School Board Approves Tentative $114 Million Budget

New turf for Heningburg Field, the Adult School of Montclair, and foreign language teachers were all hot topics


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

Kyle Martinowich March 07, 2012 at 07:49 PM
I believe also that the BOE Budget must be approved by the Executive County Superintendent Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod. Essex County's Dr. Feinsod was appointed by Jon Corzine in 2009. This is why voting is so important.....
frank rubacky March 07, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Isn't the Capital Budget outside the approval of main budget? What happens if the BoSE doesn't approve the budget? Doesn't it go to the State for approval?
A. Gideon March 07, 2012 at 08:23 PM
"Isn't the Capital Budget outside the approval of main budget?" If this is supposed to mean that both budgets require their own approval, then it is correct. For example: the operating budget had to be approved at the last meeting for it to be sent to the county for its review as per the state's schedule. The capital budget, however, did not need to be approved at that meeting. I believe that it must be approved at the next meeting, but I'm not sure. ...Andrew
A. Gideon March 07, 2012 at 08:25 PM
"As near as I can tell the Board of School Estimate doesn't hold meetings, doesn't review planned expenditures or do anything else." The BOSE meets two or three times a year. This occurs at the end of the BOE budget approval cycle, and happens each and every year. ...Andrew
A. Gideon March 07, 2012 at 08:30 PM
"Hard to hold the BOE accountable when you don't elect them nor have a say on their budget. That's all I'm sayin'." Now, as we enter the election cycle for the town council - notably, the position of mayor - is exactly the right time to be thinking about BOE accountability. Under our current model, the BOE is appointed exclusively by the mayor. That is, the mayor has total, complete, and unchecked control over BOE membership. This is why I've stated repeatedly that we must know more about each mayoral candidate's perspective and position with respect to our schools. If we elect a mayor that opposes the magnet system, for example, we'll end up with a BOE that is aimed at dismantlng the magnet system. If we elect a mayor that wants all courses taught in Gaelic, we'll have a BOE aimed at transitioning to a Gaelic curriculum. We can debate the various traits we want to see (or not see) in any other position on the town council. But the mayor must be chosen for his or her plans for the schools. This is, unfortunately, the only real control we citizens/taxpayers/parents have over the BOE. ...Andrew
Martin Schwartz March 07, 2012 at 08:47 PM
The BOSE should be meeting year round. It should conduct information, evaluative and on-going investigatory hearings for Councilors on major BOE policies and expenditures. This way, Councilors can not say they aren't aware of what's really going on in the schools. The BOSE should also formally institutionalize the various budget and policy review committees the current BOE chair has established -- so they don't get lost or emasculated in transition from one school Board to another. Those committees can still report to the BOE chair, but should be formally established as part of the BOSE budgetary review process. We need to become a bit more creative and demanding for additional checks and balances and some more shared responsibilities -- given the structural governing limitations under the Faulkner Act.
Right of Center March 07, 2012 at 08:51 PM
That would be a great specific commitment for a slate to make Martin. Too bad none of them are interested in specifics. Perhaps Turner's slate can "Work to begin to research" that?
Cary Africk March 07, 2012 at 09:06 PM
There is no evidence (I requested minutes of any meeting) that this Board of School Estimate, under Mayor Jerry Fried, has EVER HAD A MEETING, other than the statutory public hearings. One would think that an expenditure of $114MM would suggest SOME discussion. Now what members have said is something to the effect of "Well, we've had lots of one on one meetings, as individuals," i.e. the kind of meetings that can't be verified.
Right of Center March 07, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Are you sure they haven't met, Cary? Or have they just not provided you minutes? Wouldn't "one on one" meetings for official business be illegal? Did you report this to the state Cary? Who said this?
Cary Africk March 07, 2012 at 09:24 PM
And let's not forget the Capital Finance Committee that all of THIS COUNCIL, other than me, voted to disband, had as one of its charges the review of ALL the capital budgets of all the town entities, i.e. library, school, and municipality. In past years they issued exhaustive reports and analysis of capital projects. But the Mayor and his minions decided they didn't LIKE the analysis, so "Off with their heads." Remember, when you vote in May that this Council VOTED to prohibit the Capital Finance Committee from even speaking!
Cary Africk March 07, 2012 at 09:32 PM
ROC, I got this from Dana Sullivan. In writing. No meetings. No minutes. They have said that they've had, as individuals, meetings, i.e. one member of the BOSE meeting with one member of the school administration, etc. Who knows if they did, or didn't? Or maybe they went out to lunch together, or met at a party and chatted for three minutes? The BOSE is a rubber stamp. And, for what it's worth since I've attended meetings for four years BEFORE being elected, Ed Remsen, at the public meetings of the BOSE was known to demand changes, which he got. At least he was paying attention.
jerseygurl March 07, 2012 at 09:34 PM
It would be wise to have ONE entity familiar with all capital projects to take advantage of any economies of scale or to flag potential overlaps etc.
frank rubacky March 07, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Probably a good idea as Township says debt is $235MM, M12 says it is $240MM and RPM says it is $250MM.
