MontClairVoyant: Superintendent Search: Hoping for Three Candid Candidates

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DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Your Montclair-themed Gettysburg Address parody last week was so sophomoric it barely got 35 likes — and I suspect some were from Russian trolls and Elvis impersonators. What say you?

Sincerely,
You’re So Lame

Don’t forget the half-likes from owners of small smartphones.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Meanwhile, three schools superintendent finalists are expected to be announced at the February 20th Board of Education meeting. What’s the significance of that number?

Sincerely,
Thrice Krispies

The finalists could form a musical trio — like Rush, The Roches, and Montclair High alum Joe Walsh’s James Gang. Actually, no Rush; the BOE has been extremely slow with this hire.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Then, at a Feb. 26 forum, the public can question the finalists. Parents, teachers, students, and others SHOULD be very involved in the pick. But, sadly, questions must be submitted in advance and some may not be used. BOE timidity?

Sincerely,
Parameters, Schmarameters

Yup. We need to know if the finalists can comfortably answer non-prescreened questions on topics ranging from too much standardized testing to which of the three would play lead guitar in their band.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

At least Gov. Murphy promised to end the time-wasting PARCC exams. Another topic is the need to keep Renaissance nontraditional — something mentioned during public comments at Feb. 7’s BOE meeting. Thoughts?

Sincerely,
Rand on the Run

My older daughter loved that school when it was on Munn Street and students walked to many places — aka trekking without the (academic) tracking. The Madonna Hall name was a bit problematic, but better than Britney Spears Hall.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
I’m thrilled you’re not using today’s column to slam overdevelopment — a topic you belabor almost every week. Can I give you a high-rise…um…a high-five?

Sincerely,
Glad-for-the-Break Jake

I’d now like to slam overdevelopment.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Okay, I walked right into that one.

Sincerely,
Won’t Get Fooled Again

Montclair has many big homes, but also smaller homes and modest apartments built decades ago. Yet most new housing units today are fancy rentals, McMansions, etc., that sadly make our town’s population less diverse. Are developers greedier? Are Montclair officials enabling-ier? “How many years can Upper Mountain exist/before its speed bumps wash to the sea?” That last question wasn’t prescreened…


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Getting back to the Feb. 7 BOE meeting, wasn’t Joe Kavesh rude when (according to Baristanet) he told fellow board member Eve Robinson: “Thank you for the history lesson. I, of course, grew up in this township. I went to Bradford, I went to Nishuane, I went to Hillside, I went to Glenfield, so do not ever lecture me about the township. I will forget more about this township than you’ll ever know.”

Sincerely,
Mansplaining Maximization

One can obviously know a LOT about Montclair without growing up here, and Robinson knows plenty. As for 25-year-resident me: “I will forget more about this township” if I develop amnesia from slapping my head over Kavesh’s condescending comment.

Dave Astor, author, 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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30 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, Dave, in itself, Mr Kavesh’s sharp rebuke was like fingernails across a chalk board.

    However, you should watch the meeting video from about the 65th minute to understand the full exchange between the two of them. A “good for goose is good for the gander thing”. Typical BoE. The names and topics change, but the plot twists and characters are the same. In this case, at least on the surface, the noble versus the pragmatic conflict we have seen many times before.

    It is also interesting that the newly hired Superintendent of Equity, with all the confirmed institutional racism we have now in the K-12, was given the role of the district’s Pre-K point executive. Why? One reason, as another Board member stated, was that the Board’s raison d’être behind the Pre-K push now is our institutional racism.

    For the record, we gave up our model Pre-K in 1997 after 24 years not only because we wanted to use our finite revenue sources to bolster our K-12 offering, but also because of space. Space is one of those issues we allude to constantly, but never get around to quantifying.

    As I recall, our former Pre-K was offered to just 4 year olds. This resolution is supporting a Pre-K of 3 & 4 year olds. Last I checked, we were facing considerable space constraints now even with the CH Bullock school. One Board member said there are current programs she would discontinue to support Pre-K. Clearly, there is space currently allocated that would also be reprogrammed. It will be an interesting discussion when we get serious about having it.

