Montclair District Unveils Budget Packed With Extras

The proposed budget includes no increase to the tax levy


Compared with last year's rough waters, this year's budget process should be smooth sailing based on what was presented at Monday night's school board meeting.

As expected, the proposed operating district budget for the 2012-2013 school year is about $114 million, or about 2.4 percent higher than the $111 million spending plan approved by the board last March.

Board members noted that they wouldn't approve a budget that would increase property taxes.

Whereas last year the budget process was dominated by talks of layoffs, cuts in programs, and even possible school closings, this year's presentation included a string of good news.

For example, the school district will receive about $800,000 more in state aid than was previously expected and also will benefit from the unexpectedly high surplus announced towards the end of last year.

Just last week, the New Jersey Department of Education announced that Montclair would receive more than $6.5 million in state school aid for the 2012-2013 year that begins July 1. (Still, only 5.8 percent of the district's budget comes from state aid.)

"We think this will be a much smoother budget process than last year," said Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez.

According to Business Administrator Dana Sullivan, the "surplus" fund balance was $3,280,919 in 2011-2012 versus $5,646,392 in the proposed 2012-2013 budget.

The proposed schools budget—which will be tentatively approved at a meeting on March 5 and formally approved on March 19—includes staffing additions such as a full-time nurse at Renaissance Middle School.

In total, 12.8 positions would be added next year including two teachers for Montclair High School's small learning communities and two middle school literacy teachers.

The proposed buget also includes:

—$75,000 for upgrades to the planetarium at Glenfield Middle School

—$100,000 for improvements in infrastructure (wiring) at Mount Hebron Middle School

—$300,000 for high-tech equipment at all schools

—$140,000 for labs at Mount Hebron Middle School

—$374,000 for textbooks at all schools

—$100,000 for improvements to facilities at Montclair High School

In total, the proposed budget included $1,219,000 in one-time expenses.

Sullivan also presented a capital budget for 2012-2013 that totaled $3,869,000 and included $933,000 to add artificial turf to Heningburg Field. (The district hopes to get some grant money to help pay for this.) In addition, the plan is to replace the carpet and floor at Renaissance Middle School at a cost of $55,000; paint the gym at Nishuane Elementary School at a cost of $18,000; upgrade lighting and ceiling tiles at the Montclair High School cafeteria at a cost of $78,000; and transform the library into a lab and computer center at Mount Hebron Middle School at a cost of $370,000.

A few other budget highlights presented at Monday night's meeting:

—No increase to tax levy

—No reduction to existing programs or staff

—A $950,000 deposit into a capital reserve account which can be spent in the future on capital improvements

Alvarez, who recently announced he was stepping down at the end of this school year, said the aim is to "not get in a situation where we can't sustain things in the future" such as the hiring of librarians.

For example, instead of hiring more foreign language teachers the district will continue to rely on computer programs such as Rosetta Stone to teach languages to students.

The public will have a chance to comment on the proposed budget at the school board's meeting on Monday, March 5 at 7:30 p.m.

For budget updates, check back with Montclair Patch later on Tuesday and also check the district's website here.

