The last Montclair Board of Education meeting to include outgoing Interim School Superintendent Barbara Pinsak took place on April 16. But that was not the last school-related board meeting Superintendent Pinsak attended. On April 19, she joined the five-member Montclair Board of School Estimate for their final meeting on the 2018-19 school year budget, which was approved unanimously with additional money for school security. The adopted $128 million budget includes a tax levy of $115,941,279, with an additional $50,000 for the security line.
Superintendent Pinsak herself made the case for the extra money before the vote. She explained she discussed security with the principals of the various schools, and the elementary school principals said they did not completely agree with what the district wanted. Some of them had ideas for security precautions that were particular to their own school buildings.
“The one thing that they did agree upon,” she said, “was that they wanted to have more support from security during school events, as such as we were able to give them last year during election time and during the school tours.”
Superintendent Pinsak explained that the district had been able to pay for security at such events because several administrative positions had not yet been filled, and the open positions allowed the district top pay for security with money intended for administrative salaries. She said the Board of Education should have a discussion on how to maintain secure schools going forward, but she also said the district could manage to continue paying for elementary-school security needs by cutting funds elsewhere.
Superintendent Pinsak also defended other line items in the budget, saying that curriculum supplies were not for the curriculum department in the central office but to cover mass-ordered supplies for the classrooms in all of the schools. She defended travel expenses by noting that teachers need funding as well when teachers are sent to conferences for professional development. On the subject of breakage, Superintendent Pinsak said she was saving an amount from breakage for emergency positions, but the district does use it to support positions and “keep our schools well-staffed.” Positions the district hopes to support with breakage for 2018-19 include an extra pre-K teacher and a part-time librarian at Edgemont, but there have been additional retirements since March 15, and Superintendent Pinsak said it is “quite likely” that the district will be able to move some teachers and paraprofessionals into some of the positions vacated by retirements. She said the district should be able to avoid reducing the paraprofessional staff to 10 because of some incoming pre-K students that have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), and the district thus needs to keep paraprofessionals.
Montclair High School social studies teacher Tom Manos, speaking on behalf of the Montclair Education Association, said the budget should focus more on student growth, advocating for reduced class sizes to allow greater gains in student achievement and recommending such a policy as being a proven way to narrow the achievement gap. Manos said that excessive administrative salaries and increased travel expenses would shift the focus away from students’ needs, and he also said that an emphasis on programs and training made him wonder about the priorities in the budget. The $1.5 million in breakage led him to ask why there were any cuts at all for 2018-19.
Manos also questioned the logic of paying two superintendents for the remainder of 2017-18 – outgoing Superintendent Pinsak and incoming Superintendent Kendra Johnson. Board of Education President Laura Hertzog sought to clarify the situation. She explained that right now the district is paying Superintendent Pinsak full-time without benefits due to her interim appointment, and Dr. Johnson is now drawing her salary for being an assistant superintendent. When Dr. Johnson takes over on May 1, she will be paid for her new job, with benefits while her old position will remain vacant, while Ms. Pinsak will be paid for consulting work on an as-needed basis without benefits. This all means that after May 1, the two combined salaries will amount to less than what the district is currently paying both women.
At the end of the process, after the budget was approved, Councilor McMahon thanked Superintendent Pinsak and members of the Board of Education for keeping the paraprofessionals, appreciating the extra “bang for the buck,” and First Ward Councilor William Hurlock expressed his gratitude for an “exceptional job” in the preparation of the budget and said it had been an efficient and organized effort. He told Board of Education Business Administrator Emidio D’Andrea he looked forward to working with him again.
“What he said,” Mayor Robert Jackson, chairman of the Board of School Estimate, chimed in.
Dr. Johnson attended this Board of School Estimate meeting as an observer. Her second day of her tenure as Montclair School Superintendent, May 2, will mark her debut at a Board of Education meeting – the monthly Wednesday workshop meeting where programs and policies are discussed at length.