  2. Thank you, Frank! All well said.

    I often attend BOE meetings, and have always been more impressed with Eve Robinson’s speaking tone than Joe Kavesh’s. I missed this particular meeting and have not had a chance to watch the video, but nothing Eve said (from reading the reportage) deserved the tired insult “I will forget more…than you’ll ever know.”

    As for public pre-K, that can certainly be one element (but not the only element) in any efforts to deal with racial disparities in Montclair schools. That extra year of public school can be a partial equalizer.

    From what I understand, the discussion of bringing back Montclair public pre-K (which I was thrilled my older daughter had in the 1990s) was to be ready if state money ever funded it. It would certainly be hard to afford without that outside $$. And excellent question about whether there’d be enough space for pre-K classes in Montclair — plus the new downtown development is bringing/will bring even more students. But if state money were available, maybe something creative could be worked out to find room for public pre-K.

  3. “but nothing Eve said (from reading the reportage) deserved the tired insult”

    Well, watch the video. Yes, if you give a pass for passive-aggressive, than yes. He’s not right, but she’s not right either.

    Agree with your 2nd paragraph, but, tacky-tacky point, they want to add 2 years.

    Last sentence – creative. Yes, it is called an Area in Need of Redevelopment. ANRs, a penultimate end-around strategy. Watch and learn.

  4. Fair point about watching the video, Frank. I will do so. 🙂

    Two years of public pre-K would be nice in an ideal world, but I’d gladly settle for one year (for kids who are 4).

    Re finding room for public pre-K in coming years, I’d be curious how many students Montclair had in the 1990s vs. today. Was the student population smaller enough back then to make it relatively easy to fit pre-K in elementary schools?

  5. Yes more room because white families left the school system after busing was implemented. As you might recall, we sold off two elementary schools because they were underutilized.

  6. As part of the original magnet school plan, one magnet was a Back To Basics magnet the BA/A communities supported. From memory, I understood the concept would see less integrate Pre-K thru 4th grade. It was replaced because of a lack of support by a succession of educational concepts like World Language magnet at Northeast. That was dropped, too. Round and round we go. We’re much more enlighten now.

  7. Frank, those two elementary schools were sold off before my time (I moved to Montclair in 1993). But…bad moves. I recall reading that Grove Street School was sold about 30 years ago for something like $1.1 million, even though some people predicted back then that Montclair’s student population would rise and, eventually, no school building would be underutilized. Then Bullock was built about 20 years later at a cost of something like $26 million.

    Yes, many changes in the Montclair school system, for better or worse.

  8. Frank, I just watched/listened to Eve Robinson’s comments and Joe Kavesh’s brief response, both of which ran from roughly 1:15 to 1:23 of the meeting when I had it on full screen.

    http://www.montclair.k12.nj.us/district/board-of-education/videos/20180207/

    Ms. Robinson’s remarks were on the long side and a bit lecture-ish, but they were not said in a mean way and were very informative, historically and otherwise. I still think Mr. Kavesh’s response was unkind. I realize he probably was already aware of much of what Ms. Robinson spoke about, but I’m sure a lot of it was new to some of the people in the room who arrived in Montclair after the 1990s.

  9. To more fully answer your question about MPSD historical enrollments:

    * the enrollment steadily dropped about 25% from a high of about 7,100 in 1974 thru 1988.
    * in the ’90’s, it increased about 500 from 5,500 to 6,000 (excluding Pre-K).
    * the enrollment over the last 4 years has remained flat at 6,700 (excluding OOD placements).
    * and, to your note we exited the old Madonna Hall space, and brought back 50-75 OOD placements to save money.

    I don’t recall when we sold Grove Street & Southwest schools. CHB cost us $34MM, give or take a MM.

  10. Joe, you should read up on the State’s program? I thought you might be inclined to give her a pass on passive-aggressive. P-A is institutionalized here, too. Did you notice she wasn’t speaking to the audience or the camera?

