THE BUDGET, NO PHYSICS TEACHER AND THE CONTINUED CALL FOR THE SUPERINTENDENT'S RESIGNATION ARE TOP PRIORITY AT THE FEB. 5 MONTCLAIR BOARD OF EDUCATION MEETING

MONTCLAIR, NJ: Frustrated students and angry parents spent over an hour and a half giving the Board of Education a piece of their mind during the Wednesday meeting. There were several issues on the minds of the public and they weren’t shy about sharing with the Board.

The evening started off with a pleasant performance by students from the Renaissance Middle School. Then the budget presentation. However, at the conclusion, things escalated quickly when the Board now requested that parents state their address before addressing the Board.

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Parents also continued the call for the superintendent's resignation and MEA President Petal Robinson urged the district to take swift action to address pressing issues expressing, "...the district is burning!"

Just to recapture what the public is angry over--Superintendent Parker attended a NAACP Educational Committee meeting in the fall of 2019. During his speech, parents maintain that he made the statement that although he knows "...it may be controversial..." he does "not have a problem with racist teachers so long as it does not affect the instruction."

He returned to a second NAACP meeting in December and admitted to making the statement. He further angered some with his explanation that he grew up on a dairy farm where his family employed four black families. In sharing his upbringing, Parker is alleged to have told the crowd that's why he feels, "...comfortable around black people."

During the prior Board meeting, Parker apologized for the misunderstanding of his words, but parents were not satisfied with the apology.

Prior to public comment, there was a budget presentation, in which, several requests for additional money was made. Significant increases were requested for facilities, legal services, judgments against the district, technology and transportation.

"And I don’t want to be an alarmist, but there are some significant financial issues the district faces," Emidio D’Andrea, Business Administrator for the Montclair Board of Education, stated.

THE BUDGET REVIEW

D’Andrea stated that on February 3, the Finance Committee met and went through the budget which he shared at the meeting. He states that the administration has a lot of work to do over the next few weeks, making tough decisions and recommendations that will be available for the public to see on February 19, when the draft budget will be presented at the Board meeting. The draft is pending the State Aid Allocation and Release which is estimated be slated for February 24 through the 27. 

You can review and download the entire PowerPoint Presentation that was presented at the Board by clicking here: https://www.montclair.k12.nj.us/UserFiles/Servers/Server_889476/File/District/Business%20Office/Budget%202020-2021/Budget%20Presentation%2002-05-2020.pdf

Here are some key highlights D’Andrea went over regarding the Budget at the Board of Education meeting:

Special Education: Our Out of District Tuition is a big portion of the budget. Along with Professional Services are the two biggest items related to special needs students. 

Curriculum: "This is the budget development out of the equity, curriculum and instruction department. Some of the key items on this line item are additional monies being allocated for professional development," he said.

Since the Board is looking to adopt some new textbooks for the new year, which will be reviewed and analyzed as they finalize the budget.

D’Andrea pointed out that Glenfield and Buzz Aldrin had requested special items they are looking for next year and that is why their numbers are much higher than the rest.

The high school is broken out a little more in detail: Guidance Services and Supplies, Graduation and Awards, Special Services, Tuition Alternative Programs, Conferences for staff, supplies and material.

He added, "A significant amount of money is being allocated to enhance the performing arts and music program with instruments and all."

The Athletic Department is trying to develop a uniform replacement plan where on an annual basis; he has allocated money into the plan whereas uniforms are being replaced each year for both male and female sports. So that after a period of time new uniforms are coming into the district. And some are being worked out between the Varsity and Junior Varsity and freshmen levels.

Transportation: "We have a significant increase in our transportation. We have additional outside of district students that are driving up the transportation cost. In addition to that, we’ve had some route changes and some changes to our third party vendors. But we have a new Director of Transportation and are looking at all of our number of students on routes and are looking to make changes to the routes to see if we can bring that number back down. But it is a significant number that has increased over the years," D'Andrea added.

