Last night, teachers, administrators, school staff, PTA leaders, parents, Board of Ed members, town council leaders, students and concerned citizens filled the cafeteria at Montclair High’s George Inness Annex. Chairs were taken by 7 pm, and by the time the meeting started around 7:40 pm, there were people standing in every open space and spilling out into the halls.
The feeling in the room was of respect and appreciation for our teachers, especially in light of the MEA’s (Montclair Education Association) decision to accept a pay freeze in order to prevent staff layoffs. Teachers and school staff were wearing white t-shirts that said “I care about your kids”. Parents and teachers’ conversations filled the room as we waited for the meeting to begin– stories of teachers who grew up in Montclair, went to Montclair State and got their first job teaching in the district. When the president of the MEA, Dennis Murray, spoke of the union’s decision to accept the pay freeze, the crowd broke out in applause.
But despite the union’s efforts, 82 cuts will be made. Superintendent Frank Alvarez presented the budget, which is at a loss of $5.4 million in state aid, and assured us that, “in all the cuts, we have tried to preserve the core of our programs.” He went on to state that the Board worked hard to create equitable cuts throughout the schools, but reminded us that because of the very nature of the magnet school system it required great balancing. He spoke of options that the Board considered: making kindergarten half-day, closing a school down, getting rid of transportation. But in the end, he said these were things that were too important to Montclair. He assured worried parents that the classroom instruction component will be preserved.

Here’s the breakdown:
5.7 cuts from central office
4 cuts from special education (with the expectation of more to come)
39 cuts from the elementary schools
15.9 cuts from the middle schools
19.9 cuts from the high school
The cuts will be from world languages, related arts, librarians, nurses, ESL, counselors, instructional aides, and some extracurricular activities programs. No specifics on which schools would be losing staff were given.
Comments from the public ranged from sadness for our teachers to concern of the school programs. PTA members urged the Board to protect their magnet school programs. Concern for the world languages program was shown by one parent who said, “you can’t replace a teacher with Rosetta Stone.” Angry parents urged central office to take cuts in order to save jobs. Accusations of lack of transparancy were thrown out. It was the crowd against central office and Governor Christie. Parents urged the crowd to sign petitions against Christie’s budget cuts, saying we don’t have to accept this.

Editor, writer, social media manager. Food, cocktail and coffee lover. Proud Jersey girl.

63 replies on “Montclair BoE School Budget Meeting: Staff Cuts Have to Be Made”

  1. “closing a school down”
    An obvious indication of the “necessity” of the new school.
    Personally, I think this one fact alone should precipitate the departure of Mr. Alvarez.

  2. You beat me to it, Roc.
    “closing a school down” is about the funniest thing I read all morning.
    And you know how I feel about Alvarez…..
    But tell me, will the “5.7 cuts from central office” be in public? Strangely, I would love to see how they cut the “.7”. Same with the “.9’s”.
    Wait. Were those percentages of a budget? Or jobs?

  3. They are jobs.
    The sad thing about all of this is that nothing is being done to address the long term budget structure issues we have. State aid is now only 3.8% of the overall budget. If the state follows the same aid formula this year, next year we can lose all of our remaining aid. What magic bunny will Alvarez pull out of his hat for next year?
    We’re now at 83% of budget for salaries and benefits. How much longer before there is 0 for anything else?

  4. What is not listed in this article is the planned tax levy increase of 4.9%. I think the school budget is 63% of our total budget. So as usual, the state cuts and the BOE increases. Even with the salary freezes, the revenues don’t match the budgets. Enjoy your near double digit property tax increase everybody. This does nothing to help us with NEXT YEAR’s budget as well.
    I applaud the teachers for making a token sacrifice, but either a pay cut is necessary or more cuts should be made until the ‘current’ tax revenues match the costs to operate the school system. Anything less will result in the continuation of forever escalating property taxes.

  5. Jobs?
    If so, please explain how you “cut” 5.7 jobs.
    As for taxes, yep. They’re going up.
    But what else is new?
    And Gator, salary/benefits are ALWAYS the biggest expense, which is why the BoE seeks to make cuts or reduce bargained for increases. (The cost of the new school notwithstanding…)
    So the idea that other things are being crowded out is not as big an issue.

  6. I’m just happy to see the teachers and administration not get a salary increase. Even though our taxes will probably go up by 10% or so, this is the first time I’ve ever witnessed salaries frozen and layoffs occur.
    A small ray of sunshine on a cloudy day.

