Montclair Public Schools To Receive $58 Million From State To Support Critical Building Upgrades

Montclair, NJ – Montclair Public Schools will receive a total of nearly $58 million from the State of New Jersey in support of the District’s historic proposal to upgrade schools and classrooms, the Board of Education announced Tuesday night in approving the plan. The District proposal addresses urgent health and safety needs in school facilities and will create state-of-the-art learning environments for students and teachers.

The new state aid is expected to cover 31 percent of the plan’s nearly $188 million overall cost — through annual debt service payments — thereby providing significant tax relief for Montclair property owners while also supporting the 25 projects described in the proposal, including improved ventilation and air conditioning in all schools, boiler and roof replacement, upgraded electrical service, and refashioned educational spaces like STEM labs, music rooms, culinary arts classrooms, gymnasiums, and auditoriums.

The Board’s unanimous approval ensures a bond referendum will be submitted to voters at the November 8 general election for funding the state-approved proposal.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for the district to make large-scale improvements to its facilities and better serve public school families and students in a real, meaningful way,” said Superintendent Jonathan Ponds. “It’s really an historic occasion. The Board and the district have worked together on long-range planning that reflects a community commitment to the educational landscape of Montclair. Families have always come to Montclair for its schools. By creating educational spaces that are safe, healthy, and welcoming, these infrastructure upgrades and educational enhancements will make them glad they’re here.”

The district has worked for nearly a year with its architectural firm, Parette Somjen, and its Board Facilities and Finance Committee, Eric Scherzer (Chair), Priscilla Church, and Monk Inyang, preparing specifications and applications for approval of the projects by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) for HVAC and significant other infrastructure building needs to address health and safety, code requirements, and educational needs.

If voters approve the bond proposal, the District plans to lessen the immediate impact on the taxpayers by issuing three separate bond issues for the total amount of $187,730.000. The District will be eligible to receive annual debt service aid payments based on costs in the proposal deemed eligible by NJDOE for state reimbursement — about $172 million — and the state’s statutory formula for providing debt service aid. The district accordingly expects to receive 31 percent of the annual debt service due each year from the state, with the district providing the balance.

“The Facilities and Finance Committee, the Superintendent and our bond attorney and architect worked hard putting together this proposal which corrects many problems identified for years but not addressed in a comprehensive manner until now,” said Scherzer. “We plan over the next two months to be available to all the diverse communities in Montclair to make sure everyone’s questions about this proposal are answered. We hope that after those sessions, that the vast majority of citizens will agree with all of the Board members and will come to support this important community investment.”

Based on preliminary estimates, the average annual tax impact over the 24-year course of repayments is expected to be $732, beginning with an expected $323 average impact in 2023.

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20 COMMENTS

  1. Does anyone know if there are details on how this money will be spent? The BOE website has very high level numbers, for example the largest number by far is $76 million for HVAC upgrades. No details. Thanks.

  2. Congratulations to the BoE for this monumental accomplishment. Their time and efforts are appreciated and applauded.

    I realize there is still much work still to do. As they plan for a successful outcome to the referendum vote, they must start to setup the robust budgeting & accounting structure, the financial reporting and additional auditing to manage this extraordinary influx of funding and spending.

  3. “Congratulations to the BOE for this MONUMENTAL accomplishment. Their time and efforts are appreciated and applauded” Agree, Frank and could not have said it any better!
    Superintendent Ponds, under some of the most difficult times and animus this community has witnessed has come through for the district more than any of his predecessors! (and prior boards)…

  4. This may be the biggest public relations scam in Montclair history.

    It’s no secret that the competence of the current school administration is under question. After this brazen PR stint, its integrity is dubious as well. Perhaps Montclair Board of Education should consider renaming itself as Montclair Board of Deception…

    Question to Frank Rubacky and ‘sickntired’: You both referred to our school district receiving $58M from the State as a “MONUMENTAL accomplishment”. Just how ‘monumental’ is it to apply for a Homestead Rebate? That’s all this was. You both appear to be knowledgeable observers. I’m surprised you didn’t see through this. All the BOE did here was to apply for a State program that has been around for decades and is available to ALL school districts. Positioning this as a coup or special Montclair funding is shamelessly deceitful.

