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Mayoral Candidate Karen Turner: Schools Should Not Be Bearing Brunt Of Tax Pain

In the statement below, Turner thanks the school board for its hard work on the budget

 

Real Progress Montclair, a slate of candidates headed by mayoral candidate Karen Turner, issued the following statement following Monday night's vote by the Montclair Board of Education on the budget:

"Real Progress Montclair commends the courageous action of the Board of Education in holding the line on spending while strengthening Montclair's schools. At the meeting, several of the Board of Education members talked about longer-range capital spending plans as well as working more collaboratively with the town and the board of school estimate to reduce debt costs and ultimately the town's significant debt burden.

"Along with developing a five-year plan for town-wide operations, these are areas specifically identified in Real Progress Montclair's platform information. The platform also includes ideas for improving how the municipal operations are managed and services delivered to achieve savings for the citizens of Montclair.

"In the past, the municipal side of the budget has gone up, while the school board has been forced to make cuts in order to keep overall tax increases down. The town council has then taken credit for 'reasonable tax increases,' all on the backs of our public school students. The schools should not be bearing the brunt of the pain.

"We need better fiscally sound town-wide planning and prudence to keep our schools strong and our town healthy. We thank the Board of Education for their hard work and thoughtful process."

Visit www.realprogressmontclair.com for more details on its platform. 

