MontClairVoyant: A Week of BOE Reorganizing and Lackawanna Plaza Strategizing

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DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

We learned at the Board of Education’s annual reorganization meeting last night (May 16) that Laura Hertzog was reelected BOE president and Joe Kavesh was elected to succeed Franklin Turner as vice president. Comment?

Sincerely,
Chairpeople of the Board

Even though a very different president recklessly pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and ruined any chance for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, detente between Montclair and Cedar Grove continues.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Whatever. Several people at the BOE meeting praised new superintendent Kendra Johnson’s May 14-June 11 “Listening and Learning” tour. What do you think of it?

Sincerely,
Ear Today

The more Dr. Johnson takes into account the views of parents and teachers and students, the better — something Montclair’s last permanent superintendent did not adequately do. Meanwhile, I’m guessing Cedar Grove’s nuclear warheads are stored near Pompton Avenue.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Speaking of the ex-superintendent, 2015’s Achievement Gap Advisory Panel report doesn’t benefit from its connection to her despite containing some good ideas. Now the BOE is considering an achievement-gap resolution from board members Anne Mernin and Franklin Turner. Are you okay with that?

Sincerely,
Penny for Your Thoughts

Yes — if we don’t forget that the gap is largely caused by America’s socioeconomic inequality; if “metrics,” “benchmarks,” and other data are not overused; if standardized testing is not overdone; and if the resolution is accompanied by the soundtrack of The Cranberries’ catchy song “Analyse.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Newly reappointed BOE member Eve Robinson suggested at the May 16 meeting that the achievement-gap resolution include wording that Montclair has been trying to close that gap since long before 2015. Good idea?

Sincerely,
The Long and Winding Road

It is! Speaking of timelines, Dr. Johnson said at the meeting that she had hometown Democratic congressional candidate Mikie Sherrill disinvited from speaking at Montclair High BEFORE a local Republican leader complained. Poe wrote “MS Found in a Bottle” in 1833; this month, MS found herself in a school-appearance battle.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Wonderful news: Watchung School teacher Birdean Clinton was honored at the meeting for recently saving the life of a student with the Heimlich maneuver, and other Montclair teachers were cited for winning Governor’s Educator of the Year awards!

Sincerely,
Classroom Heroines and Heroes

Among the winners: Bradford School’s Laurie Durber, a great educator with a great sense of humor who was one of my older daughter’s teachers when Ms. Durber worked at a pre-relocated-to-Rand Renaissance (“the three r’s”).

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Two nights earlier, on May 14, the Planning Board continued discussing the proposed Lackawanna Plaza redo. What was most memorable about that meeting?

Sincerely,
Controversial Complex

An LP developer accustomed to getting his way in Montclair pouted about how allegedly difficult and expensive it would be to build a supermarket AND save LP’s historic train sheds. I wept at his frustration, and it had nothing to do with slicing 150 onions to mark Montclair’s 150th anniversary.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Given that there can be preservation AND a much-needed supermarket at LP, should already-rich developers who favor profits over history find another line of work?

Sincerely,
Changing-Gears Careers

They could manufacture hybrid cars that run on gasoline and onions. I have extra slices.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Now that the BOE has reorganized, what others changes do you foresee in Montclair?

Sincerely,
(Not a Quiche) Lorraine

Our town’s streets can be rearranged alphabetically! So, going south to north, Bloomfield Avenue becomes Bellevue Avenue, Walnut Street becomes Bloomfield Avenue, Chestnut Street stays the same, Watchung Avenue becomes Walnut Street, Bellevue Avenue becomes Watchung Avenue, and Lorraine…regrets asking her question.

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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12 COMMENTS

  1. “Speaking of the ex-superintendent, 2015’s Achievement Gap Advisory Panel report doesn’t benefit from its connection to her despite containing some good ideas.”

    Pretty funny assessment. People now embrace the AGAP report? Embrace it but do their very best to ignore that Superintendent MacCormmack brought it to the community?

    Montclair’s residents & business owners can be as two-faced and righteous as any other town. I can understand that time has changed the majority position into now supporting the report. That’s a change in behavior, not values. Montclair values have not changed. To say the majority supports the report now is just proof that this is burnishing their political correctness in the Age of Trump. Pretty superficial.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Frank! Well said!

    I don’t think the majority of people now embrace the 2015 achievement-gap report. As I mentioned in the column, the report contained some good ideas — such as the later-implemented suggestion that there be an assistant superintendent for equity, if I’m remembering correctly. But certain other parts of the report were not good at all, and the report was indeed tainted by its connection to the VERY unpopular former permanent superintendent.

    The achievement-gap resolution the BOE is now considering is a different document (albeit with some similarities) than the 2015 report, and I basically said in the column that I’m okay with the resolution only if it doesn’t lead to all kinds of “reformy” policies (too much standardized testing, overuse of data, less classroom autonomy for teachers who know their students better than any bureaucrat, etc.).

