MontClairVoyant: Commencing with Commencement Before Graduating to Other Topics

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Today, June 24, is the day of Montclair High graduation ceremonies and the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence “Toast” to younger-than-12th-grade students for their resiliency during a COVID school year. Where will those great events be held?

Sincerely,
Tea for Twofer

The high-school amphitheater and Nishuane Park — locations I confirmed by reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1854 novel “North and South.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Um…normal people look online for info like that. Anyway, even as we celebrate our wonderful students, 36 of the teachers and staff who helped them so much are being laid off despite the school district seemingly having enough money. And many of those losing their jobs are educators of color. How disturbing is all that?

Sincerely,
Downbeat on Downsizing

Very disturbing. “The Superintendent and Board of Education Were Rightly Criticized at the June 21 BOE Meeting” would make an interesting name for a rock band, but I don’t see that band listed in this fall’s reopening lineup at the Wellmont.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Speaking of entertainment venues, Clairidge Cinemas is scheduled to reopen under the operation of Montclair Film — news that follows last month’s announcement that the Bellevue Theatre will be coming back as well. Thrilled?

Sincerely,
It’s Not Easy Being Screen

Thrilled. Those two movie houses allegedly appeared in the “North and South” book despite not existing in 1854, even as literary scholars have debated whether the Clairidge’s downtown location is really “South” Montclair.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Well, Montclair High’s amphitheater isn’t exactly “North” Montclair — it’s “Central” Montclair. Speaking of films, the mostly dormant Lackawanna Plaza has become a site for movies and other arts offerings as we await Lackawanna’s future development by a new owner. Comment?

Sincerely,
‘Lack’ to the Future

Elizabeth Gaskell also wrote a biography of Charlotte Bronte, whose iconic “Jane Eyre” novel gave its title character quite a decision to make: whether to buy Edward Rochester a wedding gift at Lackawanna’s old Radio Shack store.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
In another welcome motion-picture development, film professor/Montclair resident Cordelia Siporin has been heavily involved in bringing back to life “The Curse of Quon Gwon” — a movie believed to be the first with an all-Asian-American cast. Wow?

Sincerely,
Silent Is Golden

Wow! That film was from 1916, the Clairidge dates back to 1921, the Bellevue to 1922, and poet William Butler Yeats won a Nobel Prize in 1923. His most famous line: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold/those North and South jokes were getting rather old.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
How dare you put words in the mouth of Yeats! At least the circle at Valley Road and Church Street is finally looking decent with some nicely landscaped temporary plants. Is there a fountain in that circle’s future?

Sincerely,
Waters? Roger!

So it seems. As there was a fountain in that circle’s past — near the original site of Fountainside Hospital. Keeping patients hydrated was never an issue.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Meanwhile, a landscape company has unfortunately filed a court challenge against the recent Montclair measure reducing the use of noxious gas-powered leaf blowers. Will you send that company a holiday card this December?

Sincerely,
The Mail Prerogative

No. But send a dictionary with the word “rake” circled? Maybe. Rakes also have other handy-dandy uses, such as dipping their handles in ink to make large fountain pens.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
That word “fountain” again. The thought of leaves reminds me that a big beautiful tree was felled at Watchung Playground as work began on an expanded field. Sad, wasn’t it?

Sincerely,
As It Lay Dying

“The Tree-Like Ents from The Lord of the Rings Are Unhappy” would make another interesting name for a rock band. If that band plays the Wellmont this autumn, falling leaves could make for a messy stage.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Last but not least, the Township Council at its June 22 meeting passed several LGBTQ-friendly measures, albeit with a split 4-3 vote on one of them. Pleased overall?

Sincerely,
Legislation Accumulation

Yes. Major kudos to Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis and others. Our municipality has graduated…to being an even more inclusive place worthy of Elizabeth Gaskell following her 1853 novel “Cranford” with a 2021 sequel titled “Montclair.” If she’s still writing…

 

 

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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18 COMMENTS

  1. Dave Astor once wrote, “The thought of leaves reminds me that a big beautiful tree was felled at Watchung Playground as work began on an expanded field. Sad, wasn’t it?”

    Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote him back, “The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon.”

    As one townie presciently stated, once it is built, everyone will love it and forget what was there.