Jeff Jacobson March 23, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Montclair Public, I agree with you. When I use the term "decline," I'm trying to give it an objective meaning -- or, at least, as objective as such a term can be. Right now, Montclair's schools seem to be a net attractor of new residents. We need to keep it that way -- and, if anything, improve the schools' inward and outward reputation. It's very important to remember, though, that the Council's role in Montclair's school system is limited. The Mayor appoints three of five members (and, in Harvey Susswein's case, he has pledged to let the full Council vote on his choices). So we basically get one shot at appointing people we hope will make the right decisions on all the key fiscal and educational priority issues. For me, a key unanswered question is whether we've taken a hard enough look at central administration. Before the BOE makes any more cuts that directly impact classroom instruction, shouldn't the BOE first be able to say "we don't have a single surplus administrative employee"? I don't think they can say that now.
ira shor March 23, 2012 at 08:19 PM
Mr. J--thanks for your thoughtful comments. Regarding NOT "spending money needlessly" on our public schools. Everyone already agrees it is wrong to spend money needlessly, but we disagree on what is needed and what is needless. Can you and other candidates specify what is needed for our public schools to be great kids of all colors and all income levels? And, What is needless? For example, many of us think a full-time teacher's aide in every classroom including family health insurance for these essential employees is "needed" for our schools to work well for the kids. Where do you stand on that? No candidates goes near that issue so far, why? Is it b/c all candidates are actually running on the same "stealth" austerity platform, intending to cut and cut staff, programs, etc., once in office? Also, many of us know that school achievement requires small classes. Will you or any other candidate declare that reducing class size is "needed" for our schools? We also think f/t librarians and k-5 foreign language are "needs." Here's a chance for all candidates to show voters how familiar and concerned they are with the public schools, this town's largest expenditure, this town's biggest asset to draw families here willing to pay high prices for our houses and high taxes for good schools for their kids. Lose the schools, lose the town; BOE under Mrs. Lombard has been doing just that, handing back huge surpluses and cash on hand rather than invest in any of the needs above.
Jeff Jacobson March 23, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Mr. S., I won't duck your or any other question, but giving you my opinion on these issues isn't the same thing as saying I'll have a say in resolving them. If elected, depending on who wins the mayor's race, I may or may not have one of seven votes to appoint three of five BOE members who then will make these decisions. I agree that aides are important to classroom instruction. I would have preferred to see a solution where teachers and aides both upped their contributions to health care, rather than see the brunt of the sacrifice borne by the aides. Depending on what happens with the federal health care law, this may or may not still be an issue in the 2014 school year; if it is, I'd still rather see a compromise solution. But I wouldn't be in favor of reinstituting those benefits absent offsetting savings elsewhere. I tend to agree with you that we should strive to reduce class size in the lower grades. I also tend to agree that we should be introducing foreign languages to elementary-age kids. Teaching library and (even more importantly) computer/internet skills to K-5 students is critically important, though I'm agnostic about whether this should be done through FT librarians or in other ways. The bottom line, however, is that getting Council candidates into detailed discussions of school issues may be tough because we just won't have that much say in them. As I said, though, these questions certainly are fair game and I want to answer them.
ira shor March 24, 2012 at 01:41 AM
Mr. J--thanks for direct answers. Councillors can be strong advocates for public schools and public needs(parks, no leaf blowers, sanitation, etc). Speaking at BOE mtgs against bad policies would make a big impact, get BOE attention, alert neighbors on loss of our greatest asset, good public schools. Are you willing to challenge the austerity apparently planned by all slates, who smile benignly now and will cut big later on? Your words on BOE killing aides's healthcare sound like current BOE policy. Like BOE, you want MEA to finance the aides by paying more healthcare even though teachers already stepped up BIG for this town by giving back millions. Why should they give up more when BOE has had a mountain of cash on hand 2 yrs in a row? Enough surplus to put f/t aides in all our children's classrooms. Instead, they threw red meat at the anti-tax zealots in town, refusing to reduce class size, or put foreign lang in all k-5, or f/t librarians in each school--things families look for when they pay high prices for our homes and high taxes. We don't need more computers with more screens for our kids to stare at; kids already spend too much time in front of screens, their social media; we don't need more dull and pricey textbooks for our kids to fall asleep over; textbooks are lifeless, kids need hands-on projects. Wise spending for good schools: small classes and more than one well-trained adult in each classroom with full-service libraries and lots of indoor/outdoor projects.
tryintosurvive March 24, 2012 at 03:47 AM