  7. prof,
    it’s common. 5.7 represents budget lines applied to jobs.
    If you have a janitor which equals “1” job and you lay him off and hire a cleaning service which costs you “.3” as much then you have cut .7 jobs in terms of budget lines.

  8. Prof – Of course salaries and benefits will always be the “biggest” expense. But even though we are freezing wages, benefit costs are growing. We can’t afford to keep increasing these costs while cutting everything else.
    As for how to cut 5.7 jobs, I honestly couldn’t tell you. The board has not publicly stated which specific positions are being elminated. They could be laying off part-timers, or they could also be moving some full-time staff to part-time as part of the restructuring.
    We lost $7.1M in anticipated revenue for this year. We are only reducing our operating budget by $2.4M. Someone needs to teach the board some basic math skills. This is not sustainable.

  9. Thanks Roc,
    Not sure I could have understood it from how it was presented above.
    So it should read a 5.7 budget line cut in Central Office?
    I guess making and keeping it confusing is part of the deal.

  10. honestly prof. I think saying “we are cutting 5.7 jobs” is much more clear than “we are cutting 5.7 salary budget lines”

  11. RoC, Prof,
    Herb needs to step in an make sure you guys are on good terms. Sounds like you guys are getting a little snippy with each other. We need to stick together.

  12. Honestly Roc,
    You’re kidding right?
    You don’t see the obvious question (and fun) with “we are cutting 5.7 jobs”?
    Understand, I think BOTH are dumb, confusing and need context- none of which was provided.
    Save for budget gurus like yourself, most of us will ask the obvious question, how do you cut “.7” jobs.
    Glad you understood it though, once again proving your superior ability to understand and criticize budget.
    You get the gold star for the day!!
    (Excuse me while I watch President Obama sign the Health Care Bill.)

  13. Prof,
    5.7 means 5.7 full-time equivalents (FTE). Say you have someone who works 30 hours per week in what is traditionally a 40 hour per week job. That is considered 0.75 FTE. That approach to measuring staffing is quite common.
    The 5.7 jobs cut could mean getting rid of part-timers and/or moving full-time positions to part-time.

  14. Some people are only half-time. Therefore, they are really .5 of a job. It’s not rocket science.
    Why not more cuts to extracurricular activities and let the PTA fundraise for those.

  15. I hate across-the-board salary freezes. If you’re a first year teacher, you’re barely surviving financially (especially after taking into consideration all the expenses of being a teacher.) Why not freeze all the top, but leave a cost of living adjustment for the new teachers?
    Better yet, administrator paycuts and increases for new teachers.

  16. and again a stellar performance of the BOE, BOSE and our appointed and elected officials.
    If people would have been serious about cutting costs, the BOSE would have given Alvarez strict boundary conditions about the total $$.
    This did not happen and again we are facing an increase.

  17. BloomfieldMama,
    So true, do not forget that with Unions the lowest on the totem pole will be laid off first.
    It must have been hard for Alvarez to not take his increase this year considering he makes close to 5 times the starting salary of a MEA teacher.
    But again, its not the salaries, Teachers are underpaid and over benefited. Pay more up front and less in pension and benefits and no one would complain about “what teachers make”

  18. Gator said it best…
    We lost $7.1M in anticipated revenue for this year. We are only reducing our operating budget by $2.4M. Someone needs to teach the board some basic math skills. This is not sustainable.
    So you can all argue about how to make the cuts, where to make the cuts, regionalization, merit based pay, extra-curricular activities, foreign languages, etc.
    Ultimately, until the concept that taxes must go up is reversed, your property values will go down in lockstep!
    Nice job Montclair.

  19. If only we could have done this last year.
    What a dumb thing to say, ‘gurl. Don’t you know that last year we were too busy pushing the new school through in the face of protest from charlatans who warned that the economic collapse would pull the rug out from under us? I mean, really. How much can a body do?

  20. “BOTH are dumb, confusing and need context- none of which was provided.”
    For the prof his lack of understanding is always proof of someone else’s stupidity.

  21. I was at this meeting last night, and the one thing that I wanted to hear wasn’t mentioned. How much of a cut in salary, were the principals taking? If CO and the teaching staff are feeling the burden of the cuts (which is understandable) then how much of the “pain” is being taken by the 20 principals and vice-principals of the town? Dr. Anderson spoke on behalf of the MPA and nowhere in her remarks did she mention her organization taking a cut or even a freeze in salary. Could someone please fill me in, or did I miss something?

