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The School District's Surplus: What Will The Money Be Spent On?

School Board President Shelly Lombard said the board is weighing its options

Montclair School Board President Shelly Lombard wants to make herself crystal clear.

She told Patch she had no idea the district would wind up sitting on a $5.7 million surplus when formulating the $110 million budget approved earlier this year.

"The board had no idea," she said. "We were all stunned."

Only a year ago, a proposed a long list of cost-cutting measures that included half day kindergarten, reduced course offerings at Montclair High School, and the consolidation of Renaissance with other middle schools.

The school board never had to go that far when hammering out a spending plan but the did make cuts and gave health benefits only to classroom aides who'd been on the job for 20 years or longer.

Since then, school employees such as Jim Zarrilli, an aide for eight years, have stood up at school board meetings, passionately pleading for the return of benefits.

"What did we ever do to be treated with such disrespect?" he said.

But at a the Montclair School District's business administrator Dana Sullivan announced that there was $5.7 million left over from the 2010/2011 operating budget, or nearly double the surplus reported by the district the year before.

Since then, Lombard said she's received angry emails from residents wondering why the board entertained such dramatic spending cuts earlier this year when the district was sitting on such a large surplus.

"I want to be crystal clear and say we had no idea about this surplus," she said. "We started last summer with budget working groups ... people had been complaining about taxes for years.

"Some nights we were talking about school closings until nearly midnight," she said. "Do you think we'd have done that if we'd have known about this surplus?"

So what will the board do with the money now that they know the district has it?

"I believe you have to use it to offset taxes and you can't do things like pay down debt," Lombard said, adding that she will need to investigate the board's options.

"I think the one thing we need to be conscious of is that we can't use the money to hire a bunch of new people because then how will we pay them the next year and the years after?" she said. "You could use it for a recurring expense but then how would you be able to afford it going forward?

"But using the money to buy computers or textbooks or to purchase a one time thing is logical," she added.

Lombard said residents have asked whether benefits will be restored to the aides.

"I do not know what will happen yet as we just got this information," she said. "It's on the table and it's one of the things we'll have to think about."

In the end, Lombard said she feels as though the board was blindsided.

"I would not have spent the kind of time we did on the budget last year if I'd have known this," she said.

In addition to the surplus, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-8) also announced this week that the Montclair school district will receive $9,384 in additional funding.

It's part of $8.2 million in new federal Education Jobs monies made available to New Jersey school districts.

The new funding is comprised of $4 million that was previously allocated to South Carolina plus another $4.2 million from New Jersey's unused portion of what it could have used for administrative costs.