    In fact, the BOE has participated in this program since 2017. However, it wasn’t until the Board of School Estimate insisted on doing it. Granted, the capital spending was not $188 million at the time, so the reimbursement was proportionately less.

    In 2017, the BOSE finally forced the BOE to hire an accounting firm to organize its records appropriately to submit the application. 2017 was the FIRST year in recent history that the BOE received any of this “free” State money.

    The above specious windfall announcement begs the following question: Why didn’t the BOE receive any reimbursements for spending prior to 2008? The answer is because it… never applied! And why didn’t it apply? Because the record-keeping and capital spending were so abysmal that it couldn’t submit. When the BOSE forced action in 2017, the State would only allow the BOE to go back to 2008. Previous years’ perfunctory yet significant reimbursements are moot, an unnecessary burden on Montclair taxpayers.

    The smoke and mirrors or, more plainly, the BS, coming at Montclair residents from all sides—Mayor, Council, BOE—is beyond the pale!

    Big hat, no cattle.

  5. Pat,

    $58MM is equal to the 2022 municipal property tax dollars we expect to collect. That is monumental.
    $58MM is over twice what the MPSD was reimbursed for the CH Bullock School in 2010.
    That, too, is a monumental amount of funding.
    (Believe me, I charted school grants on a 3-D Bar Chart which best represents the most typical monument form).

    The 2nd paragraph of my original post was added explicitly because of the past gross incompetence of the school district and the many millions alone in just the approved grants we never submitted reimbursement for…much less making grant requests in the first place. I also believe the MPSD & BoE still have systemic and organizational deficiencies. The Montclair Public Schools stakeholders have always had big hats and mediocre cattle herding skills.

    I’m glad you are trying to educate yourself on the very sad history of the district and some of our ongoing financial mediocrity. And the Jackson administration’s BoSE was part of the problem because the Council members had their agendas.

    Pat, you have to understand how the Montclair Public Schools problem is viewed by most in town. People just want to know what is the bottom line dollar figure to make the scrutiny go away. That amount is $700 next year and growing to about $2,100 in 2027.
    Montclair overall is flush with new money, both individually and in municipal coffers. The perceived value of living here is strong in almost every metric

    I will be quite surprised, knowing what we know today, if the bond referendum doesn’t pass.
    The numbers are very favorable to property owner’s asset vis a vis appreciation.

  6. Pat,
    Speaking of my audits, have you seen the Montclair Public Library audit for last year from the new auditor?

  7. Thank you Frank for your knowledge and number crunching memory, as always.
    Yes, Pat 58 million is huge! Finally the school district will be able to make some infrastructure headway (with smart implementation, though of course, hopefully not screwed up!)
    58 M should be able to benefit the crumbling (yes, crumbling) schools, neglected for years under prior administrations and boards.
    “PR scam”. A bit harsh. Not sure I’d call it a scam; all administrations toot their own horns to sway their constituents’ opinions in a more positive direction. It would be crazy not to.
    So Pat, if its no big deal to write a successful grant/rebate, like you said in your paragraphs 5 & 6, prior admins and boards didn’t even have their act together enough to successfully apply for this money. How neglectful is that!! Thank you for your knowledge on that one. What actually was the figure received in 2017?
    I’m not naive enough to think this super and board are not without operational problems, but hey let’s applaud this $$$ that will benefit this crumbling infrastructure!!

  8. sickntired,

    $1,242,846.73 on 12/19/2017.

    MPSD is on a Fiscal Yr and Twnshp is on Calendar Yr, so repayment was booked to Muni coffers in 2018.

    I think we received 2 more checks totaling $557,153.27, by March, 2019. That’s it. Ask the auditors if you want more.

