“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.