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BOE Agrees to Save $1.1 Million Windfall for "Another Dire Budget Season"

At special BOE meeting, members agree to save unexpected state money for a rainy day

“As you know, the big news is, we got this new state aid,” began Dr. Alvarez at the start of the special Board of Education meeting last night. “It comes to slightly under $1.1 million.  My recommendation is that we not spend it.  We’re going to have another dire budget season.”

When Governor Christie’s final budget was approved earlier this week, local school districts were informed they would receive  “What this money has done is give us a tiny bit of flexibility that we didn’t have a week ago,” he said.  “Before that, any money we had at all was going toward our fund balance.”

District Business Administrator Dana Sullivan agreed with Dr. Alvarez’ recommendation. “I view the $1.1 million as, we got lucky.  When you get extra money at home you put it in the bank.  It’s just prudent,” she said.  “We had about $2 million before.  We’ll probably have $3.2 million in fund balance now.  We need that cushion because we just don’t know what’s going to happen in state aid next year.”

BOE member Norman Rosenblum suggested an alternative use of the money, saying it could be used to reinstate medical benefits that teacher aides lost earlier this year.

“What the board did was very good,” Rosenblum said, referring to the balanced 20101-11 budget, but added that it was wrong to “single out aides, who are perhaps the weakest of the employees, and take away their medical benefits.”

“We should revisit this issue.  [] saved us $1.3 million but now we have $1.1 million.  It’s almost the same amount of money,” he said.  “These people work directly with children in the classroom, sometimes with disabilities . . . I believe that it’s an issue of social justice.  I feel this [sacrifice] should be apportioned more equitably among all employees [in the district.]”

He didn't find much support among the other board members. Angelica Allen-McMillan responded that the tough decisions about the aides were made by members before Rosenblum joined the board.  "We took into account some of those concerns as we struggled to balance the budget but we had to respond to the entire community, not just one group.” 

She added, “The paraprofessionals are worth their weight in gold -- but we can no longer afford the price of gold.”

Others agreed, saying that spending the $1.1 million could potentially be disadvantageous to the district. Robin Kulwin pointed out, “This is one-time money.  It has to be sustainable.”

After hearing the board’s response, Rosenblum acknowledged, “I’m gathering that there’s not a lot of support here.  I’m not going to ask for a vote on this.”

Dr. Alvarez did suggest spending about $125,000 on restoring two security guard positions at Glenfield and Renaissance middle schools.

Other topics of discussion included:

