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School Board Adopts Budget With No Tax Increase

Board won't spend nearly $1 million on controversial artificial turf proposal

 

The Montclair Board of Education unanimously approved a 2012-2013 budget of $114 million on Monday night that includes no tax increase, no decreases to current programs or staff, and allows millions from the fund balance to be used for tax reduction down the road.

Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez said the budget also will allow the district to spend $828,315 to hire a dozen full- or part-time teachers or staff. The plan is to hire three student counselors at the elementary level, two middle school literacy teachers, and two teachers for the small learning communities at Montclair High School, among other employees.

One of the biggest surprises of the night came toward the start of the school board meeting when members announced that $933,000 previously proposed in the capital finance budget for new artifical turf at Heningburg Field had been taken off the table.

"At this point the field is not something we'd like to take on," said School Board President Shelly Lombard to a round of applause.

At a previous board meeting, various residents expressed displeasure with the idea of spending so much money on turf in a troubled economic climate.

Lombard noted that to pay for the field, more bonds would have to be issued, which translates into more debt for the town.

In addition, the district's budget does not give additional support to the Adult School of Montclair or to the Montclair Community Pre-K, much to the chagrin of those institutions' many supporters. Nor does it restore foreign language teachers at the elementary level.

But it does include one-time funding for various other projects at several schools including:

—$100,000 for improvements to Mount Hebron Middle School's technology infrastructure

—$130,000 for server virtualization

—$140,000 for Mount Hebron lab improvements

—$300,000 for tech equipment at schools throughout the district

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

—$374,000 for textbooks throughout the district

—$100,000 for Montclair High School improvements

In addition, the budget reflects an increase in state aid of $1,937,871—from $4,648,780 to $6,586,651—and a transfer of $950,000 from the fund balance into a capital reserve account for use in future years.

In general, the budget is almost $3 million below the state's adjusted tax levy CAP.

The good news, Business Administrator Dana Sullivan said, is that the district could wind up by June 30, 2012 with a nearly $10 million surplus. That figure is the result of more than $5.7 million in surplus funds left over from last year combined with the fact that the district is likely to under spend its current budget by as much as $4 million.

Lombard said the goal is to put surplus money toward the lowering of property tax levies during the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years.

Board members say they intend to gradually reduce the district's surplus over several years rather than spend it all at one time. Lombard also said the board plans to work with the town to reduce the debt service costs on bonds. She noted that the board wants to use the reserve fund to decrease borrowing for capital projects in the future.

"We plan to bring the surplus down gradually year after year," said School Board member Norman Rosenblum. "We feel the surplus was too much and too high and we want to bring it down to an acceptable level."

Meanwhile, the school board also voted Monday night on a 2012-2013 capital finance budget totaling $2,936,000 that includes $749,000 for roofing.

In addition, some $336,000 will be spent on repairs to sidewalks through the district; $110,000 for upgrades to the kitchen at Nishuane Elementary School; $18,000 for the repainting of the gym at Nishuane; $55,000 for replacement of the flooring at Renaissance Middle School; and $370,000 to renovate the library at Mount Hebron so that it becomes a Project Lead The Way laboratory.

Monday night's school board meeting couldn't have been more different than the when dozens of incensed union members stormed out yelling "you should be ashamed" by the passage of a $110 million budget that outsourced many of the district's classroom aides.

Yet there were dozens of Montclair Education Association members in the audience Monday night and—as he has at least 10 times before—classroom aide Jim Zarrilli stood to ask that health benefits taken away last year be restored to the district's paraprofessionals.

School board members say the issue is part of the board's ongoing contract negotiations with the union.

"Don't make our lives a negotiating tool," Zarrilli said before receiving a standing ovation.

The school budget now goes before the Board of School Estimate which will hold a public hearing on March 26 before adoption of the budget on April 2.

For more information on the details of the budget go here.

For more information on the budget and on the rest of the news from Monday night's school board meeting, check out Montclair Patch on Tuesday morning.

