MontClairVoyant: Not In Love With a Guv Who Gave Our Town a Shove

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DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Your reaction to Montclair getting only a slight increase in state education aid for the upcoming 2019-20 school year?

Sincerely,
Ty Nee-Funding

Better than no increase, but SO disappointing. Still, Phil Murphy remains one of my 50 favorite governors.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Um…there are only 50 states. Yes, it’s infuriating that this alleged friend of public schools is treating Montclair little better than his anti-public-schools Republican predecessor Chris Christie did. What’s up with that?

Sincerely,
Dem’s Da Brakes

Murphy has to navigate a Trenton where others who are more conservative also have power, but the Democrat doesn’t fight hard enough — for education aid, against the PARCC test, etc. So…NO TOMATO PIE FOR HIM.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Gasp! The “nuclear option”! Meanwhile, denial-of-pizza aside, some nearby school districts are receiving state-aid hikes of a much higher percentage, including…

Sincerely,
Neighbors Nay-ed Less

…affluent, not-that-diverse Glen Ridge. I realize Tom Cruise once lived there, but — sheesh — he’s too short to be playing the 6’5″ Jack Reacher in the movies based on Lee Child’s thrillers.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
And Montclair needs a lot of state-aid catchup after the miserly Christie years. Instead, there are dismaying staff cuts — including a reported six teachers and 14 paras — in a first-draft budget passed March 11 by the Board of Education. Thoughts?

Sincerely,
The Firings This Time

Murphy sympathizes, because the ultra-rich Goldman Sachs alum knows what it’s like to live a single paycheck from financial ruin. A single multimillion-dollar paycheck, but still…

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
In happier news, parents, teachers, administrators, and others came through for the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence, which exceeded its yearly fundraising campaign’s $85,000 goal. Nice?

Sincerely,
Cash U. Nutt

And the MFEE’s third annual “Amazing FundRACER” is coming May 19 — which, not coincidentally, is also the 968th anniversary of 1051’s Henry I-Anne of Kiev marriage at the Montclair Women’s Club.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Something about that last answer seems off.

Sincerely,
U.R. Weird

Okay, okay, the Montclair Women’s Club ON UNION STREET. Don’t worry about getting there — the event is over.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
On Orange Road, will the proposed MC Residences have many more units than the apparent maximum of 18 per acre as developer Pinnacle tries to take advantage of inexact requirement wording that Montclair’s planning director and Township Council could have conceivably fixed?

Sincerely,
Bawl of Confusion

Pinnacle should sign up for “Community-Mindedness 101,” but it prefers “Advanced Profits Maximization.” Not sure if Montclair State offers the latter course.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
But aren’t you glad the developer’s latest try-to-take-advantage action was “outed” at March 11’s Planning Board meeting?

Sincerely,
Et Tu Plutocratus

Yes, but rightly criticizing something important like that while much bigger projects such as the “arts district” and the preservation-wrecking Lackawanna Plaza redo are approved feels a bit like “Nibbling Around the Edges 101.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Plus Pinnacle never gets reprimanded, and keeps getting variances and approvals for its projects! Where’s the Merit System?

Sincerely,
No Bad Deed Goes Punished

Near the Milky Way?

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Then there’s Walnut Street — where, as discussed at March 6’s Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting, we may see a variance-laden cramming of a one-unit and a four-unit townhouse into a fairly small site. Your take?

Sincerely,
Course O’2019

Unfortunately, projects are being shoehorned into many of the remaining nooks and crannies of an already-overbuilt Montclair. So I wasn’t surprised when I opened my refrigerator this morning and saw a new condo inside.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Off Park Street, Montclair High’s 2019 commencement is to be held as usual in the amphitheater, but the auditorium isn’t a rain option due to stairway-replacement work and asbestos removal at MHS. What might be the bad-weather venue?

Sincerely,
Besides Versailles Palace

Any Mini Cooper would do. And if you’re wondering how 500 students would fit into such a small car, simply put 250 in the front and 250 in the back.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Will you be getting a decent state-aid increase to help pay for badly needed psychotherapy?

Sincerely,
I.M. Concerned

No, but I hope to receive a copy of Dostoyevsky’s iconic novel “The Brothers Tomato Pie.”

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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24 COMMENTS

  1. Did you see the statewide school ratings in the SL the other day? Throwing more money at schools with mediocre ratings doesn’t make a lot of sense. Too bad we can’t cut salaries about 20% and see what happens. For sure we would lose some teachers but they would be replaced with energetic younger teachers. My money says our ratings would stay the same or probably go up.