Martin Schwartz March 07, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Per Cary's point: while there was some "horse trading" and school board budget reduction under the Remsen council administrations, it was a behind the scenes process. Superintendent Alverez would come in requesting a bit higher than needed and the Council would tell him to come down a couple of million - so everyone looked good. It really was more of a show. What was missing was a serious, multi-faceted analysis of those budgets from multiple views to determine if both value and services were really on target. Because the results of that "hands off" oversight and rubber stamp process under the Remsen era was massive underlying BOE budget escalation, wasteful capital project spending and then mass tax increases which we are all now obviously dealing with today. Today's BOE is doing much better from school board chair Shelly Lombard's resident committees that try to evaluate budget expenditures and initiatives. But there are still problems. The fact that there was a $5 million budget surplus without board knowledge and accountability -- during what was supposed to be a year of cutbacks, givebacks and even potential school closings, still says that central office 'business as usual' is continuing to run the BOE show.
Right of Center March 07, 2012 at 10:28 PM
I agree with Martin. Let's not forget it was the Remsen Administration that "horse traded" us into a $25 million dollar school we did not need. I think Shelly Lombard is doing a terrific job. But I'm simply dumbstruck that heads have not rolled over the unexpected surplus.
Montclair Public March 07, 2012 at 11:03 PM
Don't think the parents whose kids have seen reduced services, loss of writing programs, teachers who actually teach foreign language, nursing cuts, and those whose benefits were cruelly stripped in the context of a huge surplus think Ms. Lombard is doing such a great job. If your kids go to MKA or Newark Academy, perhaps.
Cary Africk March 07, 2012 at 11:57 PM
Ummm ..... Did anyone miss the point where the Town Manager "surprised" everyone by announcing a Municipal $3.2MM surplus? Or the point where the report says we're now $1.8MM UNDER the cap? From being a pauper to having gobs of money in such a short time! Gee, I wonder what happened? Could it have anything to do with a bright, new, CFO? Or how about the bright, new Auditor that the Council fought with me about for years?
Cary Africk March 07, 2012 at 11:57 PM
See above reply to Martin. We have surplus money all over!
Cary Africk March 08, 2012 at 12:03 AM
The new school "story" has many chapters. But I will say this: THIS current Council had the ability to stop it in the Fall of 2008 when the market crashed and ground had yet to be broken. The BOE claimed that there were already contracts in place yet when I asked for the Township Attorney to review the contracts seeing if we could at least postpone the work the BOE refused to give our own Attorney the contracts. But THIS Council had no desire to stop the project. I think you have to look at the individuals and ask them why they supported the project. I suspect they each had different reasons. The way I see it the "new school" was a promise to the Community, and folks were determined to keep that promise. To their credit, the Administration, especially Dana Sullivan, was able to keep the project at $35MM. We had all expected it to be $50MM plus.
frank rubacky March 08, 2012 at 12:47 AM
Or, Cary, the Town Manager read the above Tuesday, "..and allows $4,696,392 from the fund balance to be used for tax reduction." and incorporated it into the municipal budget. Of course, $1.5MM seems to have been re-allocated. If not, does that mean we have $14MM in cash surpluses in all of the different accounts?
joe fischer March 08, 2012 at 01:43 AM
Right of Center, when you are a public official like a vice principal, paid by taxpayer and you state that you need a turf field that costs a Million dollars in a public form like a BOE Meeting, then the public can disagree and an official is open to public criticism, which is what I am doing. I will also send an email to all BOE members, town councilmen and the Mayor. When is this overspending going to stop?
joe fischer March 08, 2012 at 01:55 AM
Montclair public, I disagree with your statement above and a new turf field would be fiscally irresponsible. Not now, in the near future or until the economic climate changes.
walleroo March 08, 2012 at 03:04 AM
Heads never seem to roll in this town.
tryintosurvive March 08, 2012 at 04:19 AM
They will in May, only two current council members are running for re-election. Hopefully an effective group will replace what we have had for quite some time.
joe fischer March 08, 2012 at 04:23 AM
Except the teacher Aids, what a shame! You could have cut 1 VP job and saved 12 aid positions.
jerseygurl March 08, 2012 at 02:18 PM
A "promise" to spend $35mm on the heels of an 8% tax increase in the midst of a global economic collapse when there was no real need for another school - and one existing school may have to close as a result - reeks of fiscal mismanagement. How does the BOE have the power to say no to requests to review contracts that will cost the town $35mm? I am glad these issues are coming out now, prior to a new election. Perhaps we can ask the candidates more in depth questions regarding how they would have handled these past situations. If there are built in protections for entities like the BOE and is it real as difficult or impossible to obtain budgets and contracts regarding expenditures can this be changed? As citizens, do need to petition to change this, or can we sue? Does the council and the BOSE have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers, or can they do whatever they want?
Right of Center March 08, 2012 at 03:20 PM
"Does the council and the BOSE have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers, or can they do whatever they want?" yes and yes. As long as myriad and arcane laws are followed.
John Vincent Lee March 28, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Hello. I would like to inform you that the "John Lee" you were talking to (http://montclair.patch.com/users/john-lee-6) is not the 17 year old John Lee. I am the John Lee that the photography article was written about. please keep this in mind when debating the other John Lee. You may carry on with your debate.
John Vincent Lee March 28, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Hello. I would like to inform you that the "John Lee" Right of Center was talking to (http://montclair.patch.com/users/john-lee-6) is not the 17 year old John Lee. I am the John Lee that the photography article was written about. please keep this in mind when debating the other John Lee. You may carry on with your debate.
John Lee March 28, 2012 at 01:22 AM
wait, the other John Lee is a photographer too - oy - this is going to be really confusing for some people


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