what I see February 28, 2012 at 09:59 PM
I have been meaning to thank Mr. Shor and those who have supported reinstating the medical benefits to the paraprofessionals. We truly appreciated your kindness. I work with paras with pre-existing conditions who had no choice but to pay for COBRA, forced to tap into their retirement savings. Others I work with, single parents, who don't have the money to pay for a doctor's visit when they get sick. Heartbreaking really. Our family chose not to pay over $1600 per month for the COBRA, because, well, who can afford that? We've been "lucky" and have only had to pay about $1000 for medical expenses. (It's true, we almost had to go to the emergency room.) I've read several times on Patch and in the Mtc Times that the paras no longer have medical benefits as we are considered part-time. Truth be told, I don't know a single para who is working fewer hours than last year. Why is okay to not provide us with medical benefits?
QBY33 February 28, 2012 at 10:08 PM
That is exactly what I said in part of my speech last night! Paras work the same hours and I am even with the children more hours per day than the classroom teacher. I'm considered not worthy of benefits even though I am entrusted with the wellbeing of 26 at a time. Can someone please convince me why this is OK?
Montclair's Own February 28, 2012 at 10:56 PM
This is okay because the BOE (and their apologists) plan on eventually outsourcing education completely, until we have even less professionals in the classrooms, for the cheapest cost possible.
mtc parent February 28, 2012 at 11:59 PM
Well, let's hope if they turf that field they measure properly so it won't be like Watchung Field, which wasn't built to the correct dimensions for the sport it was intended for. Oh, and who else remembers the Woodman baseball diamond re-do that also wasn't measured right? But better not to turf the field! It's flammable, and they'll have to build a big fence around it the way they did at Watchung. And you get turf burn. And it's too much money. Yuck.
A. Gideon February 29, 2012 at 01:29 AM
There are some good points to note in the proposed budget. For example, rather than spending surplus on expenses we'd have to fund via taxes in the future, at least a chunk of this is going into a capital reserve. This may not help reduce the district's current debt, but it lets us avoid some future debt. [That doesn't mean we can be wasteful, as in spending a million for fake grass, of course.] ...Andrew
QBY33 February 29, 2012 at 02:42 AM
At the rate they seem to be getting rid of actual people teaching, saying good bye to librarians and foreign Lang. teacher AND books...I hate to see how our children educated with their faces to a computer will communticate with people in the world when they grow up.
rak February 29, 2012 at 12:28 PM
We could spend a portion of our reserve on installation of solar panels so that we can save money in the future.
Stuart Weissman February 29, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Forget solar panels, I think what Montclair needs is a space program.
Right of Center February 29, 2012 at 03:36 PM
"We could spend a portion of our reserve on installation of solar panels so that we can save money in the future." Far far into the future. Without taxpayer subsidy, solar panels have a 75-125 year break even point.
Montclair Public February 29, 2012 at 03:48 PM
the fake grass is appropriate to go along with the bogus arguments made by the board and its apologists, while rationalizing the stripping of the aides' benefits. never had to happen, could've been corrected (last summer, during the school year) had Lombard and company not been locked in to their combative, anti-educator philosophy. even as the district seeks to (wisely) curb costs by returning special needs students to the district, the board's lack of respect for those who must work with those students continues, unabated. i have said this many times but it's worth repeating: pity a town that balances its budget on the backs of its lowest paid and de facto FULL-TIME employees. those who advocated this should all know what it's like to live without health insurance. And Mr. Africk, if apples-and-oranges is your answer to that profound injustice, good riddance to you.
Crafty Spiker February 29, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Cary so much wanted to be part of the solution ...
Cary Africk February 29, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Stu, When you say ... "Forget solar panels, I think what Montclair needs is a space program." You are really not that off the mark. The Mayor did want to build a light rail system from Montclair State to Upper Montclair, and at the last meeting he proposed a traffic circle at Watchung and Park. Then there was the discussion about a median going down the length of Bloomfield Avenue, filled with trees and flowers, and another similar median on Grove. There was also talk of an IMAC theater at the DCH site, rooftop gardening, and a Children's Museum. Not to mention everything "the Chinese" were going to build.
Cary Africk February 29, 2012 at 04:49 PM
MP, Maybe the Board of School Estimate can have a meeting, which would be their first in four years, and discuss the provision of health benefits for aides?
Craig February 29, 2012 at 05:05 PM
If the aids are so upset about losing benefits they should quit and go find other jobs. I appreciate what they do and have kids in the public school here but Nobody forces anyone to work (we outlawed slavery in the 1860s). So while aids are nice to have if they leave en masse and the schools suffer badly they will get benefits back. If they leave en masse and life goes on then they are better off at other jobs.
Montclair Public February 29, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Cary, or maybe the board can resume advocating for education --instead of citing every disgruntled taxpayer; we do have a town government for that.
Montclair Public February 29, 2012 at 05:40 PM
first of all, Craig, it's aides, not aids, which is a disease we wish on no one, especially those without health benefits. and i am sure you would work happily without benefits, or just quit and have no job at all if your employer unilaterally stripped them from you. nice to know you value your kids' education so much that you would have the aides walk en masse and leave the increasingly larger classes to one teacher. or perhaps your children aren't special needs kids and you could give a damn about those who are. scary stupid.
Right of Center February 29, 2012 at 06:01 PM
"or perhaps your children aren't special needs kids and you could give a damn about those who are. " First of all, MP, it's "couldn't give a damn".... And let's remember the history accurately, shall we? The BOE agreed to negotiate for Aides benefits IF the MEA agreed to reopen the contract and thus pay 1.5% for benefits as opposed to 0.5%. So a teacher making $50,000 would go from $250 per year for family coverage to $750 per year or a whopping sum of $62.50 per month! Insuring Aides and their families would cost taxpayers many thousands per year for each employee. $7,000 to $10,000 and in exchange the BOE asks for teacher's premiums to go up from $20 per month to $62 per month. And it's the heartless BOE being unreasonable here?
Craig February 29, 2012 at 06:02 PM
