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Save Our Schools Montclair Opposes Turner's Stance On Busing

The grassroots organization releases its take on the candidates running in today's election


Save Our Schools (SOS) Montclair recently sent out the following voters' guide (below).

But then sent out an update on Tuesday morning that reads as follows:

The New York Times has released an article online (to appear in print today) which includes important information about one candidate's position on busing to support our Magnet system.

According to the article, Karen Turner (Real Progress Montclair), has "called for a re-examination of school busing that dates to the 1970s, citing its cost" and "supports the magnet system that has integrated Montclair's schools, but wonders if students could use New Jersey Transit rather than school buses."

Please read the full text of the article here: After Spending Freely, Liberal Town Faces Fight on Frugality

SOS Montclair strongly opposes this reported position. Busing makes our Magnet system viable by providing every child in town with true access to every school.

Please also note that last year, the Board of Education, via the Transportation Working Group, thoroughly examined costs and alternatives associated with busing. While some cost savings were found and implemented, this report found that maintaining a robust busing service is critical to maintaining the Magnet school system.

On a separate issue, please also note that the article clarifies Ms. Turner's position on library funding, saying "she says she supports libraries but wants to consider privatizing them."

We urge you to carefully consider which candidates will best safeguard educational priorities for our children, and remember to vote TODAY, May 8.

And here is the Voters' Guide sent out recently:

Thank you again for your support of our Magnet schools last year.

Tuesday, May 8, is Election Day in Montclair. Every council seat, as well as the position of mayor, is up for election. We urge you to get out and vote, and get your neighbors to the polls.

In Montclair, the mayor appoints members of the Board of Education (BOE), which influences educational policy and creates the school budget each year. The mayor, two town councilors, and two BOE members also sit on the Board of School Estimates (BOSE), which ratifies the BOE budgets.

As you choose who to vote for on May 8, please weigh your choices carefully. Every candidate says they support education. Some have even adopted SOS Montclair's language about support for the magnet system. But how do these statements translate to actual policies that affect our kids?

We have watched the debates, spoken with the candidates, and done extensive reading on this campaign. As a grassroots campaign, SOS Montclair is not issuing any official endorsements in this election, but below we offer insights into specific education issues for your consideration. Also, you can view all three candidate debates on TV34 (airing from 5:30-10pm nightly through Monday) or online at http://cvp.telvue.com/player?s=montclair.

First, here are the names of some individual candidates who took public positions affecting SOS Montclair issues last year:
 
Bob Russo (Montclair 2012/Jackson), candidate for Councilor At-Large (representing all of Montclair), was one of our earliest supporters. He signed our petition, proudly wore a red SOS wristband daily, and strenuously spoke in our favor at Board of Education (BOE) meetings and in private meetings with our town leaders. We are grateful to him for his strong support.

Rich Murnick (Montclair 2012/Jackson), candidate for re-election as 1st Ward Councilor, also bought and wore an SOS wristband.

Robin Schlager (Montclair 2012/Jackson), a long-time MFEE co-administrator, is running for 2nd Ward Councilor. As a public service, MFEE held and distributed as designatedthe funds raised by thesale of SOS Montclair wristbands (however - note that MFEE took no position on SOS Montclair or our issues).

Chris Swenson (Real Progress Montclair/Turner), candidate for 3rd Ward Councilor, co-authored the Budget Finance Working Group report last year that recommended the BOE consider closing/consolidating schools, eliminating full-day kindergarten, outsourcing teaching aides and/or increasing class size.

Renee Baskerville (uncontested), incumbent candidate for 4th Ward Councilor, was opposed to school closures and voted against the final budget on the Board of School Estimates due to the elimination of health insurance for teacher's aides.

Current School Budget Status: Unrestored Cuts = Artificial "Surplus"

Though we have all experienced deep cuts in curriculum, teachers, aides, and programs, we did not lose our state funding as feared - instead, we have received over $12 million more in state funding in the last 2 years than expected! Still, most cuts have not been reversed by the BOE, and millions of those dollars have gone unspent on education, creating an artificial surplus. Instead, those unused education dollars have been "left on the table" for town use and reallocated out of the education budget. While we believe it is prudent for the BOE to carry a small surplus from year to year, our position is that education funding should be used for education - period. Since the BOE budget has not been a hot topic in the election this year, many people - and even many candidates! - are unaware of these facts. See the following Montclair Times articles for more detail:

Montclair Teacher Aides Hit Roadblock In Getting Back Their Medical Benefits

Montclair BOE Approves School Budget, Forecasts Another Budget Surplus

Montclair Schools To Get More State Aid
 
Mayoral Candidates - Their Backgrounds and Platforms Following (in alphabetical order) is a brief summary of each candidate's bio (focusing on aspects that may be relevant to their educational policies), as well as a summary of their overall platform. This information is accurate to the best of our knowledge, compiled and condensed from candidates' websites, mailings, public comments and our personal conversations with the candidates. Please refer to candidate websites for complete information.
 
