Your first thought about the school district cutting $5.5 million from its 2023-24 budget — causing the layoffs of 31 teachers and many paraprofessionals, as well as other devastating changes?


Paymaster Disaster

I thought about how the federal government could free up lots of money for school districts by modestly cutting a military budget so bloated it should swallow an Alka-Seltzer the size of a hippo.


Is that tablet chewable? Plus rich U.S. citizens and corporations are under-taxed yet still often pay only a portion of the taxes they owe. That lost money could also help schools in Montclair and elsewhere.


The Grateful Deadbeats

Unfortunately, many of the rich send their kids to private schools and care little about public education — although adding up their luxury cars and vacation homes provides a public education in math.


Are you engaging in class warfare?


World War Twee

I never hurled a blackboard eraser at another student in a classroom.


What about the suggestion that our school district get some of Montclair’s PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) money from wealthy developers? Currently, none of those funds go to education.


Unfair Way, Not The Fairway

A welcome suggestion in a Lani Sommer-Padilla-created petition signed by nearly 1,800 people after just a few days. I know the “Share Montclair” Facebook group is gone, but its name still resonates.


School budgets have been badly hurt by a big rise in costs during this high-inflation time (even while state aid remains relatively flat) and by a state cap limiting annual budget increases to 2 percent. End the cap?


Jaded in Jersey

Yes. It’s a sad legacy of former governor Chris Christie, who, like many right-wing Republicans, dislikes public education. Why the cap remains is a mystery worthy of another Christie — Agatha.


Could the 2 percent cap for a school year’s budget be waived in Montclair if put to a referendum?


Waiver-ly Place

Seems so, and it would probably pass — like the greatly needed school-infrastructure bond that’s raising our taxes. We want what’s best for our children, even though The Beatles didn’t want Pete Best.


While it may not have been intended, schools in the northern, whiter, more affluent section of Montclair seemingly got fewer budget cuts. Can you explain the math?


Closer-to-Canada Schools

07043 minus 07042 equals a number of eyebrows raised.


Reminds me of the claims that Firehouse No. 3 near Nishuane Park hasn’t been maintained as well as Firehouse No. 2 in Upper Montclair, and also has fewer amenities.


The Truck Stops There

07043 minus 07042 equals one Viking stove.


About 100 upset students, parents, and staff at May 15’s jam-packed Board of Education meeting spoke passionately against the budget cuts and loss of teacher jobs. Comment?


Vexed at the Annex

A heart-wrenching scene repeated almost every year. I’d call it a nightmarish version of “Groundhog Day,” but the groundhog was laid off, too.


Will the 2023-24 school budget shake out enough by the summer, with retirements and such, to allow some laid-off teachers to be hired back?


Henceforth of July

That’s happened in the past, but there’s the stress and uncertainty ousted educators face and the chance of losing them to different districts. Surprisingly, towns other than Montclair might exist.


Getting back to the aforementioned rich, would some of Montclair’s wealthiest residents consider covering the $5.5-million shortfall?


Cache of Cash

Unlikely. And I’m puzzled by your implication that our town has a short fall; autumn is the same length everywhere.


The BOE approved the distressing 2023-24 budget during a LONG meeting on May 15.


Dee Moralized

Not a coincidence that May 15 is also the day (in 1940) that the first McDonald’s opened.


Then, the next day, many students and adults also spoke at the similarly long Township Council meeting to lament the $5.5 million in cuts, ask if some PILOT money could go to schools, and more.


Fund Time, Not Fun Time

With the municipal budget also on the table at that May 16 meeting, Montclair was a “Budget Battered Community” this week. Our town has some British residents, but the BBC should remain in London.



Dave Astor, author, is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.



20 replies on “MontClairVoyant: School Budget Slammed at Meetings Crammed”

  1. Dave,

    I have never seen 12,000 adults of school age children collectively avoid taking responsibility for anything, especially a $140MM operating budget and a $180MM capital budget they directly oversee. And all this doe/rae/me with a declining enrollment to staff. When I die, I want to come back and live in their world. As a person, not a pet. These are the some of the same people who want to ticket off-leash dogs on Sundays just after the sun came out over the trees (and the Hudson River).

    I have to wonder how they are raising their children to achieve the goal of delivering a public (societal) beneficence for the a 57% of tax dollars for. I don’t look at their numbers because, as many in the know believe & voiced at the mtg, the district can’t manage its financial affairs.

    Here is my question. I went through MHS with the barbarian schedule these students are revolting against. Clearly, I came out the other side as a moron. Isn’t all this proof I was deprived an adequate public education I was promised and my diploma isn’t worth the paper it was printed on. Can I sue the school district? Pain & suffering for all the years I mangled the written and spoken English? My multiplication tables which clearly are alien to the tables taught today. I still think 12 x12 = a gross.

  2. And I am all for giving extra municipal revenues to the school district. But, there will be conditions, some concessions, and a lot of change:

    1) They parents need to reverse the declining test scores of their children…and not by lowering the passing grade or opting your students out. If a certain % opt out, the funding is cutoff. Yes, standardized tests are coming back. So, no more of the advance a child to the next grade if not mtg expectations. Of course, we will intervene much earlier in the year. No waiting until have the year passes and and the excuses why the child fell behind.

    2) The adults take over monitoring the school district and the elected BoE. We’ll still let you have the appearance of control just like it is now, but we’ll actually be making a positive impact.

    3) A family of two students contributes less than $10,000 out of the $40,000 per pupil cost to educate Mtc students. The gravy train is over. We’re cutting all no-essential services that are not directly going to education. In other words, socialization activates are you responsibility.