"put f/t aides in all our children's classrooms" Lets do the math. Assuming an aide makes $25,000 along with family health care, pension, accumulated paid time off, etc the yearly cost is at least $50,000. There are about 500 teachers in Montclair each with a classroom. That would mean that this suggestion would cost 500 times $50,000 per year, which is $25,000,000 per year. This is about 25% greater than the current budget of $100,000,000. So since the schools contribution to our real estate taxes are .667 of our municipal expenses, and our taxes need to go up by 25% to pay for this, this would require an increase in taxes of about 17%, just for this proposal. If we wanted to actually REDUCE class sizes it would cost much more as we would need a teacher and an aide for each new classroom. How does raises taxes 17% to each homeowner in Montclair whether they have kids in school or not sound?
Jeff Jacobson March 24, 2012 at 10:52 AM
Temporary surpluses in the town's or the BOE budget can't justify permanent increases in spending. Temporary surpluses dry up, at which point the baseline spending increases either need to be reversed (not so easy) or paid for through higher taxes (which Montclair can't bear). Therefore, at least to the continued extent that savings can be recognized without impacting the quality of classroom education -- and I believe they can -- any new spending has to be offset. I recognize, as you do, that the BOE's temporary surplus is going to complicate negotiations with the MEA. But the surplus IS temporary, and we must therefore negotiate as though the fiscal train is still barreling down the tracks toward us, because it is. Voters can count on our slate, however, to be committed to improving public education in Montclair, which means speaking out against cuts that would impact educational quality while advocating for savings in areas that wouldn't.
MC March 24, 2012 at 12:25 PM
I think the suggestion to "do the math" is spot on. If a suggestion is made, a solution is presented (whether an addition, a restoration, or a reduction) the individual doing the suggesting should do the math and illustrate how that idea plays out over the longer term -- for the Twnship and the schools. Otherwise all this give-and-take is just both intellectually and practically lazy. As Gov Cuomo has said, the problems states face are simply mathematical at their core -- they are not about political philosophy. The numbers don't add up. There may be arguments about the figures -- but then at least they are concrete arguments. I would encourage Patch -- and all other Mtc media -- to be sure candidates, labor leaders and our paid professional staff to "do the math" to back up their statements. If these folks cannot, the journalists must.
Montclair Public March 24, 2012 at 01:53 PM
to call the aides' benefits a permanent increase is disingenuous. their benefits were cruelly and unjustifiably stripped by the board and not in collective bargaining. this was done because the aides were the lowest-hanging fruit; it was done without regard for the facts that they are work full-time, and with the district's most vulnerable children; it was done because Lombard and Co. wanted to impress the cut-everything crowd so much that merely coming in with a no-increase budget-- which was what rational critics of past budgets demanded -- wasn't enough. so they championed a small tax cut on the backs of those who make the least, a shameful example of what conservatives in this country now stand for. not political, my ass.
althea March 24, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Montclair Public - what role you think the Union had with the loss of benefits?? I don't disagree with you I absolutely feel their Union abandoned them is a big way!
ira shor March 24, 2012 at 05:51 PM
It's not up to teachers to finance the aides. The aides are not MEA employees. They work for MPS. The BOE cruelly targeted them b/c aides are least-able to fight back, nothing brave or wise here, nothing to praise as Karen Turner did, but picking on folks you can abuse. All who point fingers at MEA are blowing smokescreens in our faces. If MEA is "bad," it's up to MEA members to kick out their leaders and elect better ones. Our town election is not for MEA Pres. but for mayor and TC. That's what we should discuss. Does this election involve 3 slates all proposing public austerity but with no plan to stop runaway real-estate development in the pvt sector? No mention of the Siena Group building DCH which will add 329 more potential families with kids for the schools at a time when BOE money-dumping appeals so strongly to all candidates. Shouldn't we have at least one slate of full-throated public advocates to protect public life in this town? BOE's rush to dump its huge surpluses out-of-public-sight ASAP into laps of anti-tax crowd shows how low public advocacy has gone. BOE will now start declaring budget crisis again, no money for aides or smaller classes or librarians or foreign language. BOE threw away the cash on hand needed for the public schools so that the Town Council could spend on the pvt sector(beautify South Park)and push more pvt development(DCH). Where are the public advocates we need?
Montclair Public March 24, 2012 at 06:26 PM
Althea, what you have to always keep in mind is that the idea of outsourcing the aides completely -- later abandoned -- and then taking their benefits arose from a committee appointed by the BOE to study ways of cutting to ease the budget strain. it was then thrown in the face of the union, whose prior president admittedly was no public relations expert. however, at a time when the teachers had already provided contractual givebacks in raises and staffing, and when christie has mandated increases in contributions (which i do not necessarily object to) in health care and pension, it was absurd to think the teachers would say, oh, sure, we'll just sacrifice even more and do so when they already have a contract. as Ira said, the aides work for the school district, not the MEA. they were singled out and abused.
Montclair Public March 24, 2012 at 06:30 PM
