On Nov. 8, Montclair voters will be asked to support a $188 million bond referendum to fund comprehensive infrastructure improvements throughout our school district. This plan includes improvements at every school as well as athletic and performing arts facilities, and includes HVAC and electrical system upgrades, boiler and roof replacements, and other repairs necessary to meet health, safety and building codes.
As a lifelong resident of Montclair, a graduate of Montclair public schools and now a homeowner, taxpayer and parent of two children attending pubic school in Montclair, I share with my fellow Montclarions the concern that the costs of operating and maintaining a first-rate school district must be balanced against the pain point of Montclair property taxes. However, it is completely unacceptable that our students and teachers spend their days in unsafe, unhealthy, substandard buildings that are in dire disrepair and do not meet building codes. Many spaces in our school buildings are being wasted because they are dangerous or otherwise unusable. This is why I am supporting the bond referendum, and why I am urging Montclair voters to do the same.
The debate over how we got here and how we let things get this bad is a valid one, but it doesn’t change the urgency of our predicament, nor does it stop the clock on the aging and degradation of our facilities. In fact, the situation is so critical that the State of New Jersey has recognized the crisis and agreed to contribute $58 million toward the costs. Montclair cannot afford to pass up this opportunity for state assistance any more than we can afford to trap ourselves in an unpredictable and unsustainable cycle of throwing good money after bad on emergency repairs and stop-gap maintenance. This investment in our schools is not only the necessary and right thing to do, but it is the financially sound and smart thing to do.
School districts are a hallmark and reflection of a community. Our students, our families, our taxpayers and our community deserve a school district that accurately reflects the character, values and specialness of Montclair.
Brendan Gill is an Essex County Commissioner.