    As to crumbling infrastructure. Seriously?
    How do you build a brand new sports complex, name it and still need $15MM to fix its crumbling infrastructure? Of which NJ wondered too and said $10MM ineligible. Yes, crumbling sports complex. We built in 2010 a whole new school for $33MM. Yup, that was quite funny and reaffirms my faith in the various special interests getting a piece of the pie. Wanna bet field lighting is installed as part of the improvements?

    And a Renaissance gym? That one is pretty crazy stupid. Does anyone look at their enrollment figures?

    And all the HVAC overall? The biggest, single category I think. $75MM? Very big number…and there is no COVID anymore…and the flu is just the harmless flu. The Council also said so! One day soon I’ll will go there (HVAC) and further explain.

    I’ll pay it just to see what happens. I am 100% confident they are going to screw this up… as an informed observer. I don’t support this referendum amount, I wanted more. The BoE identified over $120MM more of “crumbling infrastructure” spending, but didn’t include because the $188MM is a tough sell.

    We should include this additional amount on the vote for the taxpayers permissions. Why? Because, just maybe, more taxpayers might show a modicum of interest in looking behind what we are spending & the justifications.

    I doubt it, but I do optimism as an escape from the daily reality.

  9. LoL Frank! Re- optimism!
    Let’s hope, for a change, it gets used properly. I agree that special interest groups often get played to in good ole Montclair ( like other towns as well I might add, but Montclair has some pretty savvy and wealthy operatives in their ilk).
    Yes, the Renaissance gym is questionable perhaps because isn’t it the same “crumble ” as the other school gyms? Each principal has a “wishlist ” I’m sure , which might therein lie a precursor to misuse of the funding ( or screw up). Regarding crumble I was referring only to the school buildings themselves. I should have been clear on that. Windows that don’t work, disgusting bathrooms, lack of bathrooms, non functional sinks, the HVAC issue, awful kitchens for school lunches, yes roofs of course, stairs and ceilings that have collapsed, classroom doors that don’t lock or even close properly, I could go on and on. Walk into some schools in other states and you’d think Montclair schools were in a third world country in comparison! Now I’m exaggerating there but really they are pretty bad compared to many other schools!
    Hopefully they can have an impartial expert’s oversight in this big undertaking.

  10. Frank:

    Your response, or should I say, your rationale is perplexing (and condescending, but that’s for another day).

    First, you’re wrong on, not grasping, or spinning the facts to a hysterical degree.

    It’s not $58 million now; it’s $58 million spread over 30 years for debt service; it’s 2-3% of the BOE annual operating budget.

    The State is going to provide $58 million in debt service aid spread over 30 years, which amounts to $2-3 million annually, depending on the term and rate of the bond. Incredibly, you want to compare this to the annual municipal levy of $58 million. Are you serious? Frank, every $58 million ain’t $58 million, you know!

    With respect to the Bullock School, please ask finance officials for the BOE and the Town when this aid came in. You won’t find it.

    Second, I noticed that you moved from calling the effort/initiative “monumental” to calling the amount of the reimbursement “monumental “. So, the more I spend (and, therefore, the greater the reimbursement) the more “monumental” I am? Laughable! Let’s go ahead and spend $376 million so we can be doubly “monumental “. Gee, I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it!

    Third, I was disappointed in your gratuitous broadside of Mayor Jackson whom, admittedly, I admire. It was his “agenda-driven” BOSE that forced the BOE to participate in the very program that you now laud. What agenda was it again? Let’s see. Reducing the Town debt by $70 million? AAA bond rating? Infrastructure upgrades that Spiller still shamelessly takes credit for?

    There’s a reason why he is the only Mayor to ever get reelected in our quirky Town, why so many residents rue his decision not to seek a third (and again unopposed) term, and why many hope he will come back in 2024.

    Finally, I can agree with you on one thing: people just want to know the “bottom line”, the unvarnished truth. If you, or anyone else, think that we are getting it now, I have a “monumental” bridge for sale.

