MONTCLAIR, NJ - During the Monday night regular meeting of the Montclair Board of Education, the budget for 2015-'16 was approved, 4-3, designating a $1.16 million surplus for reinstating SECs, teachers and paraprofessionals.
The Board realized these savings from $326,058 in breakage, healthcare savings of $835,635 and the 4.1 percent tax levy.
Brian Fleischer said the district is “still subject to [healthcare] savings.”
Attended by over 100 MEA members, MPS students, teachers, Montclair State University students, parents and community members packed into the George Inness Annex Atrium, public comment included budget-related concerns, calling for an independent audit of the Board’s finances, transparency, immersion, staffing cuts, PARCC and recommendations for the Board.
Montclair High School student Eli Zeger called on the Board to balance the budget, disregard MacCormack’s budgetary recommendations and read a petition that had been circlated online. Another student read comments by petitioners including students.
Board member, Shelly Lombard responded to the students, applauding them for speaking up, but telling them, “Have your facts correct.”
Many in attendance booed and shouted in response.
MEA President Gayl Shepard then took the podium. She reiterated her call for an independent audit of the Board’s finances and asked for a policy book from Brown & Brown. Shepard added, “Make this a safe space.”
A community member said Montclair Kids First (MKF) is silencing voices and does not speak for her. "We need to be focused on the children and the community needs to be involved in choosing the superintendent.”
MKF has been an anonymous group of community members recently formed. Led by an attorney, MKF has been sending letters targeting various politicians and community members. MKF spokespeople have stated that they are designed to be a safe haven for parents too afraid to reveal themselves for fear of retribution.
Emilie Schreiner urged for the immersion program to go on. She added if there is anything parents can do, like fundraising, “”let us know.”
Parent and founding member of Montclair Cares About Schools Elana Halberstall reiterated her gratitude for the people who help her son. “It’s about kids being able to go to school not thriving but surviving.”
Rachel Hegen said she spent the day getting signatures. Hegen said a petitioner implored the Board not to go in Newark’s direction. She also reprimanded Lombard for “teenagers who bravely spoke up.”
MHS educator Jonathan Meyer said, “Let’s be the leaders we once were and not the laughing stock we’ve become.”
Parent Sarah Blaine wanted to know how much the tax levy would go up to restore all student-facing positions.
A paraprofessional at Bradford implored the Board to allocate funds that has the biggest impact, “Students disengaged now will be disengaged for years.”
Parent Kris McGoy advised the Board to take the principals’ concerns into account.
Community member Lesley Mozuzzo gave the Board three ways to improve budgetary proceedings. First, she suggested closing the achievement gap by giving laptops to underprivileged students. Second, she asked the Board to “stop reaching for low-hanging fruit like paraprofessionals.” Mozuzzo added getting 12 months of claims from healthcare providers or use New Jersey healthcare for savings.
MPS employee Lisa Bishop clarified what the child study teams do. “”We can’t do our jobs without the staffing we need.”
Jessica Buell, an English teacher in the district asked, “How? How did teachers become pariahs?” She added, “We all need to work together in this cognitive dissonance. Please think creatively in balancing this budget.”
After voting on all resolutions including unanimously releasing MacCormack of her duties and approving the interim superintendent, Lombard responded to the audiences' earlier reaction. "People should not use students for their own means." She added, "I'm very disappointed in the community.'
Deutsch said the room was filled with a lot of inertia, positing whether "that inertia [is] actually good for students or adults."