”

    The number of kids unable to read at grade level is certainly affected by the quality of education, how much is spent on education, and how that money is apportioned. But even a near-perfect education system can’t come anywhere near “fixing” the effects of poverty, huge income inequality in general, racism, parents who can’t spend enough time with their kids because they’re exhausted from working more than one job, and so on. An education system doesn’t work in a societal vacuum.

    Thanks for your follow-up comment!

  14. Hey Dave,

    I remember you being in the non-progressive camp and rightfully so, when it came to electing a school board. Too bad the progressives lied and claimed those in support of an elected board were trying to dismantle the magnet school system.

    I’ve been enjoying your play on words since nearly my college days. Glad you decided to continue your unique craft here after the dismantling of the Montclair Times.

  15. Stu, thanks for your comment and the kind words! Much appreciated!

    I do think an elected school board is usually a better idea than an appointed school board, and most New Jersey towns agree. (As you know, Montclair is one of just a small number of NJ towns with an appointed BOE.)

    Elected boards can be a bit risky if a lot of money is plowed into campaigns of not-good candidates, but… There’s also the chance that voters might get in such a cost-cutting mood that they only approve too-low school budgets, but I’d be surprised if that would happen in Montclair.

    And, yes, the insinuation that an elected BOE would lead to the dismantling of Montclair’s great magnet system was totally bogus!

  16. As a general rule, those who promote the official policy of the teachers’ union here in Montclair have a personal stake in it. This is no exception.

  17. Thanks for commenting, missedthetarget!

    Not sure if what you said was partly directed at me, but I have no personal stake (financial or otherwise) in the Montclair Education Association other than having great admiration for the many wonderful Montclair teachers and paraprofessionals who taught my now-adult daughter and who currently teach my younger daughter. I’m not a union member and never have been — except for a brief period in high school when I retrieved shopping carts for a supermarket. 🙂

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