In a unanimous vote on April 7, the Montclair Board of School Estimate passed a $116 million budget for the 2014-15.
The average taxpayer will see a 4.08 percent increase in the school portion of property tax. This percentage was reduced from an initial 4.41 percent.
The passed budget includes the re-installation of world language in the elementary schools, reduces kindergarten class size to 21 students and allocates funds for technology improvements that would prepare the district for PARCC testing.
Prior to the adoption of the budget the BoSE held two public hearings to allow members of the community to come forth and voice their concerns. Both meetings were held in the George Inness Annex Atrium on March 27 and March 31.
The concerns registered in these meetings, and at the final adoption of the budget, included energy and technology costs, textbook availability and building repairs. There were also multiple mentions of limiting expenditures on PARCC testing and reducing legal fees.
“We’ve listened, we’ve heard, we’ve read the emails and they are heartfelt, really, truly,” said Board of Education President Robin Kulwin. “At the same time we are preserving a high quality magnet school system…we’ve gone back and looked at where we can make changes.”
In terms of technology costs, Board Secretary Brian Fleischer offered a point of clarification. $1.5 million has been allotted for technology upgrades which will include wireless internet and faster internet speeds. The upgrades are partially being made in order to fulfill PARCC standards.
“PARCC isn’t the focus, but the mandates will be met,” said Fleischer.
Community concerns registered with the BoSE, causing them to pass a resolution aimed at relieving the technology costs associated with PARCC:
“Be it resolved the Montclair Board of School Estimate implores the New Jersey Department of Education to adequately fun the technology upgrades necessary to implement online administration of PARCC assessments and to meet other New Jersey Department of Education technology mandates.”
After a last minute re-examination, Kulwin announced that the board was able to make cuts in terms of transportation operating costs and teacher salaries due to retirements, which reduced the taxpayer burden to 4.08 percent.
The board assured community members in attendance that the cuts to transportation would have no impact on services delivered.
In terms of retirement, since the budget was originally proposed, 9 teachers have officially begun the process of filing for retirement.
These salaries were originally contracted and built into the 2014-15 budget. They will now be replaced with vacancies at lower salaries resulting in a district savings of roughly $270,000.
In response to a series of questions from community members, Fleischer said that although more teachers may retire or move out of district before the start of the year, the board cannot legally exclude those salaries without formal notice.