MONTCLAIR, NJ - The number of potential staff reductions has gone from 53 to 28 positions in the 2021-22 school year budget, as of last night’s meeting between the Board of Education (BOE) and Board of School Estimate (BoSE).
In addition, there were approximately 30 other open positions that had placeholders in the budget. Just 17 of these positions are now unfilled, according to Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Ponds.
“We will be working in collaboration with our stakeholders—union positions, principals, staff,” explained Dr. Ponds, who is responsible for suggesting how to make certain cuts. “They will give me recommendations on the 28 [of April]. Based on those I will make my own recommendations.”
Dr. Ponds also spoke with President of the Montclair Education Association (MEA) Petal Robertson on this issue, and will try to get below 28 cuts. However, there are three components to prioritize when making these decisions, he noted.
“Teaching and learning is essential. Then mental health support, and the magnet system,” said Dr. Ponds. “We’re looking to save some positions but also make reductions that will help us stay within the budget.”
The district’s magnet system attributes certain learning styles to different elementary and middle schools. For instance, students who want to focus on STEM might choose to attend Buzz Aldrin Middle School for their program. This model is contrary to tradition where students attend the school located closest to them.
Dr. Ponds also mentioned that some staff salaries might be supplemented with Title I funds. Through this program the federal government allocates funds to schools or districts with a high percentage of children from low-income families.
The superintendent emphasized that saving positions should be done with a long-term vision, as the BoE prefers to avoid the same issue in the next budget. According to him, it would be helpful for the district to find more ways to make revenue in order to combat future reductions.
The district is looking to employ a technology recommended by EI Associates called needlepoint bipolar ionization to help remove Covid-19 in the school buildings. However, Dr. Ponds and BOE Secretary Emidio D’Andrea admitted they have seen conflicting reports about the equipment. The community has also raised questions about whether ionization is indeed effective against the virus, and the possibility that it causes harmful byproducts.
D’Andrea reassured the public that the technology would remain off until it is clear that it is safe.
“EI Associates are not health experts,” Melanie, an attendee, said during public comment. She requested that individuals from health backgrounds, such as those at Mountainside Hospital, be involved in the discussions with EI Associates. “Just because it works at other places doesn’t mean it’ll work for Montclair.”
The BOE also addressed the use of MERV 8 air filters in the buildings. According to Dr. Ponds, the district’s short-term ventilation plan allows them to use MERV 8 to 13 filters. MERV, or Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values, measures the filter’s ability to capture particles. The higher the number rating, the more efficient the filter. Dr. Ponds pointed out that the buildings might not be able to cope with MERV 13 filters in their systems. In this case, MERV 8 filters in conjunction with face masks and social distancing would have to mitigate the virus.
“For us to go against the expertise of an engineering firm that has done this for other districts and hospitals would be a jump to react, so I’m trying to be very cautious about it,” said Dr. Ponds. “Trust, but verify.”