mounties November 08, 2011 at 01:23 AM
Read the newspapers much? Do yourself a favor and go to the state BOE website and look up the Montclair salaries. Montclair has a 77 Million dollar school budget and that is too much. More than other districts our size. Just some examples, Montclair has 9 VPs in the District, 5 at the High school. We also have 11 SACs in the district and that is 4 more than Ridgewood. The problem with you liberals is you have the same old line; you smear and lie, smear and lie. The real facts are that we spend too much money!!!!!!! By the way I like Tierney’s burgers you probably like tofu!
tryintosurvive November 08, 2011 at 02:58 AM
I disagree with "Its not like jobs in schools pay well, they don't." When I last checked there were over 100 employees in the school district who make over $90,000. Most of them are teachers, not VPs. It is not a fortune, but this is for 10 months work with full health benefits for families and pensions.Yes, I believe that they work hard, but we have far more staff that make this much money as compared to other school districts of our size.
mounties November 08, 2011 at 03:08 AM
I agree with the overstaffing, Montclair is top heavy and needs to cut some high saleries.
Leslie Masuzzo November 08, 2011 at 11:52 AM
Using some of the surplus to restore health benefits for the aides is a no brainer. 200 aides out of 1,000 school staff and the lowest on the salary scale should not have been singled out for removal of benefits. More than half of aides reside in Montclair. Also, more than half relied on the health benefits to support our families. For those who were retained (and the aide workforce was reduced) we are working the same number of hours, are assigned to more students in some cases but do not receive a living wage. In fact those of us paying for COBRA now make less than $5/hour. My son has a seizure disorder and I'm afraid to switch to another plan. I'm using the money I've saved over 10 years for my son's college to pay for our health benefits. Other aides have dropped their healthcare. One colleague cashed out her husband's life insurance. From the beginning this was an unfair, imbalanced cut that comes dangerously close to a social injustice that this school district was established to reverse. As for the bottom line, restore our benefits as of Jan. 1 and establish a new contract with the MEA that is fiscally responsible and sustainable for the town of Montclair.
A. Gideon November 08, 2011 at 02:00 PM
"I agree with the overstaffing, Montclair is top heavy and needs to cut some high saleries." Yet the Budget Book for 2011-2012 shows per-student administrative costs 7.6% below the state average (of districts over 3501 students in size). Per-student spending is similarly below the state average, while spending on instruction is 5.3% higher. These seem like good numbers, and contrary to such claims as the one above. That doesn't mean that the claims are necessarily wrong, but there does need to be some evidence to counter the facts before us. ...Andrew
A. Gideon November 08, 2011 at 02:07 PM
"Yes, I believe that they work hard, but we have far more staff that make this much money as compared to other school districts of our size." I've not looked at employment numbers; where do you see that we've a higher paid teaching staff than other districts? I have to add that I'm not sure that this is a Bad Thing. The MEA contract is such that teachers that have been here longer, and have put more time into the study of education, get paid more. To steal someone's phrase from above, I think that a "blunt axe". There are plenty of experienced and well-educated teachers that are burned out or otherwise below average, and young and lightly educated teachers that can really reach students. But, in the general case at least, I think it a Good Thing to have a better educated and more experienced teaching staff. ...Andrew
Montclair Public November 09, 2011 at 03:25 AM
The problem with "you conservatives" is that you confuse opinion with fact. still waiting for you to provide evidence that the montclair schools are overstaffed. don't tell me there are 9 VPs in the district; tell me what they do or don't do. or tell me that you believe the resources could be put to better use with librarians, nurses, smaller class sizes, better music and language programs and the like. but you can't because you are a typical public-employe bashing resentful right-wing blowhard.
mounties November 09, 2011 at 03:39 AM
First of all, I do not drink so put down the sushi and your second bottle of wine and read my lips” No More Taxes” Don’t you have school tomorrow? You should go to bed so you can sleep off your drunken state of mind. Remember you are molding children’s minds and by the way, 11 SACs and 9 VPs in the districts is too many! I hope this is easy enough for you to understand.
MC November 09, 2011 at 04:20 AM
Agreed, Robin. And I, like you, Ira, was at every BoE meeting. And I am a school/class volunteer -- at 3 schools (elementary through MHS), who fervently supports public education.
MC November 09, 2011 at 04:22 AM
yes...computer should have been committee...autocorrect to a misspelling on my iPhone. Although, given the function, may you were really a volunteer computer to work through all the analysis your group did.
Montclair Public November 09, 2011 at 07:43 PM
blowhard on board, beware
mounties November 09, 2011 at 10:56 PM
Mr. Alvarez is a free spender.....
mounties November 09, 2011 at 11:00 PM
Stick to the liberal code of lying, name calling and taxation.
mounties November 09, 2011 at 11:50 PM
not 77 Million but 110 million!
LynNell Hancock November 10, 2011 at 04:01 PM
I watched with great sadness and outrage last year, as this school board gutted our schools of precious resources -- librarians, Spanish teachers, benefits for our valued paraprofessionals and aides. Now we find out it was all unnecessary? We have a surprising $9 million-plus in the budget no one realized? It's time to move beyond finger pointing, and repair the damage done. Not purchase hardware with it, as our short-sighted school board president has suggested! Reinvest in our trained professionals--return the benefits to our aides and paraprofessionals so we can attract the finest to our schools. I have paid taxes in Montclair for 20 years. I have no use for a couple hundred dollar tax rebate. It's far more valuable to me, and to the future of this town, to use my tax dollars to invest in teachers. LynNell, mother of two, grandmother of two
ira shor November 10, 2011 at 04:29 PM
Good morning--I agree with LynNell Hancock that the surplus must be spent on increased staffing--librarians, aides and their healthcare, etc. Spending it on computers as Mrs. Lombard suggests is a waste of money. Computers don't teach kids; teachers, aides, librarians teach kids. Good schooling requires high-quality professionals who are given the small classes and aides they need to do their job well. Mrs. Lombard's suggestion to return the surplus to taxpayers or to buy hardware will yield a tiny tax rebate like last year's $131 per ratable, a sum that no way justifies the year-long turmoil and disruption caused to families, kids, schools, and town civility. Another tiny rebate will further damage our schools and further hurt our property values which depend on a recognized quality school system which attracts professional families as buyers. Perhaps Mrs. Lombard still doesn't get what our property values rest on: good schools in a leafy town known for civility. I once again urge her and Mrs. Sullivan to resign for the good of the town so that the BOE can move ahead not backwards....respectfully, ira shor.
