MONTCLAIR, NJ - The Montclair Board of Education continued their budget presentation at the latest public meeting and while they clarified many of the reductions, the public expressed concern with the elimination of a position that the community feels is important.
The board voted on the adoption of the 2017-2018 budget and all but one board member voted yes. Joseph S. Kavesh was the only board member to vote no.
Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ronald Bolandi, who presided over his last Board of Education meeting in Montclair, presented a more finalized budget at the March 13 board of education meeting. This presentation included the number of positions being reduced at each school, numbers that Bolandi did not have yet at the March 6 meeting.
While the paraprofessional reduction was the most talked about issue during the public comment part of the March 6 meeting, more concerns arose at the March 13 meeting. The most common concern was the sharing of assistant principals between elementary schools, which was listed as “under review” in the budget presentation. This would eliminate the full-time assistant principal position at Nishuane.
“We have an excellent principal at Nishuane and I truly believe that she could handle doing both of the schedules that she has to handle,” Bolandi said. “That’s not saying the AP wouldn’t spend time at Nishuane -- they would, but they wouldn’t be there full time.”
Bolandi stressed that he is confident that Principal Jill McLaughlin could handle the work at Nishuane without an assistant principal and that changes like these are necessary for the school budget.
“I think as changes happen, you need to make changes in the budget,” Bolandi said.
Although Assistant Principal Evan Kozak’s name was not specifically mentioned in the budget presentation, many members of the public expressed their sadness over the potential loss of Kozak at Nishuane.
Aside from the fact that Kozak strongly supports and works with the magnet program, multiple Montclair residents said he knows each child by name, knows their schedules, and does a great job in advocating for all of the students.
“I think Mr. Kozak is key in his guidance and running of Nishuane’s magnet,” resident Kelly Kilpatrick said. “I think he’s hugely important in running the magnet successfully.”
It takes a little while for parents to get adjusted to a new school, Kilpatrick added, and Kozak’s guidance is essential to students and parents at Nishuane.
Nishuane physical education and health teacher Eric Eder also spoke about the potential loss of Kozak, as well as the potential loss of a fellow Nishuane physical education and health teacher. He said just because running the school without an assistant principal or another physical education teacher is “doable,” does not mean that it is acceptable. Students deserve better, he said.
“It’s like a mini family,” Eder said of the Nishuane students and teachers. “To lose my partner because it is doable somewhere else, to me that’s an unacceptable answer.”
Eder also stressed the importance of physical education and the arts, and how reducing any part of those programs would be taking away from quality education.
Besides the staff reductions, the public also touched on the lack of continuity in district superintendents and how there is no one to hold accountable for the problems in the school system.
Still, Bolandi said the community must ensure that the superintendent is taking care of scheduling and making sure that teachers have a full workload.
“We have great teachers in the school system and they can do great things, but there’s no reason why one building’s got 31 and one’s got 21. That’s not equitable,” Bolandi said. “And if you’re a taxpayer you also have to say not only do I want the best education, but I also don’t want to spend a fortune for it when the superintendent’s job is to move people around.”
Bolandi added that teachers are the most important people to students and that the superintendent must ensure that students have the teachers they need.
“You have to insist that the people in this district work harder and smarter, and you don’t just throw money at problems,” Bolandi said to the public. “Putting teachers in front of kids is your best solution.”