  22. Oh, Roc, you got me!!!
    I found a reduction of 5.7 jobs funny and unclear.
    But your amazing analytical skillz allowed you to immediately understand.
    And I didn’t say it was stupid, I said it was dumb.
    Thanks justacitizen, you may be right, of course MY POINT is that the post here provided no detail as to WHAT a reduction of 5.7 jobs means- hours, people, %’s, etc. (you added the detail of the FTE’s).
    But I’m glad so many of you understood it (well, Roc, understands EVERYTHING) and were willing to explain it to a dummy like me.
    I guess I’ll just keep writing those BIG ‘ol tax checks and let the smart people figure out what to do with it.

  23. Took a quick look at the budget released yesterday and discovered to my surprise that the BOE actually spent $3 million more in 2009-2010 than it had budgeted.
    First, does anyone know what drove the overage?
    Second, I hope that doesn’t foreshadow a similar event next year.

  24. Prof – I guess I’m a dummy too. I thought the fractional cuts were silly and confusing as well. And ROC – take a chill my brother. I almost always agree with your point of view, but your style is full of arrogance and condescension.

  25. “I almost always agree with your point of view, but your style is full of arrogance and condescension.”
    My initial posts certainly were not. I explained it to prof without any attitude.
    But then he condescends and I responded to in kind.

  26. I condescended?
    You began your “non-condescending condescension” with “honestly prof.” [sic]
    And so I’ll nitpick…
    By using a period at the end of that short statement, rather than a comma, there is no other way to read it but condescending.
    But who really cares?
    I just want to see 5.7 people cut in the public square, or at least on pay-per-view. Really, the first 5 people simple lose their jobs but, they’re pleased.
    The last person, however gets cut “.7” oh, the humanity. It’ll be like the modern day version of Shirley Jackson’s THE LOTTERY.

  27. Prof, I say this with love. I hope that rather than spend another 60 posts arguing about what grammar proves condescension – we might just skip it.
    I hope you’ll take my silence as another medal on your potentate-ious chest and not simply disinterest on my part in the continued Socratic exploration of nothingness which enlivens you so.

  28. Argh, everybody is posting about the ‘0.7’ of a job and not about the “No specifics … were given.” Which means, by the way, that there was no discussion about how to choose which staff would be leaving.
    Will they do Last-In-First-Out, which has the advantage of being easy but unfairly targets recent hires?
    Will we cut clerks or assistant-superintendents from central office? Will we weed through the multitude of ‘related arts’ teachers in the elementary schools, some (but certainly not all) of whom were dumped into those positions after failing as classroom teachers?
    In short, will the cuts make the schools stronger or weaker?

  29. Poor Roc,
    You went from gold star winner at 11:30am.
    To a losing quitter by 3:35pm.
    This AND you’re getting beat up over on Baristanet??
    Not one of your better days.
    Oh, well. Sing it with me:
    Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow……

  30. BaristaKids: Staff Cuts
    From this headline, I thought BaristaKids was firing some of its editors. I hope things don’t get
    that bad.

    Montclair is an exceptional town, with many great people and extraordinary amenities and conveniences. However, truth be known, we settled here predominately for the school system. Progressive, flexible, comprehensive and diversified, it was a major factor in our decision. I am sure that it played a part in your decision to reside here as well.
    Therefore, if anything or one attempts to jeopardize or compromise this educational model that we have embraced we must unite as a community committed to our children’s future and immediately rectify the situation. That being said, our current finacial dilema requires our immediate reaction- we must create our own T.A.R.P. Fund. (Teachers Are Required Personnel) and put the necessary liquidity into the system to prevent failure. (we have been here before- it’s just a little closer to home!)
    The cost of failure here is incalcuable and unacceptable.
    Straight to the point, then: I propose that we initiate a ‘School Activity Fee’ (or call it what you will ) in conjunction to any other measure or increase implemented, to offset the financial imbalance. Therefore, if everyone with children in the system paid a $150 fee for each elem and middle student and $250 for each high schooler we could eliminate much of the proposed cutting. This T.A.R.P. would be specifically used to retain teachers and maintain programs.
    I have been involved in education for decades and have come to realize that the successful educational model is very simple: quantity of people and quality of people- the greater of each the better. And, with few exceptions, every teacher and administrator I have interacted with in the Montclair system has been dedicated, responsive and integral to the system’s success. They are the keys to our children’s future success and must be maintained, if not increased. We must not allow ourselves to be legislated or reduced to accept ‘adequate’ or ‘proficient’ or ‘average’ when we came here for ‘excellent’ and ‘outstanding’. Like it or not, we must pay more, and more again, to get more.
    Let’s be realistic- cussing, complaining and future political candidates are of no value now (or ever, for that matter). Fast, hard cash is the missing piece to this puzzle. This additional T.A.R.P. investment will provide outstanding ROI by eliminating larger costs in the future to correct our children’s academic shortcomings and missed opportunities. Pay a little more now or pay much more latter- either way, we’re gonna pay.
    There is much more to be said here and many more details to be worked out- but, we must start by putting money on the table for that which we value and hold dear.
    The choice is ours…the time is now…we gotta put up or shut up.
    My children are worth the extra investment- aren’t yours?
    Please email your your comments and ideas to implement this T.A.R.P. to