  3. Dave,

    Let’s cut to the chase. This resolution was primarily about setting up the our Pre-K Initiative. Which is our typical “let’s add” approach. Everyone knows that Pre-K reduces the AG, right? Yet, the Montclair Pre-K has yet to demonstrate it has made any impact on the Achievement Gap with its students. Why?

  4. Thanks, Frank! I suppose the bring-back-public-Pre-K initiative could be one of the reasons for the BOE’s new achievement-gap resolution, but I’m not sure. I was at the BOE’s May 16 meeting, and listening to the resolution read out loud seemed to indicate that the grades beyond Pre-K were a big part of the resolution mix.

    You’re right — Montclair Community Pre-K has not really reduced the achievement gap. Would a Pre-K system that’s again inside our town’s public schools have different results? Maybe, maybe not. As I’ve said before, America’s awful and growing socioeconomic inequality is hard to overcome on a local level. Which is one possible answer to your why-hasn’t-MCPK-had-more-of-an-impact question.

  5. Dave,

    I’m using your thread to address frankgg’s affordable housing point raised in the the Lackawanna Plaza development thread. To expand on it on it is really independent of that project. Hope you don’t mind.

    I think taxpayers have a misconception about the new affordable housing ordinance and who it favors. Aside from favoring existing residents, it would favor anyone who works in Montclair.

    Now “Works in Montclair” doesn’t define work – who for, where or whether part-time or full-time. My impression from representations made of the benefits was that this would allow municipal workers to live where they work. That is a part I cringed over.

    Why? In part because it suggests an argument that Township itself is not paying its employees a living wage. The counter-argument is that the Township is paying a living wage, but the high cost of living in Montclair precludes our employees from living here.

    It seems we have already met our AH legal obligation. So, we are doing this to maintain diversity and as an incentive for those who work here to be more vested in the town. One problem is our reliance on providing AH via our development strategy (e.g. Lackawanna) is that it puts the bulk of AH in our downtown core which limits the diversity goal.

    The Township has no policy on a living wage. I’m unaware the Council has ever discussed the issue in general or as an employer. Therefore, I believe it hasn’t taken a position with its vendors either. A living wage policy has a broader reach and is free of geographic limitations. It provides choice for a household to weigh where they can live. This was one of the State’s premises in applying the old law. If every town had to provide their AH fair-share, then theoretically, a household would have the choice where to live.

    The primary financial benefit of our AH strategy is that it limits taxpayer’s financial exposure. For every dollar we direct to AH, we will bring in new, offsetting non-AH ratables. Our approach slows the rate of economic gentrification. Maybe we should look at the issue of income disparity more broadly in what else we can or should be doing as policy.

  6. Frank, you’re more than welcome to comment on affordable housing here. 🙂

    Very interesting points. It would be nice if more municipal workers — and educators — could live in Montclair. I’m not sure what percentage of our town’s municipal workers are making a living wage (I guess it partly depends, as you alluded to, on whether one defines a living wage as being enough to afford Montclair vs. being enough to afford a lower-cost town). Teachers, while they deserve more money than they currently make, in a number of cases do live in Montclair — often with the help of a spouse’s income. Underpaid paraprofessionals have a much tougher time.

    I realize my above paragraph didn’t address all your points…

  7. I meant living wage in the regional sense, not a living wage to live in Montclair. Living wage can be a moving target, but using AH is a start because it is well-defined.
    I was not excluding teachers, etc., but where jobs are not 12 months, it requires adjustment. Again, it is not the easiest thing to implement, but works as an umbrella value in for government policy and evaluating/funding tools in the toolbox.
    Thanks for the space.

  8. Thanks, Frank! While Montclair is more expensive than a number of other towns in this area, North Jersey and the tri-state region in general are of course more expensive than many other parts of the country.

    A living wage is indeed a moving target. One of several ways that’s the case involves medical insurance. For instance, as the admittedly imperfect Obamacare gets eaten away by D.C.’s current crop of slash-and-burn Republicans, even people who earn decent pay may find themselves struggling.

  9. Unfortunately, not one of the tools in the muni toolbox. I would like to think this will be supported by Rodney’s replacement, but I doubt it.

  10. True, Frank — not sure Rodney Frelinghuysen’s replacement would “go there” when it comes to a living wage. And there’s only so much a town can do to control health-care costs when the insurance companies have so much clout and perhaps sort of collude with each other.

    But if any Democrat replaces Rodney, it can only be an improvement in general. As Rodney moved further and further right so as to cowardly not go against Trump and Paul Ryan and their supporters, his advocacy for the interests of a large majority of his 11th District constituents fell by the wayside. Once in a while, Rodney would still vote decently, but only if it didn’t affect the final tally. Wouldn’t be surprised if Ryan told him how to vote.

  11. I hear you, Frank. Republicans win more often than they should — whether it’s because of gerrymandering, voter suppression, tons of monetary backing from the far-right rich, no-holds-barred negative advertising, etc. But I think the Democrats (who don’t always play fair, either, but usually don’t sink to GOP depths) have a chance this time in the 11th District. Trump is toxic in much of the district, the awful Republican tax bill is raising property taxes for many, many women are furious with everything the current GOP stands for, and so on.

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