Montclair BoE: Too Much Homework, Equity, Special Education, Field Trips

BY  |  Thursday, Apr 13, 2017 8:30am  |  COMMENTS (9)

The Montclair Board of Education

With the difficult budget season behind it, the Montclair Board of Education showed no signs of lightening its agenda in the short term.  The board’s four-hour meeting on April 12 was devoted to no fewer than three major presentations, one made by Montclair High School students.

A group of students led off the evening with a study of homework practices that raised questions.  The students said homework is viewed as a way of reinforcing class lessons, but their study found that students were given too many take-home assignments in too many of their classes, leading to time-management problems, anxiety and sleep deprivation.  The students advocated a professional development day for teachers to help them learn how to assign homework more appropriately and recommended a cap on the amount of homework a student gets.   They were also critical of elementary school homework.  One student even told the board she tutors a five-year-old child by reading to her and helping her answer questions, while the child in question is at present unable to read. Continue Reading

The MFEE Amazing FUNDRACER Returns, May 21!

BY  |  Tuesday, Apr 11, 2017 3:45pm  |  COMMENTS (0)

The Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence (MFEE) has announced that the 2nd annual Amazing FUNDRACER will take place throughout the town of Montclair on Sunday, May 21 from 1:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Last May, MFEE celebrated 25 years of community support for Montclair public schools with a fun-filled, and equally amazing, race across town. The inaugural MFEE Amazing FUNDRACER was such a resounding success — raising over $85,000 in donations and sponsorships — MFEE is doing it again. This year, THE SEQUEL promises to be more epic than the first! The racers will be tested in new ways — all in the name of supporting our amazing public schools.

The race is limited to 50 teams of two (ages 18+) and each team must commit to raise at least $500. Teams will be eliminated as the race progresses and the top four teams will duke it out in a final challenge followed by a heated sprint to the finish line at a new surprise location. The competition continues at the festive after-party with a BBQ cook-off among local master grillers. The party will also feature music (both live and a DJ), an awards ceremony, and a highlight film of the event. Continue Reading

Montclair Schools Host Talk About Drugs and Alcohol For Parents of Middle and High School Students

Tuesday, Apr 11, 2017 9:00am  |  COMMENTS (1)

The Montclair Health and Wellness Partnership, along with Sister to Sister, and the Montclair School District will once again be putting on a panel on Drugs and Alcohol for parents of Middle and High School students, to be held at Montclair High on May 2nd at 7PM. Continue Reading

Bradford Student Has Lunch With Montclair’s Chief of Police

Tuesday, Apr 04, 2017 8:00am  |  COMMENTS (0)

Bradford Elementary student Mimi Oster had “Lunch with the Chief.”

Mimi, accompanied by her parents, was able to have her law enforcement-related questions by Montclair’s top cop on February 24. “Lunch with the Chief” was an auction item at the Bradford Elementary School Fundraiser held last year.

Immediately following lunch, Mimi rode to police headquarters with Chief Conforti and Lieutenant Williams, where she received a guided tour of Montclair Police Department. Mimi was able to meet many officers/detectives, and see police equipment up close and personal while visiting several offices/bureaus at the department.

Montclair BoSE Approves 2017-18 School Budget With 2.45 Percent Tax Increase

BY  |  Friday, Mar 31, 2017 8:00am  |  COMMENTS (6)

The Montclair Board of School Estimate (BoSE) ended a long drawn-out process, approving the 2017-18 school year budget at its March 30 meeting at the municipal building with a slight upward tick in the amount of money approved at the suggestion of the board’s chairman, Mayor Robert Jackson.  The mayor proposed that the tax increase be 2.45 percent instead of 2.3 percent top provide some additional funding, and he suggested that “breakage” – additional funds from potential retirements be anticipated at $410,000.  He also said he verified with the district’s auditor that a salary and benefits in a capital position could be capitalized, yielding an extra $700,000.

the Montclair Board of School Estimate

The change was a response to pleas from the community not to cut vital positions such as student assistance counselors (SACs) and paraprofessionals.  Mayor Jackson knew it wouldn’t be enough to prevent all of the proposed cuts, and that the BoSE cannot tell the school board what to do with the extra money, but he thought it would help.  With that, the meeting recessed to give Business Administrator Steve DiGeronimo time to work in the new numbers.   When the meeting returned to order, DiGeromino explained that the tax increase would add to the general fund budget, bringing it to $120,431,440 with a $172,636,458 tax levy, and it was so passed.

