The Montclair Board of Education approved a tentative 2012-2013 budget on Monday night that includes no increase to the school tax levy, no decreases to current programs or staff, and allows $4,696,392 from the fund balance to be used for tax reduction.
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.
School Board President Shelly Lombard said the budget could still be changed before final approval at a meeting scheduled March 19.
But before the board even got to the nitty-gritty of the budget on Monday night, three hot topics were addressed by the public as well as by school officials: a proposed $933,000 in the capital finance budget for a new artifical turf at Heningburg Field, more support for the Adult School of Montclair, and a restoration in foreign language teachers at the elementary level.
John Porcelli, assistant principal at Montclair High School, told board members that an artificial turf was needed to replace the natural grass playing surface at Heningburg Field across from the Montclair High School gym.
"If we turfed the field it could be accessed by physical education classes all day long instead of them having to walk to Fortunato Field," he said.
"The band also would be able to have a home," he said. "When the field is wet the band can't use it."
In short, Porcelli noted, the new turf makes a lot of sense from several different perspectives.
Porcelli and supporters of the project said they are hoping to obtain some grant money to offset costs.
But two people who live near the high school stood up to speak against the new turf.
"I don't see why they need a turf field to practice," said Tom King, who lives next door to the field. "Having been a teenage boy myself, I always liked getting dirty."
Jon Bonesteel, head of the Adult School of Montclair's Board of Trustees, also made a presentation Monday night. He said that the school may have to close within 18 to 24 months due to financial difficulties.
Last year, the school board—facing financial challenges—placed the funding of health benefits for the Adult School's three employees back on the shoulders of the Adult School itself.
The school district had been covering the benefits since 1967.
Many people stood up to speak in support of the Adult School including longtime supporter Walter Springer.
"This school makes an investment in members of the community who don't have kids in the school system and who pay taxes," he said.
Bonesteel emphasized that the Adult School is asking for incremental help only and that it would be able to cover the costs of health benefits—not estimated at about $53,000—within five years.
The budget approved Monday night did not give the Adult School what it was looking for but, as board members said, the budget still could be tweaked before March 19.
In addition, Gayl Shepard, president of the Montclair Education Association, asked Monday night that foreign language teachers be reinstated at the elementary level.
She and others said that the use of computer programs is simply not adequate.
She said that, if language teachers are not returned to elementary schools, students will be missing out on six years of learning, making them less "marketable" when they graduate from high school.
The school board has scheduled a final vote on the budget for Monday, March 19. After that the budget will go before the five-member Board of School Estimate, which has scheduled a public hearing on March 26 and a final vote on April 2.
The school estimate meetings are open to the public and will be held at 7 p.m. in the George Inness Annex of Montclair High School, located at 141 Park Street.
To look at the budget go