furthermore, in november, when the surplus was discovered, Lombard, Kulwin and other board members said they would consider restoring the benefits but it could only happen if the MEA agreed to re-open its contract, as mandated by Trenton, and accept an increase in health care costs then and again when the new contract is negotiated for the 12-13 school year. when the MEA presented the board with the state interpretation that the reinstatement could be done as a sidebar, without reopening the contract, the board changed its tune, saying it would only discuss the aides in contract negotiations.
Montclair Public March 24, 2012 at 06:34 PM
clearly,it has embarked on a shameful strategy that is aimed at dividing the union. having budgeted for no raises in the new contract, knowing the teachers will have to contribute more to pension and health care, they will then lay the aides' fate at the teachers' feet. it is bound to cause resentment within the schools between teachers and aides -- just what we need to create a healthy learning environment. the board's strategy is not only disingenuous, it is despicable.
A. Gideon March 24, 2012 at 11:05 PM
"How does raises taxes 17% to each homeowner in Montclair whether they have kids in school or not sound?" It sounds like a sideways attempt to dismantle some of the best features of the magnet system. After all, if Montclair becomes an exclusive town in which only the wealthy can afford to live, what diversity can we expect from our schools? I try to avoid this conclusion, but perhaps this is what some people (on this blog and in this town) are hoping to promote: a tax policy designed to homogenize Montclair into yet another affluent town in New Jersey. The lack of concern for families forced out by high Montclair taxes lends this unfortunate thought some credibility. ...Andrew
Montclair Public March 25, 2012 at 03:16 AM
would you care to explain why folks like yourself -- who claim to believe in diversity so much -- are so aghast by the prospect of the town paying for Pre-K, so those who can't afford it can have their children begin their schooling at the same time as the more affluent children in town? it's easy to talk about wanting to keep Montclair a diverse community; it's another thing to support the programs that are needed to ensure that being diverse means we meet our commitment to the children of those families. you don't address that by cutting writing and after-school programs and by turning the para-professionals who serve our neediest children into a transient work force -- as your original out-sourcing plan surely would have, Gideon. Diversity is a concept you claim to embrace while you espouse painful cuts that end up harming those very families and their children.
Montclair Public March 25, 2012 at 03:35 AM
and for you to take that 17% lie and run with it is shamelessly disingenuous. you know damn well there were never 500 full-time aides; less than half that, in fact, as many are part-time. the savings for the average tax payer was $130 a year when the benefits were yanked. and also as fact, it would have been NOTHING once the surplus was discovered. so keep telling us how much you care about the less fortunate in Montclair while you espouse cuts to school programs that harm poor children, while their affluent classmates are shepherded up to MSU for the music and language programs they can't afford. such hypocrisy is really sickening
ira shor March 25, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Really concerned about our lower-income neighbors? Then, join my call for a progressive real estate tax system where high-income neighbors patriotically pay more so that lower-income families pay less. Progressive income taxes are patriotic b/c those with more step up in this Wall St. crisis to give more to help the whole community--the American way that worked to pull us out of 9/11.
tryintosurvive March 25, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Let's just make it contributory, as opposed to forcing those who appear to have more to pay more forever. They might have financial challenges at some point also. For the rich who feel they can pay more, we will allow them to contribute extra trax payments to reduce the burden on those who are struggling. We can even start it today without changing any current regulations.
ira shor March 25, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Voluntary taxes? Perhaps we should say to low-income neighbors--"Pay only what you can afford or want to pay." This is completely unworkable in a mass society or a town this size. We need a fair and patriotic policy to address the Wall St crisis. It's fair for the wealthy to pay more, they have more. It's patriotic because patriotism means everyone shows up when the community is in trouble--those who can give the most, give it, for the good of the community. This is how NYC got over 9/11--we were all in the streets for days looking for ways to give what we could while the richest sent truckloads of goods to the folks digging for survivors in the smoking pile--including crates of fresh underwear for those working days without breaks or bathrooms or showers down there and loads of hot food to feed them from the finest restaurants in Manhattan. Patriotism means stepping up, not stepping away.
tryintosurvive March 25, 2012 at 04:19 PM
But we don't have a mass society, we only have Montclair to consider for this proposal. If we want to raise $25,000,000 for each year, we need 500 families to each contribute $50,000 MORE yearly in municipal taxes than they do now. Lets just find these 500 families, ask them to give us the money because they have so much and then start doling it out. We will explain how patriotic they are being by doing this, and we will not be impacting 99% of the people in the town. If they don't want to contribute voluntarily, we may need to Occupy Upper Mountain Avenue.