A. Gideon March 20, 2012 at 03:40 AM
BTW, the district's budget information may be found at http://www.montclair.k12.nj.us/WebPage.aspx?Id=699 - and this includes something like the slides that were presented this evening (an earlier version, if I understood correctly). That also includes the schedule for the upcoming BOSE meetings. It appears that there's a meeting on March 22 (this Thursday) as well as March 26. ...Andrew
Cary Africk March 20, 2012 at 10:42 AM
There has been much talk about "reducing the debt," or "eliminating the debt." Let me clarify some issues. I was a member of the Capital Finance Committee in the previous administration of then Mayor Ed Remsen. At that time being on a Committee was an honor. The Capital Finance Committee had some of the most knowledgeable Municipal Finance people in the country. Until recently it still did. I have also been Council liaison for the Capital Finance Committee for the last four years. The Committee was responsible for the overall review of debt and the refinancing of short term debt in 2010. As most know this Council voted unanimously not only to prohibit the Committee from speaking last month, but upon urging of the Township Manager the Committee was virtually dissolved. The entire Council, other than myself, voted in favor of the dissolution. So much for serious intentions of addressing our debt. The Town has upwards of $225MM in debt. Each year we accumulate more debt. As we've seen in this year's school capital budget the schools alone are planning on about $3MM in additional debt. The Town is also planning new debt. Things have to be repaired. Repairs can either come out of operating funds, or debt issued. You can fix your roof by saving for it, or getting a home equity loan, for example. Unless we pay off MORE than we take ON our debt will continue to rise. Our debt consumes over 15% of our Municipal Budget.
Cary Africk March 20, 2012 at 10:48 AM
Debt, continued ...... We pay MORE in debt service each year than we pay for our entire police department. Given a strategy of not INCREASING our debt, but only spending what we pay off, we'll have the debt on our books forever. If we stopped spending, it would take 70 years at paying off at $3MM a year. Anyone telling you that Montclair can "eliminate" its debt, or decrease it substantially is someone not very good with numbers. A good strategy might be for a Committee to examine debt for the ENTIRE town. The Taxpayer pays the debt whether its for a much needed new roof for a school, repairing the equipment at Clary Anderson, "complete" streets, or carpeting for the Library. Come to think of it, we DID have a Committee that did just that.
tryintosurvive March 20, 2012 at 11:59 AM
"Anyone telling you that Montclair can "eliminate" its debt, or decrease it substantially is someone not very good with numbers" I think that this is one of the reasons that most people will be happy to see the current council replaced. The town budget reviews underway now seem to ignore the debt and expense issue entirely. They consist of each department saying give me more and here is why. It seems that currently no one is in charge that recognizes the problem and is willing to do something about it.
Shelley Emling (Editor) March 20, 2012 at 12:04 PM
Shelly Lombard made a point last night of saying that the board plans to work closely with the town to try to bring down debt levels.
Cary Africk March 20, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Shelly can certainly work with the Town to bring down SPENDING levels, but this year's capital budget doesn't demonstrate that. The schools have OLD infrastructure that needs to be kept up. We seem to be doing an excellent job of doing just that. Management of finances is the direct responsibility of the Town's finance department, not the Council. That being said, this Council seems satisfied to not ask the questions they should be asking. Numbers are presented that make no sense but no one questions them. Finances seem to be managed by "faith."
Cary Africk March 20, 2012 at 12:35 PM
My point is that the schools have to spend capital money. Again, the Capital Finance Committee was helpful in making sure all the questions were being asked, but that Committee was abolished by this Council.
Shelley Emling (Editor) March 20, 2012 at 01:02 PM
Good points Cary.. thanks!
frank rubacky March 20, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Reading the various recaps of last night's remarks by BOE members, it seems the school annual operating costs are finally aligned to the tax levy amount and any State funding is above that for one time expenses, etc. My point being that we are less reliant on variations in State funding to ensure the basic level of education we want. Combined with the Board's recent track record, their restatement of their commitment to continue to find efficiencies and reduce debt, I must compliment them on their accomplishments.