    Anyway, considering that I don’t think she has a grasp of school finances, that was pretty amazing she was presenting herself as one. The absolute best part for me – and maybe Mr Kavesh – was when she said that, if we got the State funding, it would not cost taxpayers anything. You just can’t make this stuff up!

  11. Eve was rude to begin with and was woman-splaining. Your automatic defense of her without first considering what she said is par for the course. Kavesh was justified in his response. Robinson is the least qualified member of the Board and to make us for her lack of knowledge on anything but Pre-K she talks down to the other members.

  12. Thank you for your responses and for the numbers, Frank! As I’ve said before, you have a LOT of Montclair knowledge.

    It sounds like there are about 700 more K-12 students now than in the 1990s, so probably less room than before for public pre-K — even taking into account the opening of Bullock, Rand moving to Bullock, and Renaissance giving up its rented digs (including use of Madonna Hall) to move into the Rand building.

    I think the Grove Street School was sold sometime during the 1988-90 years. Bullock was going to originally cost $34 million, but that might have been knocked down to $26 million when things were made less fancy. And there was also some state money involved — meaning maybe it WAS $34 million but Montclair paid for $26 million of that. I’m not remembering all the details.

    You’re right that Eve Robinson did seem to be speaking to Joe Kavesh for at least part of her remarks. I think she has a grasp of school finances as a BOE member and as the former head of Montclair Community Pre-K. As for state funding not costing taxpayers anything, I’m sure Ms. Robinson was referring to the possible pre-K money not coming directly out of our property taxes. Obviously, there would be state taxes, but the costs would be spread around more — not just in Montclair.

  13. We’ll disagree about Ms Robinson. She adds a lot of strengths. She should not be out front on the finances.

    Anyway, it took me a while to connect the dots. The last dots, the shoddy Suspension Report presentation that generated the brouhaha and the subsequent BoE hand-wringing succeeded in moving the Pre-K initiative up to the front burner

    I give a whole lot of credit (and this has all the earmarks of Mayor Jackson’s influence) to him and the Council. Assuming at State funding, this is going to get packaged so well that it will cement this Council’s legacy. Assuming I have the broad strokes correct, and at the risk of irritating Jon B about the school lobby, this MPSD Pre-K is as close to a lock as you can have in this town.

    We get $2MM from the State, the MPSD carves a portion from their levy, and the Council chips in $1MM or so additional from PILOT revenue. We’ll create a tax deductible public/private partnership for maintaining school sports facilities which will free up some capital we might need for new space.

    Technically, its not increasing the Municipal tax rate as PILOT revenue is not a tax revenue. It’s found money and we have been feeling pangs of guilt not sharing the wealth with the school district. The BoE gets to say it eliminated some budget/curriculum excess for a higher good. The MEA gets to staff the Pre-K.

    Yes, the last Governor took 20% out of the State fund last year, but we’ll deal with how the next Governor handles the State funding later. We’ll say there district is making vast improvements controlling the costs and the Pre-K costs will go up much less than the levy average anyway because [fill in the blank].

    I have to say if I have it right, I’m pretty damned impressed with the initiative.

  14. Dave, you took a contrarian view! Kavesh was rude. Maybe he overreacted but if one off for him, not so worth discussion.

    Some good info, Frank on K minus whatever school. Putting the Sup. Eq. in charge will turn local in fiscal debate (b/c state ISN’T paying for it Dave) into an equity debate, and who wants to take the “inequitable” side (taxes are already too high-maybe we’ll suffer a little more inequity). The other will ask for two years then “compromise” at one. Taxes will rise, faster and higher.

    When you live in a town as institutionally racist as Montclair, expect to pay for your sins.

  15. Thanks for your comment, spookyt!

    I did originally base my views of the Eve Robinson/Joe Kavesh exchange on a meeting story that paraphrased and quoted the exchange. Hard to find the time to attend (or watch on video) every BOE meeting, though I’ve been to dozens. But after watching the video a couple hours ago, I don’t feel Eve’s comments were rude. A bit “lecture-ish,” as I mentioned in my 5:39 p.m. comment. I feel Joe’s response WAS rude. Saying someone has forgotten more than someone else knows is a rude comment, in my opinion.