Much of the meeting had been devoted to public comment, and several Montclair High School students spoke in protest against the SAC cuts.  Members of the high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance said the cuts would be disastrous mistake, singling out counselor Hugh Witter as an essential member of the SAC staff and praising him as someone who understand students and respect students’ identities.  They all agreed that having someone like Witter to speak to helped them in high school.  They also spoke out on the need for diversity in the SAC staff; Witter, who is black, would likely be let go in a budget crunch due to being a more recent hire, but this would result in a more white SAC staff in a school system with a large black student body.

Glenfield Middle School counselor Rebecca Weintraub, joined by Witter and other counselors from different schools, spoke for the SAC staff, saying that the job as a counselor was to make sure students’ needs are met and that they are ensured the ability to reach their full potential.   Students, she said, have numerous problems to deal with at home or in school and need assistance with their anxieties and working through problems.  Weintraub urged the BoSE to look at the SAC line items through the eyes of their students. Continue Reading

Montclair BOE: Discussion of Policies, Specific to Special Education

BY  |  Thursday, Mar 30, 2017 9:58am  |  COMMENTS (2)

the Montclair Board of Education

The Montclair Board of Education had an uncharacteristically short workshop meeting on March 29, spending most of the time on policy discussion.  Toward the end, the board spent several minutes discussing a resolution approving the second reading of policies and regulations pertaining to special education.

The importance of the issue was a concern of resident Geoff Zylstra, who spoke about it in public comment earlier in the evening.  He reiterated his points from previous meetings, saying that the district needed stronger research-based programs and blasting what he called “the culture of delays, obfuscations and lies.  He complained that workshops on special education had been delayed too often, and that no one from pupil services had reported on special education.   Zylstra said the board had spent more time talking about robotics and elementary school dancing while cutting millions of dollars from the special education budget.  He said he expected the upcoming workshop, mentioned by Interim Schools Superintendent Barbara Pinsak, to be “powerfully meaningful” in dealing with the issues, and suggested that parents should fund an external evaluation of special education if the workshop was not adequate.  He called for a detailed review of the data necessary to improve special education and look and see why there are discrepancies in the results for black and white special-ed students. Continue Reading

You Can’t Stop The Beat! Catch HAIRSPRAY at Buzz Aldrin Middle School Thursday and Friday

BY  |  Wednesday, Mar 29, 2017 9:46am  |  COMMENTS (0)

You can’t stop the beat coming from Buzz Aldrin Middle School, where the students have been busy each afternoon rehearsing and are excited to share their production of HAIRSPRAY Jr., set for this Thursday and Friday, March 30th and 31st.

This bouncy, bubbly musical takes place in early ’60s segregated Baltimore, and tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a perennially cheerful, always upbeat though weight-challenged teen. Tracy’s greatest dream is to be one of the dancers on the Corny Collins Dance TV show — usually reserved for the perky, picture-perfect, high school “nicest kids” who get the most use out of the show’s sponsor — UltraClutch Hairspray. Tracy sets out to make her dream come true and in the process manages to integrate the show, unleash a wave of social change, and spur a lot of fantastic dancing!

The BAMS cast sings, acts and kicks up their heels to tell the story. Every student who auditioned for the play got a part. Director Karen-Ann Kaelin-Panico, who has directed the Mount Hebron/Buzz Aldrin shows for the last several years, views the play as a chance to teach the students about theater, not just put on a perfectly professional show.