    We’re just a progressive town. We have to be what we are.

    I do get easily frustrated with sloppy (lazy?) or you get what you pay for designs…and our Parking Utility doesn’t seem to care. (The parking utility is my focus this month). I love how the Central Office dictates to the Parking Utility. That is the only explanation for the restriping.
    The Watchung Plaza neighborhood commercial district is already problematic for the accessible (handicapped). This plan only puts a puts a spotlight on the deficiency. And the best part? The school’s accessibility plan ignores that is suppose to be an accessible field. That may include a group of athletes with disabilities. Nah. In Montclair? Dumb & dumber when you do things for show, rather than for values. But, the Central Office, the parents and TUM is going to get that Title IX field!
    God speed.

  2. Frank, I did attend an elementary school named after Ralph Waldo Emerson. 🙂 A sad, astute quote by him.

  3. “The Superintendent and Board of Education Were Rightly Criticized at the June 21 BOE Meeting.”

    That’s quite a name for a rock band. It would barely fit on the marquee at The Wellmont! When it reopens, perhaps the Bellevue could run “Jailhouse Rock.” That certainly befits the recent decision to lay-off 36 teachers and staff.

  4. Ha, silverleaf! I guess the Wellmont would have to enlarge its marquee, then. 🙂

    The school district’s leaders could also listen to the Elvis song “Don’t Be Cruel”…

  5. I do love how anyone that works for the district is considered an educator by the MEA management.

    I love how there were only 13 teachers cut. I love how Phys Ed classes will now average no more than 40 students. I love we chose to cut a sports trainer instead of a teacher or para. I love we cut 5 other support people that were not teachers or paras.

    The MEA can’t see a rhyme or reason to the 36 total staff cuts.
    They can’t see that 530 students dis-enrolled from the district.

    That is equal to one entire grade. Yes, one entire grade’s worth of students left the school district. Let that sink in for just a moment.

    Say we use 25 students to a class. That is 21 excess teachers. The district cut 13.

    They can’t see that there has never been a year in the last 12 where we could afford to keep the staff positions we refill every year. (Please, by all that is holy, let us hope the MEA is not teaching Economics….because they scare me,) Of course, the Central Office & the BoE always scare me because they sanction this annual ritual. Councilor Hurlock approves it every single year. Funny guy. Walks one way and talks another. Anyway, it is what it is and “it” amuses me.

    The municipal, the commercial, private education, Pre-K and the cultural aspects of Montclair are the rising boats. Our public school district & public education? Getting sucked under by the undercurrent. Their lifeguards, the BoE, chatting up their friends.
    I do love this town.

  6. Thank you for the comment, Frank.

    Is that figure of 530 students dis-enrolling from the district an exact number or a guesstimate on some person’s/people’s part? How many of those students will return to the district this September when things go back to “normal”? (I think a decent number.) With some class sizes too large in the past, why not keep all the teachers so that class sizes get a bit smaller?

    Yes, I realize some of those laid off are support staff rather than teachers, but they’re contributing to the educational environment and are thus all educators in a certain sense.

  7. My significant mistake…the dis-enrollment number was 459, not 530. A difference of 71 is a big difference. Instead of 21 excess teachers, it drops down to 18 excess teachers. While the district is still cutting 13 excess teachers, it is committed to bringing the excess staff back if they can find some interim, one-time funding.
    I apologize for my carelessness posting the wrong figure.

  8. Here’s to Frank: “Keeping them honest”….
    “530 students dis-enrolled from the district” + other stats!

  9. Thank you for your corrective follow-up comment, Frank, which I hadn’t seen when I posted my previous comment. Four-hundred-fifty-nine, if that’s the correct figure, is still a large number.

    “…the district…is committed to bringing the excess staff back if they can find some interim, one-time funding.” That’s all well and good, but laid-off staffers are still being put through a lot of anxiety — and some have, or will find, jobs in other districts before Montclair potentially tries to rehire them. Lots of experience lost, as well as the loss of educational relationships that had been built with Montclair students.

  10. Thank you for commenting, sickntired.

    While Frank and I often disagree, he is VERY knowledgeable about Montclair and Montclair issues.

  11. I would like our see all of our highly positioned stakeholders shift into what I’ll call “constructive opportunism” (yes, the English teachers should push back here).

