The preliminary budget for the 2013-14 school year was discussed at last night’s Montclair Board budget meeting. None of the details are finalized, but the document reflects the school board’s interest in evaluating teacher performance more closely, cultivating and recruiting greater educational talent, and implementing the Common Core curricular standards championed by School Superintendent Penny MacCormack.
“There is real need in our community to keep the strong, educational structure that we have,” said Dr. MacCormack, commenting on the feedback she has gotten in the numerous meetings since assuming the superintendent’s position in November 2012. “There is a desire for focus on teacher effectiveness, leadership effectiveness, the developing of talent within, and the implementation of a set of rigorous standards . . . that we know are aligned to realize for our children college and career readiness.” She said that the budget would set the district toward those goals.
The total budget for 2013-14 would come in at $113.5 million, down slightly from the actual $114.6 million of the previous year. Basic state aid would remain consistent at $6.6 million, as would the $97.5 million tax levy. Expenses on regular school programs and employees benefits would increase, however, while administration and transportation costs would go down slightly.
Dr. MacCormack proposed numerous changes to the central support staff. Currently there is one Head of Personnel who does all the hiring and oversees the logistics of HR. Dr. MacCormack is proposing is to separate the functions into two jobs at annual salaries of $118,000 each—a Chief Talent Officer who will focus on strategic recruitment, development of internal talent, help retain talent and offer assistance with evaluation and professional development for our staff. The other position will be to handle all of the logistics of Human Resources, the forms, the paperworks the compliance and legal issues. They will be actively in the buildings.and The Recruiter of Talent will focus on strategic recruitment, development of internal talent, help retain talent and offer assistance. The special assistant to the superintendent would be replaced by a talent officer overseeing both, with professional development of teachers and principals aligned to the new evaluation systems. Dr. MacCormack hopes to cultivate more principals in an educational leadership role, with managerial skills being referred to deans of students in the largest schools. The chief talent officer will be spending 1.5 days or 25% of their time in the buildings. The content area academic staff will be spending 2.5 days of the week or 50% of their time in the buildings helping to develop content area, improve instruction and evaluation, while Dr. MacCormack herself would spend the same amount of time in principal instructional leadership.
“To have these things actually happen,” she said, “you have to have a staff dedicated to these ideas.” The effort to get them to staffers from a central support office to spend more time in the schools was crucial, she added, to avoid a disconnect.
Dr. MacCormack also said that the strategies she hopes to implement will help the board budget more carefully as the fund balance decreases. For 2013-14, it’s expected to decrease 22 percent, from $6.1 million to $4.8 million.
The board members were mostly pleased with the spending plans emphasizing enhances teacher development and student achievement, with a few questions on the particulars. Leslie Larson asked about the jump in food service from $25,000 to $130,000, and Interim Business Manager Nicholas Puleio explained the there was a deficit in the 2011-12 school year food expenses, with this year’s $25,000 figure an underestimation. “We’re trying to project that money going forward,” he said, “to help offset the deficit in food services correctly.”
Shelly Lombard asked about the sharp capital outlay decrease from $1,265,938 in the current school year to $144,721 for 2013-14. Puleio told her that the district had to place that number as an appropriation because the New Jersey Schools Development Authority required them to pay it a certain percentage on the bonds sold to find school construction. “We feel that that is perhaps a little bit more than our share should be,” he said, “but that’s a given number to us, so we have to appropriate that . . .. Any school district that had a grant from the Schools Development Authority has an appropriation that they have to put in.” The larger sum was mostly for one-time capital expenditures, he said.
Board President Robin Kulwin took a moment at the beginning of the meeting to issue a progress report on the teachers’ contract negotiations with the Montclair Education Association (MEA). The board met again with the MEA on Friday, March 1, and set dates throughout the month to continue talks to avoid mediation.
“The board and the MEA agreed that each side will maintain the confidentiality of the contract negotiation process and will not engage in any public discussion or disclosure of the content of their ongoing negotiations,” Kulwin said, promising to keep the public updated. The board also made arrangements to pay through March the cost of COBRA benefits for seventeen employees who would have seen their health benefits interrupted after February 28.
The budget won plaudits from local residents, with Carol Schlein saying she liked what she heard about the emphasis on meeting goals of excellence in the budget. Others, though, decried the rhetoric of the MEA at the February 25 school board meeting. Resident Carol Evertsen said she was “torn apart” by the teachers’ union leadership, calling it harmful and divisive.
Board member Deborah Wilson, citing her experience as a human resources manager, praised Dr. MacCormack for her vision in reworking the central staff. “[We’ve] never had that kind of depth and breadth in HR, let alone talent,” she said.
The meeting, which was relocated to the Glenfield Middle School auditorium, then adjourned, with plans to meet at the same location tonight, March 5, to adopt the budget tentatively.