  32. Not a very good idea.
    Whatever the school system offers should be the same for all students regardless of their income level. I am against any kind of “fee” assessed to “participate” in programs. Either cancel the programs altogether or make them available to any student in the system.

  33. and what happens if someone doesn’t pay the fee. I assume you mean to assess it to everyone not just those in after school activities.
    Also there are about 2000 in the highschool, 1500 in middleschool and 3200 in the elementary schools. The fees you propose would raise about $1 million even. How would that begin to make up 5.4 million?
    To do that the “TARP” fees would have to be $825 for elementary students and $1375 per middle or high schooler .

  34. ROC, I strangely find myself agreeing with you…somewhat.
    I don’t think the idea as presented is equitable. However, if there was some type of means testing, say waive the fee for any child who qualifies for reduced or free lunches, then it might make sense to me.

  35. in my view it’s public education. We can debate what is offered and how, and merit based pay schemes and performance evaluation all we want. But when it gets down to the offerings to students, I think every aspect should be equally open to all students across the board – simply for the socially equalizing effect alone.
    (personally, I’d like to see school uniforms implemented for the same reason)
    I think its healthy for kids to be as “equal” as possible for as long as possible – there is plenty of time in life for “status” later.

  36. no.
    Are you saying that we should end the free lunch program or make all aspects of the schools “means tested”?
    It is very much possible to be able to afford a daily lunch and not be able to afford a $250 activity fee.

  37. mrmichael,
    The right way of achieving the same goal is to make a substantial donation to the MFEE. This can be done either in an unrestricted or restricted way.
    Its tax-deductible and will benefit Montclair schools directly.
    We have done donations every year since our family had kids in the school system and an increase in donors would certainly not hurt.

  38. We already practice what mmichael preaches. Our kids attend Montclair public schools.
    Do we rely on the schools to teach them music? No, for that we pay private teachers.
    Do we rely on the schools to teach them art? No, we send them to classes at the Montclair Art Museum.
    Do we rely on the schools to provide athletics? No, my kids have played for years travel sports team that incur additional fees and are organized outside the schools.
    Do we rely on the schools for language instruction? Not entirely–we also send our kids to private language classes.
    I have heard of parents unsatisfied with the level of math education in the middle schools pay private tutors to teach their kids algebra and geometry so they can be challenged and prepared for high school, at thousands of dollars in expense.

  39. Wow, walleroo–
    With that list, why not just home school ’em?
    Unfortunately though, it almost reads as if you indulge your kids into EVERY interest they have– why rely on schools when you can pay more and have a better experience.
    Town soccer– we’ll do travel!!
    School music– we’ll hire private experts!!
    Really, this comical to me.

  40. What’s comical to me is that someone who stridently weighs in (on an hourly basis) on such topics as whether or not free french fries should be the subject of a blog post knocks someone else for “indulging EVERY interest” with piano lessons.

  41. Something SO Dee-lish-ush about you commenting on someone posting on a hourly basis.
    Understand pal, that one comment tells me all I need to know about you.
    (After laughing at your comment, I’m left with the simple fact that your post makes very little sense. Perhaps you should stick to evaluating School Budgets and the reduction of 5.7 jobs– THAT’S something you seems better suited to do.)