It's been a year put up with a walk out or atop complaining. I apologize for typos on my phone but if my employer took benefits away And that was crippling to me i would look to find another job or maybe go back to school to try and become a full time teacher. Personally I am very involved with my 2 kids who are in school and blessed to have all 3 appear to be strong learned who can sit still for hours and don't need multiple adults in addition to their teacher. However I grew up in a town in Monmouth county that is currently ranked about 50 spots behind Montclair. My friends and i who had had parents who paid attention to them all graduated, all have lives with kids of their own and most are happy. We didn't have teaching aides. We had 20 to 25 kids in a class. We got by and became successful and more importantly are contributors to society and generally happy. my kids will too because my wife and i are involved in their lives. My wife and many others volunteer in their classroom and would do more if needed (i volunteer after work) Why can't parents volunteer to do these jobs?
Craig February 29, 2012 at 06:02 PM
What's scary stupid is your insistence that everybody should get everything and others should pay for it. Special Ed kids? Yes give them a teaching aide in the classroom. Non special needs kids (of which I am fortunate to have 3), one teacher should suffice. The majority of kids are not special needs if we needed a handful of aides to help in special Ed then fine. That should not be that large a group of employees to insure.
ira shor February 29, 2012 at 06:25 PM
We are fortunate to have dedicated professional aides in our public schools and it would be a great loss if BOE attacks on their living standards forced them to leave the district. The public schools are already suffering consequences from over-crowded classes with too few aides. Bullying is underway. A girl in my son's class was forced to change schools b/c on bullying. I could cite other incidents but as a school volunteer in class weekly and as a class parent for 3 years now, I can see the damage to the classrooms caused by anti-labor BOE policies. The aides are not expendable; the teachers cannot be "speeded up" to handle more students unless we want to injure our children's educations and our property values, which depend heavily on strong public schools and a strong public sector in a town know for multiracial civility...ira shor
Montclair Public February 29, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Right of Center, please get your facts straight, not just those that fit your argument. the Board said it would be willing to restore benefits but could not unless the MEA was willing to reopen its contract and prematurely absorb the mandated increase. It also suggested the MEA contract the NJEA to determine if that was its only course. (This, of course, occurred after the surplus was revealed). Subsequent to that, the NJEA informed the MEA that the benefits could be restored as a sidebar to the contract, without reopening it. But the true nature of the board surfaced; it responded by saying, no, it would not restore the benefits this school year. Those are the facts, suggesting the board was disingenuous on the subject all along.
Montclair Public February 29, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Craig, won't even address your idiocy about special needs kids getting extra attention. and as long as you resent us paying benefits for people who educate our children, why not get rid of all teachers and have a total volunteer work force? why not disband public education in Montclair and have home schooling for all? Why not elect Rick Santorum president because that's what he seems to want? why not? because he's a loon and i'm afraid so are you.
Craig February 29, 2012 at 06:55 PM
Montclair public I am not going to resort to personal attacks like you do. My position is that we should have a very well compensated, professional (not para professional) teaching staff that can handle class sizes of 25 kids. We dont need 200 teaching aides on additon to That wxcept maybe special needs classes need multiple adults. Maybe people who can't deal with their own kids think we need multiple adults to babysit their c students, but we just need strong teachers and parents who can get involved. Go back to school and get a job with health benefits or stage a strike and see if the town caves if you don't like the way things are. Quit your personal attacks though because it just shows you to be a small minded individual.
Montclair Public February 29, 2012 at 07:02 PM
personal attacks? very funny. you demean 200 hard-working folks who work with our neediest children, who get kicked and punched by some, who clean up their vomit, who live with their heartbreak and frustrations, their triumphs and failures. you insult these people -- who do this for $23,000 a year -- by calling them babysitters. you and people who think like you need to be shouted down. personal insults. take a look in the mirror, pal.
Craig February 29, 2012 at 07:17 PM
I didn't say anything negative about the people other than if they don't like making 23k a year with no benefits then they shpuld go do something else or go on strike and see if rhe world falls apart w/o them. You are the angry lunatic here. Sure I am pissed that we pay ridiculous property taxes and want to find ways to lower the burden so that Montclairians can stay in town. If you are a teachers aide I hope you're not in my kids class because you are angry and can only see one side of this. I sympathize with aides but I think that we can get by without 200 of them without our kida loves being ruined. As I said in another post the town should be a responsible employer but does not have the responsibility of being an employer. You want to have it all amd have someone elae pay for it, move to a socialist country if they will take you and see how it is working there.
Montclair Public February 29, 2012 at 07:21 PM
No, I am not an aide. Yes, I want to the aides to have it all, $23,000 a year and the opportunity to go to a doctor. please stop.
Right of Center February 29, 2012 at 07:40 PM
The fact remains, Had the teachers union permitted a $40 increase in per month member premiums, the aides could have been covered. $40!
QBY33 February 29, 2012 at 08:59 PM
Is Renee Baskerville stil lon the Board of School Estimates? I do recall her being the only one on it last year that was a BIG supporter of Para's benefits! Ms.Baskerville where are you???
joe fischer February 29, 2012 at 09:23 PM
Montclair needs a zero increase, please save our diversity and stop the over spending.
Rhoda Kriesel February 29, 2012 at 11:04 PM
Objectivity, logic and reality need be applied generously to BOE and township budgets this year, and the thought process needs to transparent to the public. Let's take it from the top: Define: - what expenditures are essential and why - cost vs benefit? - who has requested/authorized this expenditure - is it increase or decrease of previous - why? - What resources are needed to support this need? what is the best way to get them? Any short or long term repercussions? In other words, specific goal with specific benefits, and well-defined strategies to make them real which reflect the Montclair value system of today, not of yesterday.


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