    Our 7 elementary school buildings enrollment totals, pre-COVID, ranged from a low of 276 to a high of 480 students. The average was 417. Therefore, not only did we have excess instructional capacity, but excess plant capacity. Now, maybe like farming, we take one building out of circulation for a year, do all the upgrade work in an empty building and then move to the next? Maybe other opportunities present themselves, e.g. efficiencies.

    Now we all know this won’t happen. As a matter of fact, not much is doable in our school system. But, it is entertaining to see an eduction industry struggle with introspection, change management and metrics. The good news is we have no problem letting Newsweek rate our schools. Yes, that is one of the few, “standardized” metrics we accept. I seriously couldn’t make this up if I tried.

    Go Mounties!

    Dave,
    Here is one source I used. I try, when motivated, to double or even triple source.
    https://baristanet.com/2021/03/montclair-schools-brief-459-students-left-district-others-experiencing-irreparable-harm/

  12. Dave,

    Payroll is not something one should fund with one-time revenue sources. It is not a good thing. It would simply suggest the both the BoE’s, the MEA’s & the Central Office’s fiscal responsibilities to a healthy district are no match for the political realities.

  13. Thank you for the two comments, Frank. In the case of COVID and its effects and aftermath, I’m okay with funding payroll with a one-time revenue source. The pandemic was and is an unusual situation. The federal relief funds will help solve some budget problems for a year. A year later, the Montclair School District’s budgetary situation at that point can be dealt with at that point.

    Re your first comment: Even if there is excess building capacity and/or excess instructional capacity (I’m not convinced there is), that kind of thing can be very temporary. Look at the selling of the Grove Street School thirty or so years ago because it supposedly wasn’t needed; a sale that would be much regretted when student enrollment increased. Eventually, Bullock would be built for a LOT more money than Grove Street School was sold for.

  14. “The average was 417. Therefore, not only did we have excess instructional capacity, but excess plant capacity. Now, maybe like farming, we take one building out of circulation for a year, do all the upgrade work in an empty building and then move to the next? Maybe other opportunities present themselves, e.g. efficiencies.

    Now we all know this won’t happen. As a matter of fact, not much is doable in our school system. But, it is entertaining to see an eduction industry struggle with introspection, change management and metrics.”

    One primary reason it won’t happen, Frank, is because the parents of said school would scream bloody murder. And the parents of other schools would barricade the doors before increasing the class sizes of their schools. Why not take a day off from bashing the union/teachers to consider the notion that buying into Montclair at these prices and with these taxes makes many, not all, think they are entitled to private school benefits with public school dollars? How else to explain them demanding unvaccinated teachers run back into poorly ventilated buildings in the middle of a winter Covid surge?

  15. @MP – Agree with your primary reason. As I said, my interest is the entertainment value.

    I don’t considered my pointed criticisms of the MEA “bashing” any more than I considered your generic defense as “whining”. I must point out that I have directed pointed criticisms towards the BoEs and the Superintendents (as long as they are here). Very little towards the rank & file. And, if it has been lost on you, I am a bonafide, dyed in the wool curmudgeon with a posting habit.

    Lastly, I get the pack mentality of groups. Much of their leadership are simply megaphones. What tends to interest me is the ebbing & flowing presence of the much rarer, real leadership. The tide was definitely out last winter.

  16. Excellent observations in your third paragraph, Montclair Public.

    I did want to add that there are also many Montclair parents who greatly respect teachers and did not want to reopen schools until things were safer.

  17. Dave,

    Yes, selling the 64,000 sf Grove St School for $1.1MM was a mistake.

    The district’s K-5 enrollment numbers from 1988 (the year Grove St was sold) show K-5 enrollment steadily increased by 900 students (40% overall) by 2000. However, since then the K-5 enrollment has been flat at 3,000 students for the last 20 years…the last 5 years averaging 2,900. I think we have a good baseline to work from.

    In the last 20 years, we have added 109,000sf of K-5 space. About 20,000 sf between Bradford & Northeast….and the 550-student, 89,000sf, $31MM Bullock School in 2010.

    Classroom space is like closet space. Before I married, I had a ‘sports’ closet and two other, half-empty closets.

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