    From seeing Eve at those many BOE meetings in person, I believe she is as qualified as anyone on the board — and not just concerning pre-K.

  16. Frank, it’s true almost every BOE member is stronger in some areas than in other areas. It’s important that Eve has a background in education; not every BOE member, past or present, has had that.

    I like your (cautious?) optimism about public pre-K returning to Montclair. I don’t totally share that optimism, but I hope you’re right!

    It has always bothered me that Payment In Lieu Of Taxes money doesn’t partly go to the school district.

  17. Thank you, lacamina! It didn’t occur to me that criticizing Joe Kavesh’s comments would be considered contrarian, but I’ll take it. 🙂

    Re your line “When you live in a town as institutionally racist as Montclair, expect to pay for your sins”: Almost every town is racist in some ways, but I think Montclair is less so than most other places. At least Montclair often tries (sometimes skillfully, sometimes haltingly) to deal with racial matters. The school district’s magnet system, which was essentially created as a desegregation device, is a prime example.

  18. “I think Montclair is less so than most other places.”

    You might want to run that one by a minority group in Montclair.

  19. “Frank, it’s true almost every BOE member is stronger in some areas than in other areas. It’s important that Eve has a background in education; not every BOE member, past or present, has had that.”

    OK, it is true that Mayor Jackson only started his Gifted & Talented BoE Member program after his reelection and he needs another cycle or two to clean house. Pretty much everyone agrees that most former BoE members, Central Office staff, etc were mostly undesirable malcontents of questionable talents. Furthermore, 99.9% of our teachers and paras are absolutely top of the line. The best of the best. Our caregivers are beyond reproach. The students – well, they’re children.

    My point?

  20. “You might want to run that one by a minority group in Montclair” — Frank, there’s no denying the existence racism in Montclair; I’m just saying there’s less of it than in most other places. (Some of those other places are all-white towns whose all-whiteness is in of itself racist in a way.) I have a bit more radar on this than the average white person, because my younger daughter is of Latina descent and I’m very attentive to how she’s treated in Montclair as a person of color. I think she’s treated very well.

    As for your second comment…funny and satirical! If there were a Best Western in Montclair, it would be the best Best Western. 🙂 I’ve liked some of the mayor’s BOE choices more than others. Virtually all the teachers and paras educating my daughters have been great.

  21. Dave, I was being facetious in calling Montclair “institutionally racist” I can’t imagine a town with less racist institutions (or people). Like frank, I wish the next time someone accuses Montclair of IR, someone on Boe or Council would invite that person to elaborate. Which institutions? Teachers? Administrators? Boe? Council? MPD? Town hall? And what racism? Suspension and achievement gaps? Is there any evidence that those gaps reflect unequal standards for otherwise identical groups?

  22. My apologies, lacamina, for misreading your facetious tone. Montclair, while far from perfect, is the least prejudiced place I know of (toward African-Americans, same-gender couples, and others).

  23. My mistake. I should have said the Black/African American communities.

    I don’t believe there is less of it. I think the white communities like to think so. I think the minority communities hope it is so.

    But, when I listen closely to what B-A/A leaders, stakeholders and just everyday residents say in a range of forums, well…I’m certainly not going to make the case we have less racism.

    Let’s do a tie-breaker. Let’s put the question to the Mayor.

  24. I guess we might differ on this, Frank. I see less racism in Montclair than in many other places, even as racism exists in our town. Obviously, African-American residents might look at things differently. But would they rather live in Montclair or, say, Nutley (where Trump signs abounded in 2016)? Most likely Montclair.

  25. LOL, silverleaf! Okay, a different woman with the last name of Robinson, and a different kind of “education”…

  26. Not trying to hijack thread, but I thought the same thing.

    “So tell me Mrs. Robinson, what was your major in college?”

Comments are closed.