Technology: Technology is also up a significant amount of money. "There is request for various types of technology. Not only for infrastructure but for projectors, Chromebooks, technology devices, so that’s all laid out in that $1.4 Million as you can see close to $800,000 up from the current budget.”

D’Andrea also went through some various other departments and district wide expenditures that are in the budget.

“The first item is architect and engineers to help assist where we are with our district. And we are now going to bring in the architect in advance of the projects that we are looking to bring forward to the board of school estimates.  So we have to allocate money for their services before we go before the Board of School Estimate."

Legal Services: "There is additional money next year as we have three contracts expiring and we will be negotiating with three bargaining groups."

Judgments against the district: "Unfortunately there have been many judgments against the district. We are asking for a million dollars. We will analyze and look at that much more closely as we go forward. But our numbers are significant for the amount of judgments we have."

“We have our Cops in School Program and that’s a payment back to the Municipality for the police that are in our building. We get a bill on an annual basis when we work with them."

School Development Authority (SDA): "The SDA is a service Aid. We have applied and have received grants for the development and improvement of our building. We get the grants but over the years, the state accesses a fee for the grants that we’ve applied for. So we have to pay back around $86,000 a year for the grants that we apply for.“

He briefly went over the Social Security Line item, the Retirement Fund Line Item, Safety Line Item, and other smaller line items.

"This budget does not include salaries or health benefits. It is strictly an operational budget," he added.

After D’Andrea's presentation, there were no questions from the Board.

PUBLIC COMMENT

As they moved to public comment, Robinson then went on to ask everyone who came to speak to identify themselves with their first, last name and their address, unless you are a student or an employee of the district.

When the floor was open to the public, the energy changed to one of frustration and anger.

NO PHYSICS TEACHER – TIME IS RUNNING OUT FOR PHYSICS EXAM

Several high school students spoke to express that there is neither teacher, nor substitute teacher in the AP Physics class. This has the students up in arms because there has been no consistent sub either. 

According to the students, when they first received their schedule, TO BE DETERMINED was written under the Physics class as there was no teacher for that class from the beginning.  After months of asking for a teacher, there still has not been a regular teacher who is a Physics teacher yet.

The students, who are mostly juniors, are very concerned because they have only covered 2 of the 7 Units needed to cover the exam. With only 11 weeks until the AP Physic exam, the students are very upset because they feel they are being set up to fail. "There simply is not enough time to learn the rest of the material and score reasonably well on the exam," they said.

A few parents came out to ask for a teacher to be placed in the class immediately.

BUDGET CONCERNS

Since it is budget season, a lot of the parents were concerned with how the Board will spend the budget for next year. 

Jill Riley came to the podium and advocated for the lights to be replaced Glenfield Middle school gym because they were out for well over a year. Though she worked to get the lights back on and they were replaced prior, the lights are out again. She is asked that it doesn’t take six weeks again to replace the lights.

Some of the more in-depth concern about the budget, came from speakers such as Kathy Malloy on behalf of the Leadership Committee of SEPAC, The Special Education Parent Advisory Council announced that they will be making an effort to stay on top of the budget this year.

The district has talked about conducting a comprehensive analysis of Special Education. 

Malloy implored the Board “...to think about how much easier some of the choices ahead would be if we knew what we did well and what we could improve on, and if we had a plan. Making budget cuts and choices without a full understanding of the authenticity of our program is challenging. What could the wrong cuts mean to some students? In some instances, more behavior issues, more students with needs unmet, more parents forced to fight for their individual child, more lawsuits and more students out of district. Additionally, I also think that we need to recognize the challenges our district has had in forecasting its special education needs. I understand that in the fall we were so short on para’s that we had to have a para job fair to get as many para’s as we could.

“One of my roles at SEPAC is to answer our public email address. I get a lot of emails from parents who have children who are struggling and whose needs are not being met, and who feel lost in the system. To be perfectly clear, SEPAC is not a support group. I think it is helpful to recognize we are a state-mandated group. Our district is eligible for aid because we exist, our main job as an organization is to represent families with children with disabilities. And to work with you and the administration to make meaningful changes for the greatest number of students. We did a survey in the spring."