A. Gideon March 25, 2012 at 06:33 PM
"Then, join my call for a progressive real estate tax system where high-income neighbors patriotically pay more so that lower-income families pay less." This doesn't seem to make any sense to me. It would no longer be a real estate tax but an income tax. As it happens, I believe that eduction should be funded by income taxes as opposed to real estate taxes. Or, I'd be willing to agree, perhaps a combination. The reason why I'd include income tax as a funding source is that education enhances a student's future income. The result of that investment is captured in [future] income tax revenues, so it makes sense to use those revenues to fund the investment. ...Andrew
Montclair Public March 25, 2012 at 06:54 PM
you talk about children's education as if it is a hedge fund.
ira shor March 25, 2012 at 07:57 PM
Towns are not permitted to levy income taxes; they can levy real estate taxes. Value of real estate tracks family income; higher-income families buy higher-priced homes. Also dependent on family income is a student's SAT/ACT scores as well as chance of graduating HS and then college by age 24--kids from the top 25% of family income have ten times the chance of college graduation by age 24 than do kids from bottom 25%. Higher-income kids then more likely to get higher-income jobs. Overall, then, family income is the most powerful factor in determining a child's future; family income also determines what price house a child grows up in; so a progressive real estate tax that clicks in above the median ratable property(used to be $762 before reassess)is a good way to raise fairly the money needed to finance community, civility, good public services and good public schools in this town. The BOE unilaterally dispossessed 220 low-wage aides's families of their health care; a bump up for the richer famlies in their real estate tax would be a much softer and community-saving solution than the ones favored by the BOE and other anti-tax zealots.
Stuart Weissman March 25, 2012 at 08:23 PM
Ira. What world are you living in? What if you are the derelict child of wealthy parents who die and leave you their home? This is just another anti-incentive for people to try to get ahead. If Greece is your aspiration, then you've got it right. My salary has increased 1.3% since October of 2007. The tolls (when I drive to Union) have doubled and the train fares (when I commute to NYC) have increased by nearly 60% in this time. Not to mention the cost for parking at the rail stations. I need not mention the increases in insurance costs, food costs as well as fuel costs. Then there's the paper losses we all have taken on our home values (ours is a mere 640K to 375K from peak to current). Of course there's also the problem where we mistakenly bought in a town where taxes have increased at a significantly higher pace than that of much of its neighbors. And on top of that, you would like to make property taxes progressive, when they are already as people in higher valued homes already pay a larger share. I agree with you on a lot of your ideas about less textbooks and smaller class sizes, but there is still tons of waste in the school system. My son's school had a janitor last year who always sat at the back door for the 2 hours that my son was in aftercare. Simultaneously, there were outsourced women hired to clean the school (I'm sure without much in the way of benefits). I'm fairly certain this janitor was being paid overtime to sit at the backdoor with max benefits.
ira shor March 25, 2012 at 08:39 PM
I'm living in a world where taking away health care from 220 families of our lowest-paid essential school workers is praised as "strengthening the schools" by candidates running for office. You see waste in schools or in the town? Yell about it. Root it out. They're cheating us and our kids. But don't confuse corruption with good education policy and with fairness in building a town community. Many families are hurting in this Wall St fiasco. Times like these can make us mean and snarling at each other, or brave and generous to fix what's wrong. Those with more just have to step up and put in more for the good of the community. We're not used to such an idea of patriotism b/c Wall St and Amer corps now sit on their $3 TRILLION in cash on hand, refusing to lend it, spend it, hire with it, or pay their share of taxes on it--Wall St taught us that you can get away with stuffing your own face and pockets and forget the nation or the other guy in town. There's a great economy here that can still be made to work, but it's time to rethink what we need to do to get the town and nation where we watch each other's backs.
Montclair's Own March 25, 2012 at 11:33 PM
Ira is the only voice of reason on here.
tryintosurvive March 26, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Ira seems to be desperately looking for any way to increase town taxes, inferring that anyone who does not want to pay more taxes is unpatriotic, along with the delusion that doing this will make our town's real estate values increase. And that is the only voice of reason? Wow.
Montclair Public March 27, 2012 at 07:18 PM
when you fail to grasp that the value of your home is directly related to the quality of your public school system, well, yes.
Stuart Weissman March 27, 2012 at 09:05 PM
The value of your home is also directly related to how it's property taxes compare to that of similar towns. This will become increasingly more of an issue when your property tax payments become larger than your mortgage payments. Which, if Ira was running the show, might be tomorrow.
Montclair Public March 28, 2012 at 03:11 AM
no one is arguing that our taxes aren't high, or too high. the argument is how we solve the problem. taking health benefits from the lowest-paid employees in town who work with the neediest children was a craven and unnecessary option.

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