A. Gideon November 10, 2011 at 05:56 PM
"I agree with LynNell Hancock that the surplus must be spent..." Once again, this is based upon the idea that the surplus is extra money. It is not. This is money collected from taxpayers that must be used as revenue in the 2012-2013 budget. Technically, we could spend it on expenses we'd not otherwise choose to fund, but the direct consequence of this is higher taxes. If the district wants to considering buying more aides, librarians, etc. at the cost of higher taxes, that's something to consider. But it is disingenuous to try to hide the consequence of such a choice - higher taxes - by claiming that there's "extra money to spend". ...Andrew
tryintosurvive November 10, 2011 at 07:09 PM
I find it ironic that in the same week that the town "found" 7 million dollars in the school budget, the town had to borrow 4 million dollars to fund tax refunds and buy things. Now there seems to be a rush to quickly spend the 7 million, while we hear that there may be a need to borrow more money to fund additional tax rebates. Ya cant make this stuff up.
Stuart Weissman November 10, 2011 at 08:18 PM
I think the money should go towards replenishing the gambling bankroll which our educators are rapidly depleting down in Atlantic City this weekend.
A. Gideon November 10, 2011 at 09:44 PM
I'm fairly impressed that this surplus has grown to M$7 as we've discussed it. More seriously: The point @tryintosurvive makes is interesting. Part of the problem is that the "wall" between town and school expenses and revenues makes it impossible for us to balance out bad years of one with good years of another. On the other hand, keeping them separate does encourage accountability on both sides. I'd be peeved if our current town administration's mismanagement were hidden behind the school's "excess conservatism" (if that's what we can call it for the moment {8^). On the other hand, ultimately both town and school feed off of our property taxes. This is part of why it is disturbing how many people want to treat this money as "found money", ignoring that this is money that taxpayers paid into the district. Yes, we paid it too early. And I do believe that that's a problem. But that doesn't change the fact that these are tax dollars, and that they must be spent with appropriate care. ...Andrew
Montclair Public November 13, 2011 at 08:38 PM
While Lombard and Sullivan consider stepping down, may I suggest that some of the other board members -- Leslie Larson and Robin Culwin come to mind -- who feigned sympathy for those victimized but never protested the outrage of it -- be removed as well. We need advocates for our schools, not bean counters looking to placate the angriest taxpayers, many of whom would be happy if we closed half the schools and had class sizes of 60. R
mark haefeli November 14, 2011 at 03:26 PM
This seems to be just another example of the financial disarray the Montclair community tolerates. Having misused tax payers dollars yet again, by debating school closings, educational cuts, proposed tax hikes, we come to find out there is a surplus of nearly ten million dollars. I have to wonder why Ms. Sullivan and her committee are not required to conduct economic forecasts prior to the unnecessary gyrations of board members, community members, school administrators and the like. The problem here is that there is no "accountability". This is simply just another, "oh, guess what... we made a bit of a mistake...." scenario, an "oversight"...!!! This type of shortsightedness and incompetence has cost the children, tax payers, families and educators such as teachers aides and former employees, literally their health and welfare. This would not be tolerated anywhere in corporate America. In Montclair, there resides some of the most brilliant financial minds in the New York metropolitan area. (I am not one!). It is time to step up to the plate and take control of the asylum before the inmates break this down beyond repair. Let me know, and i will do whatever i can to assist. Mark Haefeli
Stuart Weissman November 14, 2011 at 03:29 PM
Elect the board and your accountability will improve. Continue to let the mayor appoint the board and the accountability disappears.
tryintosurvive November 14, 2011 at 03:47 PM
I would suspect that we are one of only a few communities who do not either elect the school board or vote on the school budget. Unless we do at least one of these, we are at the mercy of appointed people doing what they believe is best. The current school board and Shelly Lombard at least seem willing to listen and are somewhat open about the decisions that are being made, but I don't think that they are under any obligation to do so.
mark haefeli November 14, 2011 at 07:22 PM
And Montclair has one of the most serious drug and alcohol abusing student populations in the state with many parents who condone minors drinking, "as long as it is done in the house...!" Pathetic....we need more then counselors, parents need to take off the rose colored glasses and get real.
mark haefeli November 14, 2011 at 07:52 PM
It starts well before the appointment of school board members...which in spite of this situation...I think is the right thing to do under the present political atmosphere. Fact, there is such a pathetic voter turn out in Montclair for even presidential years, that by voting for school board officials and school budgets, we run the risk of total incompetence and tampering with our countries best investment in the future, our children. No, I believe the BOA does a fine job. This begins and ends with re-building a decayed structure with urgency and a new sense of reality called "accountability". Right now we are driven by the inferior options we are forced to choose from in these voting booths, who then become our "elected officials", in charge of our finances! Sorry folks, sad but true, compared to our resident working professionals, it is pathetic ! We need a real "business titan" and a financial committee that oversees all these decisions, to which elected officials and our town manager are held "accountable"! We need these people to step up to the plate, take this town back, and run it like a Fortune 500 company, not a summer camp. Goodness knows we have enough talent here! Come out come out wherever you are. Do you think Mayor Bloomberg will move to Montclair!
Don November 14, 2011 at 08:51 PM
How could they do that? If you read http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~appel/avc/ , you'll find that the 80s era voting machines we currently use are being sold for pennies to the dollar on the Internet. Experts say they are so insecure that election results can be manipulated. So, one might even argue, we are not really voting, so much as acting in a sort of play, until we can vote securely. >"Elect the board and your accountability will improve"
Dude November 24, 2011 at 10:38 PM
below, joe says "revolutionizing and improving our schools while cutting cost" - that's impossible - even w/cutting some inefficiencies, etc., "revolutionizing and improving" will take significantly higher investment than we make....and mr. zorich, there are no words to describe your ignorance...
Peter Zorich November 24, 2011 at 11:16 PM
Hey "Dude".. Instead of lashing out at me for being "ignorant", maybe you could actually address the issue intelligently without resorting to ad hominem attacks.
Jimmy greenbauch November 25, 2011 at 12:42 AM
Dude, montclair has been top heavey for years. We do not need all the administration and less teachers, we need more peopel in the classroom not in Central Office. Cut VP's & SAC....

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