Malloy mentioned results from the survey, "Parents feel that their children are not being included to the fullest extent. Parents feel that their students with disabilities are not being supported socially or emotionally. And last, we keep saying, parents value paraprofessionals. They feel they deserve respect and more training."

"I say all of these things because I want us to remember, like President Robinson said, when you look at those numbers, there are kids with disabilities that are behind all of those numbers. We are here to represent them in their educational, social and behavioral needs which are often not being met. Let’s prioritize an analysis of our special education program in the next year so we won’t have to be here in another budget season without a clear path forward.”

Several other speakers with SEPAC were also present pushing for the analysis of the special education program and adding this to the budget.

The next two advocates also were concerned about the budget and hoping the Board considers a dyslexia screening program for early detection.

PARENT'S SPEAK UP - ZERO TOLERANCE FOR RACISM

Then the atmosphere turned to anger and confusion over why the rules have changed and speakers are now being asked to state their home addresses after it was already written when speakers sign up. Parents expressed that the Board had no control over the recordings and who had access to the information stated at the podium. Parents also questioned why the Board has not already severed ties with Superintendent Nathan Parker.

One of the parents took the podium and was confused as to why all of a sudden everyone has to state their address. She recommended that the Board of Education should conduct their Board Meetings like Glenridge where the Board actually answers the questions. She later went on to express her opinions of the Superintendent’s harmful statements. She pointed out Board members who were present and remained silent when the Superintendent made the controversial remarks and concluded with a call for zero tolerance when it comes to racism.

Colleen Doherty gave a moving speech and asked that we do as much as we can to invest in our training of staff.

Then she addressed Parker, ”...your words caused damage to individuals in this community and to our community as a whole. They harmed people. My friend recently said when you have the privilege you have to be the voice alongside of those whose voice may be drowned out. I do not think you are the right person for our community. I urge the community to attend the sessions next week asking for feedback for what the district does need in a superintendent. I have been reading about the achievement gap in our district and it is both heartbreaking and appalling".

She continued, "For those people who do not know, there is a significant disparity between white children and child of color. This has been prevalent in our district for 30 years. It is prevalent in our country. Sadly, I did not come here today with answers. Only more questions. Why does the achievement gap presence in our community? How do we eradicate it? I have read that it the result, among other factors, of seismic and inherited racism."

"I feel that if we are to eradicate it in our schools it will take an effort from everyone…the Board, the teachers and the staff and the community. We don’t have to agree, but I think we all need to listen more. Members of the board, I post this question to you. Why do you think people raise their voice at these meetings? I think it is because they do not feel as if they are not being heard. There is a Hindu saying that people raise their voice at each other because their hearts are far apart.“  

Several other parents and members of the National Independent Black Parent Association (NIBPA) took the stand and strongly stated their position of removing Parker.

One by one, they made it clear that the NIPBA has zero tolerance for racism in the educational system and even less tolerance for people in positions who have no concern for racism. One by one they called for the immediate resignation of Parker.

Kellia Sweatt, the President of the NIBPA took the stand and stated that the NIBPA stands for the complete eradication of racism from the educational system.

Sweatt stated that the public no longer has confidence in Board any longer. She also pointed out that there were two Board of Education members who boycotted the meeting to vote in the first African-American Superintendent and concluded by calling for the immediate resignation or removal.

She also stated that the Board is creating another barrier or tactic to intimidate by asking the public to state their address in an open forum that is recorded for the public. 

OTHER BUSINESS

AT the top of the meeting, Principal, Joseph A. Putrino, Jr, with the look of a proud father, took the podium and stated, “I would like to say how impressed I am that we continue to showcase kids at each board meeting. I think that these are really positive events that highlight what is great about Montclair.”

Putrino went on, “Montclair gave me the opportunity last year, to really rebrand Renaissance Middle School. So I want to start by saying that Renaissance Middle School is your innovative education magnet. And we pride ourselves in the fact that it is not what we teach but how we do it. And so we have a very innovative way of bringing instruction to children. And we try to weave everything together. Everything is connection.”