Stuart Weissman March 20, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Cary, The bigger issue to me is that the BOE has done a fine job creating surpluses in their budget, yet the municipal government continues to take advantage of the space this frees up in the 2% tax increase cap. Correct me if I'm wrong, but last year the municipal government was proud of their > 9% municipal levy increase and are equally as proud of their planned > 4.2% increase this year. The manager and council has no problem spending what the schools are saving. And the numbers are even worse, when you consider that the town bonded nearly a million per year to pay for the snafu in not performing the reassessments earlier. We moved out of Montclair mainly due to what we felt were problems with the schools (no librarians/no foreign language teachers at my son's school for example). Yet the manager and council seem to think that spending above state minimums for the library or for streetscapes is a wise use of town money. I really hope the town wakes up and gives the Turner slate a chance. How Montclair can justify spending (what will be 1.5 million) on on streetscapes when the elementary schools are learning Spanish from a DVD, is just simply astounding. And last I looked, interest rates are starting to creep up (as expected). This means our debt service will increase, without issuing more debt, forcing more services to be cut.
Stuart Weissman March 20, 2012 at 02:38 PM
I'm with you Frank, but I worry that the bulk of their savings have come from the abundance of recent retirements. I hope I'm wrong.
Shelley Emling (Editor) March 20, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Does anyone have anything to say about the impact of losing the foreign language teachers at the elementary level and the success of Rosetta Stone?
Montclair Lover March 20, 2012 at 03:34 PM
I was very impressed with the self congratulations at the end of the meeting and especially Ms. Lombard's new hairstyle.
Stuart Weissman March 20, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Shelley, My son learned Spanish from RS. Well not really. By the end of his first year, he couldn't remember the colors or how to say please or thank you. He does not have a retention problem in any of his other subjects. I recall seeing studies which revealed that children do not retain much unless taught by a live speaker.
Montclair Public March 20, 2012 at 05:02 PM
I love it when Ms. Lombard -- when discussing the legitimate need to keep taxes in line -- addresses the importance of maintaining a diverse Montclair. But will it be a compassionate diversity? When she commits the BOE to a K-12 mission and the BOE turns its back on funding for the Pre-K center, whose children are more likely to be affected by the inability of the program to provide scholarships? Still not a word of remorse for the unnecessary stripping of teacher aide benefits, many of whom live in the community and have dedicated years to the schools. Shelley, thank you for at least mentioning Jim Zarrilli. Perhaps an in-depth look at why this man has literally taken to begging the board for reinstatement of his benefits would humanize this sordid story in a way that has not been done here or in the Montclair Times. As for RS, as opposed to live teachers, you get what you pay for.
hereswhatithink March 20, 2012 at 05:32 PM
I can tell you that my ninth grade daughter who had a teacher for a foreign language at the elementary school level said the following after one month of Spanish class in 6th grade "I learned more Spanish in one month of 6th grade than I did in all six years of elementary school."
ira shor March 20, 2012 at 05:39 PM
The BOE under Mrs. Lombard is undermining our kids' education. Rosetta Stone is no substitute for real teachers. Textbooks and computer screens are no substitutes for inspiring projects in small classrooms. Student assistants are no substitute for career aides. Refusal to spend available funds for smaller classes injures all kids. Large classes mean less individual mentoring, more seatwork, more wasted teacher time enforcing discipline, more opportunities for student bullying, all of which I witness weekly when I'm a school volunteer and class parent. Mrs. Lombard's BOE refuses to spend the money it has on what our kids need most, a shameful choice in a town this smart. High-quality schools bring families to Montclair willing to pay high sale prices and high taxes for the sake of their children's educations. Undermining the schools undermines our market appeal. Anti-tax zealotry has captured the BOE which is willing to pay hundreds of thousands for lifeless technology and dull textbooks but nothing for its essential aides or for smaller classes which bring learning to life. Our schools, our property values, and our kids are being undermined by anti-tax zealotry. When Mrs. Lombard and the BOE rise for applause, remind them that our children deserve better.
Sue Young March 20, 2012 at 05:44 PM
the budget information posted of the district website last night is the information that was presented at the Board meeting. Sue
Shelley Emling (Editor) March 20, 2012 at 05:51 PM
I know there are still good Spanish teachers at Mount Hebron... have 2 kids there..
ira shor March 20, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Middle school is late to begin 2nd lang study. Kids in k-5 retain natural ability to learn a second or third language with little difficulty if instruction is "live and natural." Waiting until kids are 12 leaves that ability behind. Anti-tax zealots in town and BOE are following the corporate model now undermining American schools and our struggling American economy---cut staff, cut wages, cut benefits, prefer outsourced cheap labor, prefer hardware to human beings, privatize, suppress the public sector.
