While the Montclair township council passed its 2010 budget only two months ago, budgetary funding for 2011 dominated the discussion at last night’s council meeting.

In a nutshell, the potential funding for the Montclair Community Pre-K program (MCPK) and Montclair Arts Council (MAC) was up for debate, but no vote was officially taken that evening.

The surprise came at the end of the meeting, from Harvey Susswein, treasurer of MAC, when he recommended to deny all funding for MAC in the coming months. Susswein reported that MAC has recently received a $15,000 grant from the state, which would be “sufficient to complete the wind down of MAC and completion of its programs for the remainder of the year.” It was clear — though not till after much discussion preceding Susswein’s presentation — that MAC would no longer continue to exist in its present form when 2010 ends.

The meeting opened with Township Manager Marc Dashield forecasting to the mayor, council and 22 people present in the council chambers the circumstances surrounding the budget for 2011. In addition, he offered his recommendations concerning how much the council should put in the temporary budget for these two organizations. The temporary budget will be voted on at the next council meeting, on Dec. 28.

“There will be a tremendous stress on the 2011 budget,” said Dashield.

Speaking in approximations, Dashield said that Montclair ‘s 2010 budget is $70 million. Of this number, $39 million is mandated for things such as insurance and debt in the township; $30 million is dedicated to salaries and wages; the remaining funds are for various other expenses, such as the MCPK and MAC.

Because of the newly mandated two-percent tax levy cap signed into law this year, Montclair’s budget can only increase by approximately $900,000. Dashield estimated that municipal salaries and wages will increase by $900,000, while pension and health insurance costs will expand by nearly $2 million.

Dashield then included into these projections the expected revenue shortfalls, all of which would make the township $3.3 million over budget.

In order to reduce this turgid budget, but also focus on providing the core principles of “safety, health and welfare,” Dashield recommended to the council that the MCPK and MAC be funded for the first-quarter of 2011, or 90 days. This will afford them time to “transition out” and find alternative sources of funding.

The first-quarter funding for MCPK and MAC would amount to $70,000 and $52,000, respectively.

Upon questioning from the council members, Dashield admitted that although he was suggesting to fund MCPK and MAC for only three months, he had no specific plan for where exactly the township would find the money to appropriate to them in the 2011 budget.

After Dashield finished, Scott Novak (right), chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Montclair Early Childhood Corporation, offered to the mayor and council their own comments.

“We are asking that you allow us to make it through the school year,” said Novak. If funding is cut off, “you will be throwing the lives of many Montclair residents into disarray.”

The MCPK is a publicly and privately funded institution, which provides a safety net for those families that cannot afford pre-K education for their children. Tuition is based on a sliding scale, where lower-income families pay less, and families making a higher income pay more; the difference is made up in scholarships provided by fundraising efforts, grants and funds from the township. Monthly tuition for a single student ranges from $80-$975 a month, said Novak.

If the township denies its funding for the second half of the year, Novak said that an estimated 70 of the currently enrolled students could not afford to attend the school.

With an annual budget of $2.3 million, Novak said the school would need $200,000 to make it through the rest of the year.

“We are facing a fairly depressing 2011 when it comes to the budget,” said councilor Nick Lewis. “I am hoping against hope something can be found in the future.”

The council seemed on the precipice of an unsettling position, and it showed on their faces. On one hand, there clearly needs to be budget cuts, and MCPK is not at the top of the list for funding. However, by not offering any funding, the council will essentially leave the MCPK without the means to educate all of the currently enrolled pre-K students; not to mention it could cause some parents to take their children out of the school entirely for the remainder of the year.

Susswein walked up next to the podium to address the council, stating that MAC would rely on their own grant money to complete their current programs.

“This sounds like an obituary,” said councilor Rich Murnick.

Councilor Renee Baskerville applauded Susswein and MAC for their “selfless gesture.”

Baskerville’s sentiment was echoed by most of the other councilors in one form or another.