Summarizing the Renaissance Middle School’s focus for the beginning of the year, Putrino stated, “…through the month of January we decided, as a Restorative Justice School in the district, that we were going to [send a] message for students that it is very important to understand the content of your character.  So we really took on the charge of Dr. King and we wanted to bring the kids the idea that you cannot just sit down and put yourself out there without reflecting on how people are receiving you. How are you being perceived in the community? How are you being perceived in the community of your peers? What is content? How do I share that? How do I put that out there? How does that connect to social media? And the different means that kids communicate with each other. Then we talked about character and reflecting on how do you want yourself to be perceived.”

Putrino went on to explain that the Renaissance Middle School piloted and screened the movie, “LIKE”. “LIKE” is an IndieFlix Original documentary that explores the impact of social media on our lives and the effects of technology on the brain. The goal of the film is to inspire us to self-regulate.

Putrino further explained that the Renaissance Middle School welcomed the students and parents to the screening of this film and allowed them to participate in a Panel Discussion after the viewing of the film. Some of the experts, who were actually featured in the film, along with the counselors from Renaissance Middle School, were there to give a reflection on some of the really important facets pertaining to the film.

After his short speech, Putrino introduced the performers for the night. 

The Renaissance Middle School’s Rock Band performed. The rock band consists of students, Ms. Spagnuolo worked with in her “Song Writing” class to write original music and lyrics inspired by a poem authored by Langston Hughes entitled, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” During the songwriting process students read the powerful words of Hughes and collaboratively organized their thoughts to craft a message to be performed for their peers. A mixture of rap and rock framed a beautiful message about how we are all connected through the lines of history. RMS Newsletter 1/24/20

Immediately following the Rock Band, Ms. Lorusso and the 8th Grade Dance Company performed a dramatic dance dressed in blue and black attire, they depicted how unity is needed to produce harmony in movement.

Interim Superintendent Nathan Parker had officially began the Board meeting by stating the following:

“Throughout this month of February, the district is celebrating African American History Month with a host of educational and enrichment activities around the school.

“In addition to African American history that is woven and integrated into our yearlong curriculum on all levels, February is time to honor and pay tribute to generations of African Americans that contribute to our nation and allows our students concentrated time to work on displays featuring art, literature, science and get to enjoy a multitude of assemblies programs and classroom activities.

“A few examples are at Bradford with the interactive assembly featuring Soul Steps showcasing African-American dance traditions known as Stepping.

“Edgemont students will be making Freedom Quilts and African masks. Hillside features a Sit-In reading activity, hearing books by African American authors read to them by their teachers. Initialing the Bright Star Assembly Group will be hosting an assembly entitled, Black History Hall of Fame.” 

Parker went on to tell about him and his wife checking out the student play “She Kills Monster!” He then gave his wife, Rochelle, a shout out, as she was in the audience.

“On the Athletic front, there are 5 students athletes signed to Division 1 and Division 2 colleges.  It was a wonderful evening to see these five young men at the table with their schools they are going to be going to. Unfortunately I have two football players whose names I do not have. But I will give the names of the students I do have, Patrick Barns in football going to Fordham University which is a Division 2 school. Mateo Neighbors, this is incredible. He will be playing soccer at St. John’s University which is the highest ranking Division 1. And Bryan Tommy Wright is the captain of the football team and going to St. Bonaventure. They all have full scholarships. (Note: Shawn Collins was signed to Rutgers, another Division 1 University.) 

“One of the big frustrations that the parents, and myself, and the members of the Board of Education have had is the problems of teacher vacancy. This year, we are going to have a job fair end of February or early March. But we are going to get to that very quickly. It’s been our upmost priority, in addition to safety, to find qualified teachers in children’s education. We’ve had a number of vacancies in the high school and we are diligently pursuing searches. We had a certified teacher filling classes for these voids and recently the AP Physics void has presented itself unfortunately again."