Robert Jackson (Montclair 2012): Lifelong Montclair resident.
Attended Montclair public schools and graduated from MKA. Harvard MBA.
Current Montclair Public Library Trustee. Former mayor 1988-1989.
Current Montclair public school parent of three children, plus one MHS grad. Wife is former PTA President at Northeast and former teacher's aide in Montclair public schools.
Platform summary: Fiscal discipline and debt reduction. Plan to generate revenue from increased shared services and to create new commercial ratables (private development of our 5 downtowns and 6 train stations)

Karen Turner (Real Progress Montclair): Montclair resident for 16 years. Certified Public Accountant. Chair of Montclair Operating Budget Advisory Committee (OBAC) and member of Concerned Citizens of Montclair (CCM), 2010-2011. MKA parent. Husband is Montclair native.
Platform summary: Fiscal discipline and debt reduction, with privatization/outsourcing.

Harvey Susswein (For Montclair): Montclair resident for 35 years.
Wharton MBA. Leader, BOE Revenue Working Group on Special Education, 2010. Former Montclair public school parent of two children. Daughter is current teacher at Renaissance. Wife is Montclair native.
Platform summary: Fiscal discipline and debt reduction, with privatization/outsourcing and limited shared services. Plan to review business-related bureaucratic red tape and ease business contacts with township.

Mayoral Candidates - Their Positions on Education Issues that follow provides more detail on specific educational issues with respect to each candidate. Information is accurate to the best of our knowledge, compiled from sources mentioned above. Note that, while we are not endorsing any candidates, there are cases in which we do take a position on issues that affect education spending. Those cases are noted below. The candidates are presented alphabetically under each issue:

1) Town Oversight/Involvement in School Budgets

Jackson - Maintain current role of BOSE/BOE in developing and ratifying budgets, with improved communication; would encourage BOE to reserve more funds set aside for future capital projects in order to guard against future debt.
 
Susswein -"We are committed to taking a town-wide look at proposed capital projects; not having an isolated BOE list and a township list and library list; these projects need to be in a unified list, they need to compete with each other in terms of their value to the residents." (emphasis added) (Source: Montclair "Times Too" Debate, April 2012)
 
Note: SOS Montclair opposes this approach. School projects, which only benefit the children at that school or in that program, would always lose out to township projects. As stated above, our position is that education funding should be used for education - period.

Turner -Envisions greater collaboration between BOE and BOSE in budget development.

Note: SOS Montclair has some reservations about this approach.The BOE and superintendent should develop the budget based on educational concerns, without undue influence from Council members whose constituencies may have other priorities.

2) Selection of BOE Members

All 3 candidates vow to continue Mayor Fried's Candidate Advisory Committee (CAC), which reviews and recommends BOE applications for the mayor. Each Council member appoints one member to the CAC.

Jackson - Says he "unequivocally" supports appointed BOE and would follow existing CAC process above. Additionally, would request input from stakeholders including parents, teachers and administrators regarding nominations and qualities desirable candidates.

Susswein - Supports appointed BOE and would follow existing CAC process above. Additionally, would submit BOE selections to be ratified by the Town Council.

Turner - Has changed her position; previously favored elected BOE, but currently supports appointed BOE. Would follow existing CAC process above.

3) Charter High School

Jackson - Opposes charter school, and believes the mayor should use the "bully pulpit" to let our state leadership know it is unwanted. Says many state-level decision makers reside in Montclair, and he would work with them to keep the charter school out.

Susswein - Opposes charter school, but says there's not much he could do about it as mayor.

Turner - Opposes charter school, and feels that our current high school does a "great job." Would deliver a statement of Montclair's opposition to state leadership in writing.

4) Pre-K Funding

Jackson - Supports township funding of Community PreK, would consider expanding to other PreKs as well.

Susswein - Supports scholarship aid to the PreK.

Turner - Has changed her position; made public statements favoring closing the PreK (and library) in 2010; has since modified her position. Now supports funding of PreK scholarships and favors a working group to study the issue further.

5) Philosophy On Role Of Citizen Working Groups

Jackson - Says that while some citizen working groups have done good work, they should not become a replacement for good township and schools management. Says management needs to provide better data for decision-making. Says we spend a lot of money on salaries and benefits for paid management, and we should demand their expertise.

Susswein - As leader of the BOE Working Group on Special Education last year, says he is proud of the work his own group did. He feels citizen working groups like these have benefitted our community and would like to expand their use.

Turner - Supports the work of last year's BOE Budget Finance Working Group and would like to extend this same approach to the town side.

6) Spending Priorities For Any Incremental School Funds

Jackson - Cited number of teachers lost to budget cuts. Said any incremental funding should be spent in the classrooms, reduce class size.

Susswein - Reduce class size, invest in the high school: continue small learning environments, more guidance counseling.

Turner - Said schools seem to be rich in technology, but we are lacking a district-wide technology plan.

In summary, please carefully consider which candidates will best safeguard educational priorities for our children, and remember to vote Tuesday, May 8.

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