MONTCLAIR, NJ - On Friday, the Montclair Board Members met for the second time to discuss the school budget. By the close of the meeting, they adopted a ‘15-’16 tentative budget which includes a 4.15 percent tax levy increase.

Initially scheduled for Thursday and moved to Friday because of snow, the meeting was attended by 100 students, parents, teachers, MEA leadership and community members. Many, of which, were carrying signs of protest.

The tentative budget includes the additional staff reductions for a total savings of $930,000, a $300,000 contribution of excess fund balance and the 4.15 percent after cutting $2.5 million from the budget on March 2.

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Discussion centered on the technology plan, tax levy, maximum number of paraprofessional and teaching staff reductions which MacCormack said could be made, outsourcing paraprofessionals, retirement savings. Brown & Brown will be looking into getting reductions in healthcare costs and cutting more from Central Services.

Chief Operating Officer Brian Fleischer, Director of Technology Barry Haines, and Director of Pupil Services Linda Mithaug answered the Board’s questions. The board budget workshop preceded public comment followed by further comments and discussion before the Board voted 4-2, with Jessica de Koninck absent and Cummings and Mernin dissenting.

MEA President Gayl Shepard asked where the MEA’s contribution went into the budget, an amount totaling $4 million. She also pointed out a discrepancy in breakage totals, adding there were 15 MEA members retiring and that totaled $1 million.

Shepard inquired about the 35 percent increase for each participant, an additional $5 million  in premiums, in switching from Horizon to Cigna. “Why are we not challenging this?”

She reiterated her comments from previous meetings, calling for an independent audit of the Board’s finances, and including the MEA in budgetary decisions.

Parent Arianna Monterra said she sees a lack of long term plans and goals. “The public needs access to the strategic plan. We want predictability.”

Monterra added successorship in naming an interim superintendent from within the district could help. She said, “There are also a disparate amount of elementary school staffing cuts.”

Parent Sarah Blaine demanded to know what programs will be cut and at which schools. “Don’t use the principals as an excuse. It’s a cop out.”

Garrett Morrison said the world language roundtable did not want immersion to cause paraprofessional and staff to lose their jobs.

Kris McCoy thanked the board for discussing technology, but said she is uncertain of the Board’s values as deliberations honed in on the technology to student ratio, while McCoy said the Board did not flinch at increasing the ratio of paraprofessional to students.“Who is in the classroom, the better it is for my children. We need to get more people out of central office and into the classroom.”

A parent speaking on resident Colleen Martinez’s behalf voiced suggestions about enhancing the achievement gap and disproportionality.

Miller added, “Don’t assume what the teachers want, just ask them.”

Maya Davis, a parent, echoed concerns about lack of long term planning. She said she can not believe the budget issues are unexpected, and central services needed to be reexamined.

Concerns over the achievement gap emerged during the meeting. A resident said the budget merely widens the achievement gap. “It’s outrageous.”

Questions emerged regarding the transparency of the process. Parent Martha Evans deplored the lack of transparency. She said that she did not care about the computer to student ratio. She said it is about “retaining teachers, not technology.”

Evans added as for the interim superintendent, “We need someone from our district.”

Delia Molloy, a science teacher in the district said, “Teachers have the most positive effect on teaching. We need to retain as many positions as possible.”

A parent of Edgemont students echoed the need for teachers. She was “appalled and scared” less teachers would be there. She added professional development needs to be meaningful.

James Harris, representing the Montclair chapter of the NAACP said reducing teachers can not address disproportionality. “Find some other way to close the budget gap.” Harris added Superintendent MacCormack tried to do too much too soon.“ Remember it’s about who’s standing in front of those children,” Harris added.