"The search for an AP Physics teacher has been ongoing since May of last year and a shortage of qualified candidates in the state of New Jersey, well frankly, around the country, has made this difficult. Previously and currently we have reached out to the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning, The New Jersey Institute of Technology, Montclair State University, Essex Community College and surrounding areas.  I have literally written to all of the Superintendents in all of Essex County and Union County to see if they know someone. We are looking into an option of an Online Course that will address the needs and standards of this course."

“We also have, starting next week, the Board of Education has hired an architectural firm called EI that is going to do an analysis of all of our facilities. I think we had 5 unexpected incidents in our school where we had some facility failure. And this group is going to take a look at every building, every facility. They are not only going to look at the walls and the roofs, but they will also be looking at the heating and air conditioners where they do exist. But to me the most important part is that they are going to be looking at whether the physical structure is able to support 21st century land systems."

"So what may come out of this may be proposals for repurposing space. There may be project rooms, there may be small group instruction groups, and there may be different kinds of options for theatre. This is going to be a look at not just the physical structure itself, but how can form follow the actual function that we expect."

"This will become a 5-year-long facility plan. So rather than piecemealing changes in the physical structure…fixing a roof here, a stair over there, we will take a look at the entire structure of the system and come up with a long range plan that will be comprehensively presented to the Board of Education and also to the Board of School Estimate."

Parker added, "And I will just name one fact that is driving this. Health insurance is a major expenditure. It is probably one of our largest standalone expenditures outside of salaries of employees. Health insurance is projected to go up 16% next year and this is based on current usage of the policy. And the insurance companies project what it is going to look like over the next period of time. But I just tell the Board and I tell the public, it is going to be a challenge for us to look over our budget and to figure out how to manage the finances of the school district."

FINAL NOTES

Toward the end of the meeting the Board gave a summary of the different committees and wrapped up the meeting for the evening. They welcomed the public to come to the public meetings with the Board of School Estimates and to give their opinions on the budget. Although they do not have a date at this time, the Board promised to keep the public updated and will announce when they have a date for this meeting.

During the Board Committee discussion, they asked that the public comes out on March 8 for a conversation on biases and racism in the schools and in the town. If you cannot attend in person, you can go to the MFEE website and sign up to be placed in one of the conversation groups.

SEARCH FOR A NEW SUPERINTENDENT

After the Budget Presentation, Board of Education President, Eve Robinson, informed the public that the Board is in the middle of a search for the next Superintendent. "The ads have been placed. Recruitment has started." She urges the public that if they know of anyone who wishes to apply, they should go to the Board of Education website and apply. They have already received several applications. 

PUBLIC SESSIONS FOR SUPERINTENDENT SELECTION

The Search Team will be holding three public sessions to get public input into what kind of Superintendent qualities the public is looking for in their next Superintendent. The dates for these sessions are Monday, February 10 at 4 pm at the Charles H. Bullock School, located 55 Washington Street. The second meeting will be held that same night at 7:30 pm at the Northeast Elementary School located 603 Grove Street. Another meeting will be held Wednesday, February 12 at 10 am at the Central Office for the Board which is 22 Valley Road. The snow dates for both of those dates are February 26.

Everyone is urged to go to those meetings and have interaction at the meetings. The consultant, Charlene Peterson, will be describing the process of how the superintendent will be recruited and interviewed, and she will be there to take input for the Board. The board will not be at the meetings. It is only for the public.

In case you cannot make any of the meetings, you can go online to the Board of Education’s website and complete a survey and write opinions there. 

As the meeting came to a close, President Robinson thanked everyone who came out and spoke. The audience was still in an uproar by the end of the meeting as some Board members quickly exited through the rear door.

 

Related Articles:

Advocates Say There is Zero Tolerance for Racism in Montclair Public Schools 

Montclair Superintendent Issues Public Apology about Alleged Comments on Racist Teachers

Montclair NAACP President AL Pelham Issues a Statement on Parker's Remarks on Racist Teachers

Nathan Parker Takes the Helm as Montclair Superintendent