  2. Thank you for the comment, flipside.

    I didn’t see those ratings. (I was a longtime Star-Ledger subscriber until a few years ago, when I finally got tired of that paper’s drastic staff reductions and shrunken news hole.) I don’t know where Montclair ranked, but I get suspicious of ratings sometimes. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve had children in our town’s system from 1993-2007 and 2012-present, and I absolutely loved/love all five schools they attended/attend. Great principals, teachers, paras, and other staff. And Montclair has certain “intangibles” (such as diversity) that some allegedly “better” districts don’t.

    I’m not sure if you’re being partly facetious in suggesting a 20% salary cut, but I think that would be absolutely awful for the teachers and their families. And given the way public-school teachers are frequently denigrated (and blamed for not correcting societal ills they have no control over), there are reportedly fewer people getting into teaching. So I’m not sure if you would get enough excellent young teachers as replacements.

  3. As inaccurate as these overall ratings may be, Montclair would not serve itself in ignoring these State scores. Where there is smoke…and there is smoke…as we know.

    Let’s not play the teacher quality and the societal ills cards. These ratings compare schools to the State averages.

    Just looking at Chronic Absenteeism, we have a problem (below avg) with every group except for Whites.
    Minorities, economically disadvantage, those with disabilities are all problem areas. Of course, one school, Edgemont absenteeism is just a problem every which way.

    If the kids aren’t in school, then all the other metrics are negatively affected. Maybe we should just focus on absenteeism first?

  4. As to the Walnut Street crazy multi-unit application, get used to it. It is following the proposed RM-2 zone which would allow 18 dwelling units/acre. Sound familiar? Montclair will start taking the 20,000+ sf lots in R-2 zones and allow something along the lines of what this application is requesting. Back in the day, we called it garden apartment zoning. The new version will be more vertical rather than horizontal.

  5. Thank you for the schools-related comment, Frank.

    I agree that all New Jersey school districts are measured in the same way. But what measurements are being left out? While the Montclair district may not have quite as high overall academic results as some districts, what our town often DOES produce are well-rounded, socially aware, comfortable-with-diversity students ready for “the real world.” And plenty of Montclair High graduates get into the “better” colleges — without bribes. 🙂

    Absenteeism IS a problem; there’s no denying that.

  6. Frank, re the Walnut application, I see your depressing-scenario point. Well said. And, yes, given how developed Montclair is, there’s almost “nowhere to go but up” (future construction more vertical than horizontal, except where there are major tear-downs). In a nod to Bob Dylan as we clench our teeth, we can call what we see “Gnashville Skyline.”

  7. And plenty of Montclair High graduates get into the “better” colleges — without bribes.
    How do you know? 🙂

    We keep making excuses. We nervously wring our hands and talk about institutional racism and inequities in our district. We hire equity managers for acute care – the equivalent to hiring more emergency room doctors instead of providing proactive care. Alternately we propose to add Pre-K as the panacea. Pre-K works, but if you put it in a dysfunctional district, it won’t. And then we poo-poo our rising costs and the State doesn’t help enough.

    At some point down the road Montclair has to raise its standard of for success and own its accountability in achieving it. We need to move past if and how much of a problem we have so we can focus on solutions. Right now, all I hear is same blah, blah, blah from all the stakeholders.

    If I know anything about the Montclair school district, it is their long-standing, laissez-faire/carrot approach to the attendance requirements. The mindset has always been “it is enough to just offer access to a good education”. We can continue with this mindset, but we just can not say we are a high performing district because we weight “intangibles” as 50% of our rating.

  8. Frank, how do I know that “plenty of Montclair High graduates get into the ‘better’ colleges”? The Montclair Times used to publish (not sure if it still does) an annual full-page list of which colleges students would be attending, and there were always many high-profile colleges there.

    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree about whether or not Montclair is a successful school district. I think it is, even if it’s imperfect and not quite as “high-performing” as some. A good number of families with children are still moving to this town.

  9. Montclair has a white/non-white attendance gap? Why doesn’t that fact ever come up in discussion of achievement gap? After institutional racism, naturally.

    Montclairvoyant misses joke about bribes

  10. A good number of families with children are still moving to this town.

    Not black families.

    I’ll stop being so disagreeable if the MEA would agree with you. Unfortunately, when they speak I keep thinking about that song with the lyrics “ don’t bring me down”. Of course, I’m no different…so I must know of what I speak. 😁

  11. Thank you for the comment, lacamina.

    I wasn’t aware, until Frank brought it up, that there might be an “attendance gap.” If there is, I think it would be more a socioeconomic thing than a racial thing. I don’t recall attendance being mentioned in Montclair’s “Achievement Gap Advisory Panel Report” of 2015, but it’s been nearly four years since I read it…

    I guess my attempted joke about bribes in my 6:07 pm comment fell flat — like my parents’ effort to get me into an Ivy League school by endowing a cluster of dorms made of tiny green Monopoly houses.