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Montclair Board of School Estimate: New Superintendent, Old Budget Issues

BY  |  Tuesday, Mar 21, 2017 8:30am

Residents made it clear to the Montclair Board of School Estimate (BoSE) their concerns about the 2017-18 school budget, especially proposed cuts to paraprofessional staff.

the Montclair Board of School Estimate

The first order of business was to introduce the Montclair school district’s new interim superintendent, Barbara Pinsak, who recently retired as superintendent of the Teaneck district.  Pinsak said she was in love with Montclair and promised to work very hard for the children and parents of the district.  Mayor Robert Jackson said he was certain she would do a good job. Continue Reading

Barbara Pinsak Is New Montclair Interim Superintendent Effective March 17

BY  |  Monday, Mar 20, 2017 6:39pm  |  COMMENTS (1)

Barbara Pinsak is the new Interim Superintendent of the Montclair Public Schools by a unanimous decision of the Board of Education, effective March 17.

“We are privileged that Barbara Pinsak will be stepping in as Interim Superintendent to bridge the gap for us while we continue the search for a permanent Superintendent. We will continue to interview candidates for the permanent position. In the meantime, Ms. Pinsak comes to us with extensive school administrator experience as she recently retired this past August from Teaneck Public Schools. We are delighted to have her,” said Board President Jessica de Koninck.
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Montclair Board of School Estimate: Staff Reductions Cause Concern in Budget Review

BY  |  Friday, Mar 17, 2017 8:00am

the Montclair Board of School Estimate

The Montclair Board of School Estimate began deliberations on the 2017-18 school budget passed by the Montclair Board of Education at its first meeting on March 16 – held two days later than originally scheduled owing to the March 14 snowstorm that shut down the district for two days.

Interim Schools Superintendent Ronald Bolandi, already having presided over his last Board of Education meeting on March 13, made his last public appearance as superintendent at the BoSE meeting, reiterating for the benefit of Mayor Robert Jackson and the township councilors on the BoSE much of the ground he covered in school board budget workshops.     He highlighted the district’s intention of emphasizing priorities such as a world-language supervisor, who would get $125,000 for a 10-month position, a student advocate, who would get $95,000 for the same time frame, $100,000 for special-education development, and greater support for curriculum wiring programs and support materials for said programs.   But he also lamented the staff reductions and paraprofessional cuts involved.

“A lot of things caught up to the district this year,” Superintendent Bolandi said, “the fact that we have a very little surplus which we couldn’t use.”  He noted the surplus had been used before for property tax relief.   “We ran into a problem with that, and we didn’t have enough money to put in.”  He noted that Business Administrator Steve DiGeronimo had worked hard to cut costs in two areas – health insurance and transportation – to avoid deeper cuts in the classroom.

DiGeronimo said there would be greater premiums if the district tried to join any of the Horizon policies in the State Employee Health Benefit Program (SEHBP), due in part to the fact that the district plan follows a school year while the SEHBP plan follows a calendar year, so it wouldn’t make sense to switch over to SEHBP at this time.  Mayor Jackson said he did not agree with the analysis that was done, and the way to do the analysis would have been to take the annual SEHBP plan expense of $17.9 million, divide it by two, and figure out the projected amount for premiums for the second half of 2017.  Premiums for 2017 are projected at $16.6 million in the budget.  The mayor said the assumption would give him a number one would look at to determine whether to move into the state plan or not.   He did concede that analyzing the numbers this way would have possibly led to the same conclusion, and DiGeromino said there was a lot of guesswork about what the state increase would be.   He said Horizon would submit a proposal for 2017-18 to the district in April.  The district is currently working with a Horizon projection 10.5 percent increase based on 87 percent of claims paid.

Public comment centered not on the complicated actuarial tables of comparisons of health insurance plans administered through either calendar years or fiscal school years but on the more personal and visceral issue of student counselors.  Montclair Education Association President Gayl Shepard revisited the $675,000 expenditure for the Effective School Solutions (ESS) contract for serving 54 middle- and high-school students with five counselors and the issue of three counselors serving far more students being let go to save a smaller sum of $210,000.  She found it inequitable. Continue Reading

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Another "ground-level basement" (to get around the building height rules)?!

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