Linda Davidson, who is on the MAC Board of Directors and also Assistant Dean for the College of the Arts at Montclair University, was one of the only residents to speak to the council in support of MAC during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“I just want to say that for the very first time in my memory,” said Davidson, “having lived here 18 years, I don’t ever recall the Arts not being represented in anyway, shape or form in the municipal government.

“This is the first time, it appears as so, that there is no funding to support entities that support all of the Arts collectively in the township. And I think it is a very very sad day. The small amount of funding that the township has provided has leveraged so much, in terms of funding for the Arts.”

27 replies on “Montclair’s 2011 Budget Cuts Forecast: Pre-K and MAC on the Block”

  1. I wrote so much, but then erased it all for this:

    For years we have elected incompetent individuals to run this town. I am disappointed in the residents, including myself, but again find no solace in the fact that the latest group of elected officials may possibly be the worst of all.

    I believe the scope and magnitude of the fiscal dilemma Montclair is in, cannot even be comprehended by most on the council!

  2. On their website, they describe themselves as a “private non profit”. Here it is described as a publicly and privately funded institution? How many students equals 70%? What efforts are they making to reduce costs? I would like to see a little more transparency when requesting funding.

  3. Editor’s note to Kevin57, the actual number of students is 70, not 70%. Sorry for the confusion. It was our error and was corrected by Novak.

  4. The loss of a subsidized pre-k program will have repurcussions for years to come. It has been proven beyond doubt that early intervention with disadvantaged kids gives them better outcomes in the future.

    This is a clear case that Christie’s cuts in education aid to municipalities are punitive, and target low and moderate income families while benefitting the wealthy, who can afford private schools, nannies and tutors. This expense could have been covered by a modest tax on the state’s wealthiest residents. We shoould be funding public education through inome tax on a per-pupil basis from pre-k thru 12th grade — not through property taxes.

  5. “We shoould be funding public education through inome tax on a per-pupil basis from pre-k thru 12th grade — not through property taxes.”

    There you have it. How likely is that to happen?

  6. JG, that’ll happen when somebody with a spine and political cajones dares to bring up the ‘T’ word. Last one was Florio; he got run out of office by the other Christy, who put us on the path we find ourselves on.

  7. “This is a clear case that Christie’s cuts in education aid to municipalities are punitive, and target low and moderate income families while benefiting the wealthy, who can afford private schools, nannies and tutors.”



    Why is being able to afford private schools, nannies and tutors a bad thing that you should be punished for being able to do?

    Your attitude towards individuals private property, earned and already taxed, truly disgusts me!

  8. Well said Kit. When more schools fail No Child Left Behind standards, the state will be forced to spend more on tutors, extra help, etc, and that expense will push up taxes.

    Someone had to lose on the budget cuts, however, and since we live in a winner take all world it’s no surprise who’s taking it on the chin.

    Anybody got good news today?

  9. Kyle, that you should regard progressive taxation as punishment, and support cuts in taxes which only negatively impact the middle & lower classes is pretty telling :


    Plenty of disgust to go around.

  10. The good news is that neither Montclair nor Glen Ridge had any cops show up on the steroid scandal list in today’s Ledger. Bloomfield had 1 cop.

  11. That is good news.

    We live in a society, Kyle. Usually that means there are such things as a ‘common good’. Right now it looks like education will not be part of the common good and that’s a shame.

    Hey maybe we can just import educated Chinese and Indians. Let’s outsource education as well.

  12. Fortunately, objectivism is usually embraced by adolescents who later outgrow it’s shallow precepts.

  13. “Dashield estimated that municipal salaries and wages will increase by $900,000, while pension and health insurance costs will expand by nearly $2 million.”

    OK, how can we keep that $900K in wages/salaries from being spent? Layoffs? Reopening and renegotiating contracts? Why do we have ANY wage increases?!? And the $2 million pension/insurance increases–any way around those? Because any increase this year will just be compounded in future years.

  14. The problems here are driven by rising salary/benefit costs. Paying via a different tax really doesn’t solve the problem.

