Montclair Councilor Asks Residents to Tell BOE Members to Fix Urgent School Infrastructure Issues

Montclair Councilor at Large Peter Yacobellis has sent an email he describes as “rocking the apple cart.” Yacobellis is urging Montclair residents to contact members of the
Montclair Board of Education asking them to not delay in taking action with investing in school infrastructure.

Yacobellis is concerned about school board member Eric Scherzer’s statement at the July 26 Board of Education meeting, saying the BOE would hold off on moving forward because of the November ballot referendum on whether Montclair should have an elected or appointed school board this November.

“We must move forward on bonding critical work, up to $57.2M, now,” says Yacobellis.

“First, no one can predict the outcome of the ballot referendum and we should not nor can we afford to wait. The law empowers all of our various governing bodies with the power to call special sessions. The Board of Education can do this. The Board of School Estimates can do this. The Township Council can do this. If the current calendar of meetings from now through the end of the year doesn’t support the advancement of a bond ordinance or ordinances, then we should change the calendar, call special meetings of these bodies and address these challenges with the urgency that this time calls for.

“Second, interest rates are at historic lows and many economists are suggesting that they will soon rise in the Federal Reserve’s effort to check inflation. Every .25% increase in the interest rate will mean millions of dollars in additional cost to finance long term infrastructure investments in our schools.

“Third, there are scarcity issues with regard both to labor and materials due to a number of macro factors from COVID-19 to challenges at the ports. These challenges will become exacerbated when Congress (rightfully in my view) passes a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill in the coming weeks as is looking likely. Anyone who has tried to put in a pool, update a kitchen or order furniture is aware of our supply chain challenges. The longer we wait to sign contracts for projects, the further down the priority line we go.”

“While I cannot speak for the Council, I am quite confident that if the Board of Education and subsequently the Board of School Estimate put up a bond ordinance, that a majority of us would meet as quickly as possible to contemplate it and likely pass it,” Yacobellis adds.

Yacobellis also asks residents to read the District’s Long Term Facilities Assessment.

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  1. The Councilor is 100% correct. Failing to act quickly on known emergency or must do BOE repairs and to bond them near term could cost us $millions in additional interest costs down the road.

    That is exactly what happened under the 2008-12 Council. A resident expert led Municipal Finance Committee urged the Township then to refinance our existing bonds at the time, which could have saved us an estimated $300 thousand a year in interest payments. That’s $3 million a year over 10 years. Instead, the Council and Administration failed to act.

    There has really been far too much of this “leading from behind” seen here over the years. Either failing to take official action when known, or unwillingness to debate and shift gears to either gain savings, avoid a wrong turn, or go down a smarter path when it appears. And this generally comes from the same kind of inaction fears, group-think adherence, or even personal immobilization from elected leadership.

    We can and should bond the known, ‘must do’ projects right now — at the very least.

    At the same time, how we run these major capital projects needs an overall going forward. There is also history here of giving away the store and acting without common sense in past major construction and public renovation projects. We should not let architects or engineers who design needed fixes, or propose new systems bill us again at a percentage of those very projects generated. Or supervise them after, based on a percentage of something which they have just designed, or proposed.

    Why? Because there no fiscal incentive then to design. or run the projects as inexpensively as possible. To find possible alternative systems or actions for the Township or BOE — to help save us money — or work more organically, with intelligent long term planning. As opposed to maximizing billings on the one current project (s). The architecture bill on the Bullock School was $5 million dollars. Too high.

    It’s common fiscal sense. Which is why we need either a township construction management team internally to supervise our large capital projects if there is internal expertise, or make sure there is a separate hired construction management team from those who have proposed major capital undertakings from those who oversee them — keeping that checks and balance in billings separation.

    In the not all distant past, the BOE’s head of business affairs was allowed to oversee all our major capital projects here herself. However, she had zero construction management expertise. Results, a two year delay and then a $2 million dollar unplanned, taxpayer hit to remediate a graveyard found at the new school Bullock site. Surprise! Which could have been picked up first before even buying the property from a typical chain-of-title audit that’s always conducted for commercial construction projects — had she and the Board then knew what they were doing.

    Also, the Watchung Field renovataions (now being done twice – a waste) was not done correctly the first time to field hockey and Lacrosse playing specifications. The BOE let the principal then determine this the first time — now wasting substantial taxpayer monies.