  12. Frank, I think fewer African-American families moving to Montclair is more about housing costs than qualms about our town’s public schools.

    Not sure exactly what you meant in your MEA paragraph, so I’ll hold off on responding to that.

  13. I was kidding about black families moving here. Obviously, a good number are moving here.

    Yes, I also don’t recall attendance being much of a discussion anywhere or anytime. I just like to wander among the weeds to harvest tertiary deficiencies to serve on my plates of hyperbole.

    There is not another achievement gap here. There is no here here. I concede.

  14. Frank, I enjoyed the deadpan approach in part of your comment. 🙂

    There definitely IS an achievement gap in Montclair (as there is in many other places) — something I should have made clear that I acknowledge while I was sincerely praising our town’s school system overall. The question is what causes that gap. There is one side that says schools and teachers could significantly narrow that gap if they did a better job. Another side says socioeconomic factors (U.S. poverty, income inequality, racism, etc.) are the main cause of the achievement gap and that schools and teachers can only make a small dent in the gap when poverty, income inequality, racism, etc., are not adequately addressed on a national level. I tend to fall in the second camp.

    But any local town’s efforts to address the gap are welcome. Or at least some of the efforts. For instance, I don’t think barraging kids with standardized testing narrows the gap. Maybe it provides some indication of how wide the gap is, but teachers already know how their students are doing without standardized-test results to tell them.

  15. No need to explain. I know you recognize the educational achievement gap. My comment was solely about the tertiary attendance gap issue…hence, my concession.

  16. I should mention that Martin Schwartz was the Planning Board member who “outed” Pinnacle on that development company’s attempt to cram more units into the proposed MC Residences. (I hadn’t included Martin’s name when discussing MC Residences in my column.)

  17. Dave, Now, I realize this may sound totally insane but could the achievement gap have something to with ability? Not race, not money, but natural ability. Similar to hitting a baseball, kicking a ball, jumping over hurdles. Some people are just better at it. Some kids are just good at traditional school work and others not. Some kids will go on to be doctors, and lawyers, and such and others artists, singers, plumbers, and carpenters. When you try to make the artist or carpenter a doctor perhaps the system creates an achievement gap.

  18. flipside, you’re right that some students have more ability in academics, some students have more ability in vocational areas, some students have more ability in the arts, some students have more ability in sports, etc.

    But the achievement gap has usually been framed as a gap between the achievement of white students vs. the achievement of students of color, and I don’t believe white students are innately better at academics. It all comes down to socioeconomics — how educated the students’ parents are or aren’t, how affluent the parents are or aren’t, whether the parents could afford to send their kids to a good nursery school to get a head start on learning, whether parents are so frazzled trying to work two or three jobs that they have less time and energy for their kids, whether parents are depressed and angry dealing with money problems and racism, and so on. Students of color disproportionately come from homes facing some of those aforementioned challenges, though of course some students of color have home lives equivalent to that of many white students.

    Anyway, that’s my liberal response — as I’m sure you were expecting. 🙂

  19. Dave, Doesn’t socioeconomics come down to the innate skill sets a person has relative to the culture they are born into? Wouldn’t it follow that financially, athletically, and/or academically successful parents are more likely to pass those skill sets down to their offspring? Montclair affords pretty good opportunity for all and some will always fall through the cracks and have troubles. One just has to look at the number of therapists in town to know that many issues are color blind. There will always be overachievers, achievers, and underachievers. You can throw all the resources you want at it but it’s a story as old as time. I am not saying it shouldn’t be a concern but all you have to do is walk past the HS to realize that like every generation most kids aren’t that interested in school. Most days you can actually smell it in the air.

  20. An edit of the last part of the second paragraph of my previous comment: “…though of course MANY students of color have home lives equivalent to that of many white students.”

  21. flipside, I agree that affluent and non-affluent parents alike often pass their skill sets down to their children. But ambitious kids in non-affluent families might not have as many resources and opportunities to potentially break that pattern (if they want to have entirely different careers).

  22. Dave, This is where we totally agree! Everyone should have a ladder of opportunity. When I was in business my partner and I took pride in giving kids that didn’t go to the “best” schools the same chance as everyone else. My partner was, actually still is, African-American and went the extra mile to mentor many young men. Christmastime at his house was an amazing stream of men he helped over the years. He once lamented that for each kid that made it 3 didn’t. All you can do is your best…you can lead a horse to water.

  23. Thank you, flipside! Nice to agree once in a while, and it’s wonderful and inspiring that you and your business partner have helped many young people who weren’t raised with all kinds of advantages!

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