  42. Prof,
    Better to let the 5.7 issue drop – it detracts from your overall points. It is a broadly accepted statistical issue, just like Montclair families average 2.8 per household.
    In general, the only major local revenue alternative in NJ is to increase usage fees. How much & where is the question. Income taxes will rise, but historically, dollar for dollar, towns like Montclair will get back only a fraction of what we pay in. The State also handcuffs municipalities on fees – where and amounts to be applied. This needs to be addressed.
    If a municipality is delivering a non-essential service, e.g. home alarm fees, then I don’t consider it regressive. Compared to a sales tax, usage fees can actually be a more equitable in that there is a modicum of choice for a family.

  43. “Something SO Dee-lish-ush about you commenting on someone posting on a hourly basis.”
    No you get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong in posting a lot. Nothing at all, nor even railing about french fries if that floats your boat.
    It’s more the criticism of someone else’s indulging which I find comical.

  44. Residing,
    I’ll happily let it “drop,” but first you have to acknowledge that your analogy is off.
    When one writes AVERAGE, and then lists “2.8.” We understand the context of the “.8”.
    Here, however, THERE WAS NO CONTEXT of the “5.7 jobs cut.” (And considering these were JOBS CUT, context was needed for clarity.)
    My first post asked the writer or someone to explain how 5.7 was to be cut.
    And for the record, other than a few folks here working to explain it, there was no further explanation of what is STILL a confusing post.
    Save for Roc, but he’s the smartest guy in the room.

  45. Prof,
    OK, I’m easy – let’s forget the analogy.
    JustACitizen had the basics. FTE is a payroll budgeting term which comes into play when you have to allocate the salary/benefits expenses across multiple cost centers.
    I assume CO and each school has their own cost center/budget.
    Fractional allocation of head count is typical in operations & support service functions. On the other hand, most teachers are located in one school, so they would not be allocated under this scenario. But, they go into the aggregate numbers above.
    For example, the middle school number of 15.9 might include a dozen teachers (both f/t & p/t), another dozen support/operations people leaving that group of cost centers.
    The fun part is some will be moved to another cost center which make reductions in similar or totally different functions.
    The other fun part is there is not a direct link to expenses and head count. As someone mentioned, BOE can reduce 15.9 FTE in a cost center and replace with outside services at the same expense. They could also eliminate 3 lower cost FTEs with an upgraded FTE. Drop 3 teachers assistants and replace with a teacher, but don’t assume it is a 2/3rds reduction in payroll/ benefits.
    BOE could have given the $ expense reductions alongside the headcount reductions. I would guess the CO payroll expense reduction will be about 400K, but half the FTE reduction will be achieved by transferring payroll to another cost center.
    It can/does get very complex over an organization this size/scope. Hope this explanation helps.

  46. I GET IT!!!
    My point was the clarity (or lack-thereof) of the post.
    But again, I must be the dumb one (and a few others it seems) who failed to recognize the connection to 5.9 cut jobs and FTE’s (both full and fractional).
    Residing, I hereby nominate you as the official BOE budget interpreter (Roc is way too touchy for the position, you seem reasonable).

  47. “My point was the clarity (or lack-thereof) of the post.”
    Poor prof. When they said 5.9 jobs were cut he thought actual knives were involved….

  48. NJG,
    Based on your posts, I thought you may know, off the top of your head, the answers to the following:
    1. Does the $7.1M you cited reflect the BOE use of reserve funds this year to cover expenses or is there a bigger shortfall?
    2. Is there a new total proposed budget?
    3. Does this 4.9% TAX LEVY include the 350K operating expenses for new school that the BOE left out of their initial 2.9% target increase? I calculated the difference in TARGET BUDGET increase over last year to change from 2.9 to just under 3.3%
    4. Is this 4.9% levy working off the old assessment base or does it reflects the most recent property appeals that the Township Manager indicated was a reason there is a bigger than expected revenue shortfall on the municipal side?
    Apologies in advance if any of these were answered here already.

  49. Roc, Roc, Roc, my FIRST post included a comment about seeing such bloodlust in public… But it’s good to see you, 2 days later, attempting to make the same joke.
    But since you focus all your “talents” on understanding the municipal budgeting process, I can forgive your inability to get a joke in a timely manner.
    Or at the very least, to be original.
    Oh, well. I guess the world needs humorless drones to decipher the numbers.

Comments are closed.