  11. sickntired,

    Yes, I get the “they are old buildings requiring constant upkeep and will still look dated”. This town really doesn’t get historic preservation. Many of the old school’s windows, properly repaired, will far outlast their new contemporaries, function as well and look far, far better. We are exposing those poor Edgemont students to ugly every day and they will mature into adults questioning their design values and lagging their peers’ level of style acumen, and more likely to have tacky weddings. Fine with me. But, why are we throwing good money into buildings we really can’t meet our standards? How out of $188MM, or the $376MM we just don’t build one new school? And to add a gym to Rand, of all buildings? A building’s service history is as as a last resort. The district calls it a feeder school…or just call it Purgatory.

  12. Pat,
    I think we’re both “right” on the $58MM.
    I saw another Verizon promotion selling phone service plans via a $400 off a new phone…and found it a good analogy for us. I took the ‘teaser’ top line, $400 off, to make my point. You explained it by reading the fine print. I like my approach better, but, hey, I’m sure there are readers that prefer the granular explanations.

    My memory was very flawed in my Bullock School example. My laziness to check my notes is what bothers me. Using round numbers, the MPSD wrote up Bullock construction costs @ $35MM. It is a school planned with hundreds of instructional rooms for 500+ students. The State ruled $23MM of the $35MM design ineligible. Of the eligible $12MM, we did monumentally well in getting almost $5MM approved. $5MM out of $35MM for new school construction from a fund that exists to support new school construction. And I didn’t know we never collected on the $5MM. I can’t explain how I missed this? I mean $5MM in accounts receivable should be noticed by school personnel, certainly the auditors, certainly the BoSE, certainly all the committees that fretted over how to use the new school, the MEA, and the parents & voters.

    Among all these groups, Montclair had the unquestionable wherewithal to not let this happened. We also had the hindsight to go back, rectify and collect. We didn’t. So, to my point, $5MM on a marque, once in a 100 year project, doesn’t get it on anybody’s radar screen, or worse, they know and don’t want to surface. Either way, the more monumental the borrowing number, the better. Clearly, a $35MM school in 2010 dollars wan’t enough.

  13. Pat,
    I think my criticism of Mayor Jackson’s BoSE role was specific and with merit. The Mayor had many accomplishments. Positively impacting our schools was not one of them. I supported him cutting their tax base and using the PILOT revenues for his municipal goals. The district was squandering taxpayers dollars and it made sense not to give them a share they would certainly waste. Further, he rightfully put the district on a capital funds diet that was insufficient to cover basic maintenance. Lastly, he has to own the appointees to the BOE that were roundly ineffectually in digging out of the district’s financial hole.
    That is my opinion. But, the voters, many new to Montclair, overwhelmingly decided the Mayor’s appointment power and the BoSE were not serving us well and got rid of the lot of them. The voters did this knowing by making the switch we would lose a year or two rectifying the facilities much needed HVAC improvements. I doubt the Mayor can spin this failure into a successful run for a 4th term. Of course, there seems to be a dearth of younger candidates to lead us, so maybe Boomers will prevail just because of a lack of choices.

  14. sickntired,

    My concern is $50MM is allocated for practical/performing arts/classroom space renovations. This excludes furniture, tech, etc. I’m just wondering, based on their replacement window choices alone, how these 21st century space upgrades will compare to our current early 20th century spaces…and this level of spending, the extent of demolition necessary, and the unnecessary loss of character detail, e.g. molding rails & doorway molding. In other words, will the spaces become plain boxes.

    Maybe a lighter touch and design guidelines emphasizing rehabilitation- and a little prudence opening up walls, floors and ceilings of old buildings – may achieve a more expedient, less costly realization of the needs.

  15. It’s hard to argue when you & sickandtired are both right.

    AKnightly,
    We’re not done and if we need to step up again to lead the town, we will. But, we are not representative of Montclair today. You just have to look at our priorities to know that.