  15. Kevin, while I agree that salaries and benefits need to be reined in (especially the latter) the fact remains that as a result of these cuts, affluent districts like Glen Ridge will retain their pre-k programs a little longer, and affluent families will continue to send their kids to pre-k while the working poor will not be able to afford it, giving the kids whose families can afford it an early advantage. It’s a cut that has an unequal impact. Changing how education is funded would be much fairer.

  16. Kit, you’re making too much sense. Fair is not a value, we seem to value anymore.

    Even though I don’t want to live in the jungle, we’re being forced to live by its laws.

  17. The same dimwits who want to cut unemployment benefits (DeCroce says $550 a week is too high for “those people”) are the first to squeal “class warfare”. There is class warfare alright — its been waged by the haves against everyone else for years. And they’ve been winning, all the while whining about how tough things are for them. Talk about “disgust”, indeed.

    Oliver might want to review the definition of a contract. While efforts can be made to renegotiate agreements made in the past few years, “getting around” them is absurd. There are wage increases because they were agreed to. Perhaps the union members should decide to “get around” some of the things in the contract as well.

    Pension reform should happen. I believe that it will, and of course a good start might be the state paying into the system for a change — they’ve skipped years worth of contributions. The next round of contract talks should start with a 0% increase, at least until the economy picks up. But these types of negotiations will only occur when the two sides have some trust and respect for each other, and right now that is not the case by a long shot.

  18. I’m familiar with the concept of contracts–that’s why I talked about reopening and renegotiating them. In some municipalities, public sector employees voluntarily forgo certain things for the greater good; for instance, teachers accepting wage freezes to avert layoffs of others.

  19. Joining this debate is like kicking a skunk. No one wins. Yes, early intervention has proven benefits, but the funding and delivery models are what need to be looked at. More tax is NOT the answer. The existing system is bloated and sclerotic, rife with Byzantine union regulations, cash traps like “special education,”and is arguably more about maintaining the status quo than effectively educating our children. We have been throwing good money after bad for several decades now, and the results have never improved. Clearly we need to examine the root causes. This will be bitter medicine for some to swallow, but the reality is THERE IS NO MORE MONEY. What has happened to public education is a national embarrassment, and it owes far more to bad management than lack of funding.

  20. Oliver, the pension and insurance issues cannot be renegotiated at the local level by teachers, etc. The pension system is a statewide system and contributions are mandatory, and are the same percentage of salary across the state. Township officials can look for the best deal from insurers, but the teachers, etc. do not choose the provider or negotiate with them. Therefore, your question about “getting around” things prompts the question, again — do you understand the concept of contracts?

  21. Teachers in Montclair will receive a 3% salary increase in 2011. And they pay .5% for their health insurance.

    How about a show of hands of anyone getting similar raise or a cheap benefits in 2011?

  22. I don’t understand this discussion. MCPK needs $200k to finish out the school year, which seems negligible when compared to the $3.3M shortfall for the year due in part to $2M increase in pension and health insurance increases.

    According to a presentation by a member of the CCM (concerned citizens of Montclair) our town employees ‘enjoy a very rich healthcare plan’. The CCM looked for other insurance plans to give Montclair a better price on healthcare insurance and were told that it’s the very rich coverage that is driving our high expenses, along with the statistic that apparently our employees are ‘heavy users’ of the coverage, making them an expensive population to insure. I believe Jerry Fried said the employees don’t even have a co-pay when they go to the doctor.

    When I started working for a large corporation about 20 years ago, we originally had very rich healthcare coverage too, which the corporation paid for almost entirely. Five years later, corporations realized they had to pass on some of these costs to their employees and so they started offering different plans for different prices. You were able to pay for what you actually needed or were willing to pay for. If you share some of the cost when you go to the doctor, you make smarter decisions and don’t over-consume healthcare dollars. Montclair’s council needs to make the tough and unpopular decision to insist that our township employees live in the same world as the residents who work in the private sector and who pay their salaries.

    I realize there are contracts in place, but difficult times force difficult decisions. I’ve heard a professional negotiator and several lawyers say, ‘contracts are made to be re-negotiated’.

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