    Already — there should be a flag from some of the new projects BOE proposed. It’s not clear that this was exactly planned from the press reported proposals but putting UGLY new solar panels on top of lovely old school buildings with expensive slate roofs FACING THE STREETS — is an absolute no-no. Not clear if this was part of the proposed energy efficiency overhaul but it could very well be?

    Either hide them in the back unseen, or put them on other spots on site instead.

    Putting unsightly solar panels directly in front on roofs for sun direction — if planned — will just further kill Montclair’s old-house, quality of life architectural charm as everyone drives by. You will actually CRINGE if you see them put there, since our old-house charm — even on these old schools — is ONE of the known, major reasons why people want to come and buy here and rent to live, $visit-tour-eat and to work in the township, setting up new businesses.

    Again, it’s just common sense. You don’t kill off your major selling assets in the process of making new improvements.

  2. 1.) We don’t need to school bond anything for 18-24 months because we have the ability to self-finance and more efficiently. We just need a financial plan. Thankfully, I had an extra (dinner) napkin and a pen handy.

    2.) The BoE needs to contract an outside financial firm to come up with a plan. Relying on their skills & guidance from Councilors, the Board of School Estimate, the Central Office and Baristanet posters like myself is just foolish. Even the Council figured this out.

    3) The BoE needs to move up their 2020-2021 annual financial audit reports publication from mid-November to mid-October. To publish after the election would not serve the voters well…or the various BoE subcommittees.

  3. 4) And do we really want to bank $58MM in debt…and those carrying costs…a year or more ahead of when the bills are due? What if the economy tanks? Is the thinking to max out the taxpayer’s credits cards ahead of the storm? That’s the plan?

    OK. Makes sense. I want a Greenway, too. Don’t forget the Senior Center. Another movie theater. And last, but not least, Montclair wants to put a freeze on gentrification and expand its affordable housing inventory.

  4. OK, I’ll go along, but I want one thing in exchange.

    I want the Mayor & Planing Board to tell their Historic Preservation Commission to reject Faubourg’s newly proposed, camouflaged, front doorway.

    They propose a special, some would say a unique door made of brick!
    Festooned with a leftover night deposit faceplate. So it is a new door, trying to match the existing brick facade, made to look like its former role back when(ever) of a night depository slot. I wouldn’t be surprised if they incorporated some graffiti to hide the invisible hinges & seams and mask any alignment issues.

    I don’t understand why now the need.
    The everyone says the restaurant is the same size and allowed occupancy as when it was first inspected and approved. Yes, they added some glass & poles over a patio, but they have always had perfectly good double-doors 10 ft away from this newly proposed door.

    Further, the HPC & DRC approval, in its wisdom, foresaw this need 3 years ago and required the restauranteur to keep the old historic doors downstairs for such an eventuality. So why now violate the existing facade for a new door. And a brick door?
    Rejcting this would be worth $58MM in new debt to learn our kids.

  5. Dear HPC,

    Ok, I got the BoE to approve the $58MM in debt. Now it’s your turn ->Faubourg: The new brick door or revert to the original doorway?

  6. Dear HPC,

    Yes, I the parents, the MEA and the BoE don’t know how to count…and the rest of us just got billed for an extra, unaccounted for $3MM right off the bat. Silly, silly people.

    Does that $3MM go into a slush fund?

    Really. The $57MM was already fully padded. Yes, people don’t bother with details anymore. If it can’t fit on tweet, it doesn’t exist. Yup. Pretty amazing town. Very, very proud of ourselves! We strut like no other. But, it is so very entertaining…and it is just money. Thank you.

  7. And for the slow of foot, the Councilor, the parents and the BoE were speaking to a long range facilities plan. It is one component of the master long range facilities plan. That is much bigger.

    Anyway, we elected the Jackson Council 9 years ago to radically reduce the $223MM in accumulated school & muni debt. They got it down to under $170MM last year. This bond issue alone will put us back up to almost $230MM, if you count the homeless $3MM.

    I’m fine spending it if the HPC rejects the brick door. And I would appreciate the Council inserting themselves in the HPC review by passing a resolution for an expeditious review of the brick door application and, implied, a rejection of the brick door.

  8. I would like to rock the apple cart Councilor. Did you check out the highlights of the new teacher’s contract?

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