  • Charter Schools:  Montclair is still waiting for approval of the proposed charter school application for Quest Academy.  Alvarez said the district would find out in September if the latest application was approved.
  • Teacher Evaluation Pilot Program:  Dr. Alvarez recommended that the district wait to see how the state develops the program before getting involved.  Board member Tanya Coke expressed “grave doubts” about a program that bases teacher performance on student test scores “with a scoring rubric of 40-50%.”
  • Parent Survey:  The results of the parent survey were 85% positive, but Kulwin pointed out that “there was some concern about anonymity; people had to sign their names.”  Alvarez said that next year it might be possible to administer a survey that would allow respondents to remain anonymous.
  • Re-Registration:  Assistant to the Superintendent Felice Harrison said re-registration at the high school seems to be working well.  She said the tipline has been helpful in finding students who are “not children of Montclair taxpayers.”  She also noted that the for all incoming high school students and will be ongoing till August 31 with “no exceptions.”  Alvarez said an excess of fifty students could be affected.
  • Parent Leadership Academy is currently taking place at Bullock School for Title 1 students.  For more information, go here.
Cary Africk July 21, 2011 at 04:23 AM
You say $1.1MM. The Montclair Times reported last week that the number is $2.2MM. Which one is it?
Dan July 21, 2011 at 12:42 PM
How about give it back to the taxpayers? I know the BOE did a great job with the budget this year, but shouldn't it go back to the people who paid it?? Let the board work on next years budget next year. This is our money after all.
Right of Center July 21, 2011 at 02:27 PM
"How about give it back to the taxpayers?" I agree. This money should go to fund the schools and 1.1 million should come out of the tax levy. Our tax money is not the BOE's savings account.
QBY33 July 21, 2011 at 03:21 PM
Sounds like Mr. Rosenblum is a very smart man. No benefits for Aides, especially the ones working with disabled children is just not smart! The way these folks have to lift and aide these children is a very tough job and could result in any type of medical problems.
bob russo July 21, 2011 at 04:23 PM
I have the same question as Councilman Africk? wasn't it $2.2million? and doesn"t this equal what it will cost the district to fund the charter school.....which I am sure will now be approved with the State claiming we have the money to pay for it? I also agree with new board member Rosenblum that we have to find a way to cover the health costs of our aides.....can't some of this new money be used for a transition from full coverage to at least some insurance coverage? Ending health coverage completely is the exact opposite of what is our new national policy....and Montclair is usually the leader in doing what is right!
Cary Africk July 21, 2011 at 04:25 PM
I spoke to the BOE. The $2.2MM includes $1MM that was already given to the BOE earlier. So the $1.1MM number is correct.
bob russo July 21, 2011 at 05:03 PM
Thanks.....but that makes $2.1M total.....still just enough to pay for the charter school....or our lost health coverage for aides..... just a note: when I was elected Mayor in 2000, the first thing I was told was that health insurance had been underfunded by $700,000 by the previous Mayor and BOSE....to keep the tax increase lower in an election year! so guess who had to restore the necessary money to fully fund the actual costs? Let's never play games with figures and budgets again....I want the whole picture and blame the State for all the uncertainty and instability in our budgeting.....not the Supt. or BOE....
Right of Center July 21, 2011 at 05:12 PM
"I also agree with new board member Rosenblum that we have to find a way to cover the health costs of our aides.....can't some of this new money be used for a transition from full coverage to at least some insurance coverage?" Don't you wish that a local politician's first impulse with any "extra" money wasn't "lets give it to the township union employees". "I want the whole picture and blame the State for all the uncertainty and instability in our budgeting" And that's why you should never be trusted with access to our money every again. Blaming the state for all of Montclair's woes.
bob russo July 21, 2011 at 05:29 PM
Whoever you are.....Right of Center.....I just explained how bad management and manipulation of our budget for poliitcal reasons resulted in a tax increase which I did not cause in 2000....and it is the constant changes in State aid figures....the uncertainty that we face every year, which leads to instability and bad planning....and tax increases, for which our local officials are not entirely responsible.
Stuart Weissman July 22, 2011 at 02:18 AM
Actually Bob, You can't blame the state for the 5 or 6 million (or perhaps more) that our inept local leaders lost by not reassessing Montclair's property values prior to now. You can't blame the state for the salary we pay to our Environmental Coordinator. You can't blame the state for moving a failed principal to the central office and giving her a BS title and support staff. I would love to hear some feedback on these three issues that immediately came to my mind after reading your post.
Stuart Weissman July 22, 2011 at 02:25 PM
Silence...I'm not surprised.
bob russo July 22, 2011 at 02:48 PM
Mr. Weissman.....Your concerns are noted. I have been fighting bureaucracy and waste in government all my life. The State is not always to blame....but iI's aid to our town has been unpredictable and unfair, while it sends more money to Hoboken than they need! I have a 92 year old mom living in Montclair who needs some attention now and then....I would be happy to talk to you when I have time outside this medium....Im participating to educate and bring some historical perspective... since I have already been there as a Councilmember and Mayor for 12 years in the 90's and early 2000's....I have never been "silent"....call me any time....I'm listed.
Stuart Weissman July 22, 2011 at 03:40 PM
Thanks for the response and I did vote for you. I agree that our educational funding scheme is a mess in NJ and does not allow for long-term budgeting, but I don't feel this is the cause for our budget issues in Montclair or our scary debt load. It's our unwillingness to outsource or even investigate it. It's our need to follow the progressive agenda, at any cost, regardless of the impact it will have on our property taxes and the resulting damage this has on those on lower earners. It's our inability to say no to spending on items that we really don't need, such as the South Park Upgrade or the new school, or the quiet zone. I've been in Montclair a very long time and the battle cry is constantly, it's the state's fault, as we continue to bond for wants and not needs. It's no surprise the diversity is diminishing in Montclair. Any place where landlords are forced to raise rents to cover insane tax increases which move up significantly faster than local revenues will result in a much wealthier (whiter) population. Yes the state makes it difficult to budget long-term, but they never force us to pay for the many frivolous things (like a senior center) that our town councils want to build, but can't pay for. Much easier to blame the state and increase the debt.
Right of Center July 22, 2011 at 04:17 PM
" I have a 92 year old mom living in Montclair who needs some attention now and then" And there is the problem. Someone who thinks the township owes his elderly mother "attention" is going to build tax funded senior centers. These are the politics which lead to unsustainable government growth, and these are the politics which are bankrupting us.
QBY33 August 03, 2011 at 09:51 PM
If you just put that money away as if you don't need it.....won't the state take that into account and decide that Montclair really didn't need that extra money anyway!?
Dude August 04, 2011 at 11:23 AM
the state made us move $$ out of an operating surplus into the budget somehow (i forget the details, but that's what happened) - which, far from being a savings account with "our" money, is a pretty normal thing for BOEs to have....so the BOE is deciding to partially replenish this reserve money....I'd love to see it spent right away, but with ludicrous caps now on budgets and tax increases, applied to an already irresponsibly low budget/criminal tax decrease for 11-12, we will risk having a catastrophically low budget again for 12-13, so it might be a good idea to sit on it and wait....while it looks like my previous comment was removed (though it had no swear words at all), my point was simply that things are awful these days, and we have governor awful in trenton, so we have to tuck funds away for the "awful hits the fan" moments we know will come as long as that sorry excuse for a human being is our governor - a sad state of affairs indeed....

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