Shelley Emling (Editor) March 20, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Oh, I agree Ira 100 percent.. middle school is way too late to start a foreign language.. I know from experience!
A. Gideon March 20, 2012 at 06:15 PM
"Anti-tax zealotry has captured the BOE which is willing to pay hundreds of thousands for lifeless technology and dull textbooks but nothing for its essential aides or for smaller classes which bring learning to life. " It's worth examining the results discussed in: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/13/education/mooresville-school-district-a-laptop-success-story.html before throwing about words like "zealotry". "Student assistants are no substitute for career aides." If "student assistants" is referring to whom I think, then this is a gross misrepresentation. These students are trained, albeit inexperienced, educators. They're people who will be teaching in the very near future. I've recently spent some time with some at Nishuane, and been very pleased with what they bring into the classroom. These are, quite simply "career teachers" right at the beginning of that career. They've all the enthusiasm and recent training one would expect. ...Andrew
A. Gideon March 20, 2012 at 06:23 PM
"Things have to be repaired. Repairs can either come out of operating funds, or debt issued. You can fix your roof by saving for it, or getting a home equity loan, for example." I'm no accountant, but I was thinking along those lines recently as I looked through the new budget book. If we're spending about the same amount each year on maintaining our physical plant, doesn't that suggest that the maintenance should part of the operating budget rather than the capital budget? Otherwise, there's no way to catch up. ...Andrew
ira shor March 20, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Student aides are wonderful; I interact with one every week. But, they are not legally allowed to interact with children unless a certified teacher is in attendance. They cannot supervise recess on the playground, for example. Our wonderful student aides take time away from overworked classroom teachers with large classes because the teacher has to instruct the student-teacher--this internship is part of their college coursework and the cooperating teacher is one of the student's contracted mentors. No doubt the student teachers are excellent, eager, and benefit from the arrangement for which they work hard...but these fine young people who are unpaid are NO substitute for full-time, career aides. Schools systems everywhere are looking for cheap labor ways to downsize their wage packages, and the removal of veteran, trained, career staff who earn their meager wages and deserve health care is one option for anti-tax zealots on and off the BOE.
Cary Africk March 20, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Legally, maintenance is an operating expense. Fixing a roof is an operating expense. Replacing a roof is a capital expense. Home equity loan was a bad example, I admit. Home equity loans can be used for most anything.
A. Gideon March 20, 2012 at 09:01 PM
"Fixing a roof is an operating expense. Replacing a roof is a capital expense." Take a look at http://www.montclair.k12.nj.us/WebPageFiles/699/budget-12-13-capital-120319.pdf and you'll see some "repairs" (eg. "Kitchen Repairs"). You appear to be suggesting that these belong in the operating budget. I've some difficulty believing that the capital budget includes items that it is legally precluded from including, but I suppose this isn't completely impossible. ...Andrew
What I See March 20, 2012 at 11:24 PM
I guess it's a well-kept secret that Hillside still has a Spanish teacher and Mandarin teacher. Students may take a language as an aesthetic; if they don't, then they don't get any foreign language exposure in grades 3-5. Teaching a World Language using software and/or videos in a public school (especially considering the property taxes we pay) is unbelievable.
Shelley Emling (Editor) March 21, 2012 at 12:14 AM
Didn't realize that Hillside still has actual language teachers.. thanks for the info.
QBY33 March 21, 2012 at 01:30 AM
We love Hillside and my son is doing very well with Mandarin! I think kids spend enough time in front of computers/video games and replacing actual teachers with a computer program is just crazy. Ira, thank you for your wise comments. Student teachers are great, but we all need to remember they are here a limited time. They aren't there at the beginning of the year, for over a month in Dec. and Jan. and they leave mid-May! They can't replace TA's. You made a great point, they can't cover lunch or recess, nor can they be left alone with the children at any time. I have said it before, and I will keep saying it....schools CAN'T run without paraprofessionals, so let's treat them right. It's sad what is going on in this country with education. Montclair is following instead of leading. It's a shame.
Montclair Public March 22, 2012 at 06:59 PM
"Montclair is following instead of leading. It's a shame." That about sums it up

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