    4) We will implement a policy where PTA’s must pool their contributions and donations into a single, district-wide pool and allocated by a 3-person committee of which one is one of your peeps from the BoE. Remember, this is a collective public good endeavor and not one to advance your self-interests.

    5.) We will implement usage/pay to play or whatever we call them fees. Yes, the users will have to pay more and we will use the PTA donations to pay for low-income households. We will also eliminate off-campus food runs and all edibles will be available in-house by ea. school.

    6.) We are going to cut the athletic budget drastically and charge/increase prices for sports events – even LAX. This new uniforms/equipment/playing fields will be rolled back. Again, you can supplement with booster organizations, but it goes into one pot so we can ensure equity and legal compliance. We’ll put in lights at all school fields so we can maximize field usage up until 10pm. Since the 5th graders could attend the Council mtg that late, they should be able to practice or compete that late.

    7) Courtesy busing is going away. Again, one of our gentrified parent-based organization can collect funding to provide transportation. If it is discriminatory, it will be because you were unwilling to open up your wallets.

    8) Class size will go up in certain grades and courses. Large group instruction will become a staple. Not a ton of it, but enough to control payroll costs.

    9) Lastly, we will create a watchdog committee of conflict-free citizens bringing public accounting, financing, organizational design & performance, and lots of common sense expertise to work with the district at least b-weekly every month of the year to budget/report/react/act & be accountable. Hopefully, this group will also make OPRA/OPMA requests obsolete.

    Big changes coming. You have opened our eyes that the same ol’, same ol’ doesn’t cut it anymore. The education system in Montclair is broken. Has been for decades. Yeah, not just here either. We need to put aside our fear of change on housing property values. Let’s focus on what we can control and what is most important – educating our kids. I have total faith you can do better.

    PS: We may have to introduce a/some charter schools to get the competitive juices flowing and ramp up the sense of urgency.

  3. I slept on it and it helped clarify my thinking. I realized that education requires educating.

    My thought is to put together an Adult School class. Beginner Level stuff. Short, too. I want to keep it to 15 mins because I respect all the competing demands on our time.

    My draft syllabus covers 7 topics that addresses much of what transpired over the budget meetings this week. I figure 90 seconds a topic with an intro and a recap. They are:

    [ ] The Do’s & Don’ts of Abdicating Your Parental Role.
    [ ] 10 Mistakes Parent Make Using Underage Negotiators
    [ ] Hillside Swap FAQs: Donating Gently Used Parental Obligations
    [ ] School Financing for Household Executives*
    (*Prerequisite – proficiency in word processor software)
    [ ] Age Appropriate Guidelines When Exposing Your Children To Hysterical Realism
    [ ] Winning The’ The Greater Good’ Debate To Advance Your Self-Interests
    [ ] The Not Consumer Report’s Top Teflon Coating Picks For Repelling Parental Accountability

    Pretty good, right? Next year I could create a Non-Stakeholder (non-parents) version.

  4. Thank you for the comments, Frank.

    Your suggestions (100% serious or partly tongue-in-cheek?) about what the school district should do in return for getting some municipal money might be assuming that Montclair’s municipal leadership in general is more competent than Montclair’s BOE/school-district leadership in general. Nope. The school district should get some PILOT money, but spare it the municipal oversight.

    And, if I’m reading what you say correctly, you’re criticizing some parents for being elitist/not taking enough responsibility/not having enough competence yet want them to become more involved in making the school district better. Seems kind of contradictory. Besides, many parents ARE involved in helping the school district in skilled, meaningful, time-consuming ways.

    Also, so-called “nonessential” elements of the education experience — arts, music, electives, extracurriculars, sports, etc. — are in fact essential to help students be well-rounded people.

    As for charter schools, they take money from public schools. That would sure help the public schools’ budget deficit. 🙄

  5. Dave,

    There are great parents out there. I know more than a few. What I saw at the Council mtg were parents readily exploiting their children to sow guilt among the Council and the rest of the taxpaying public. They were sowing guilt to get an end-around 6.4% increase to the school tax levy. To replicate all teat the district offered & entailed last year, keeping this all in place, would have required, in effect, an 8% increase to the school tax levy. And it wouldn’t stop this year. These increases would become more of the norm in their world.
    We have lived this scenario a few times in the past. I think you moved here in time to experience some portion of it as a homeowner.

    Their share of revenue would steadily increase to the low 60% of the pie and continue and to grow. And remember, we still need another $120MM of bonds above and beyond the $180MM we just approved. Remember? Remember I said give it to them now. BTW, how the regular update reports of our capital program progress?

    I am furious and really have had it with the level of parental greed and entitlement I’m seeing. Many give back to the schools only because it directly benefits their children and when their children move on, they also move on. What contributes to these feeling is the parent asked and the voters gave them the tools to oversee/manage the school district free of municipal gov’t interference. They didn’t educate themselves on what the new form of governance entailed. Maybe thought someone else would do their job. I really don’t care. They were handed the tools to finance their fiefdom, yet the muni side consultant had to explain to them Tuesday night how to use these tools were given. They have the power to bypass the middle person, the Council, and go straight to referendum to get the money they deserve. Yet, they declined and want to go through the obstructionist, deflecting Council they scorn. OK, not the dumbest cohort of parents I’ve seen put on a show, but they are definitely deserve special mention.

    We’re not printing money. Just because they are ignorant of how public financing works, is no excuse for not knowing it comes out of the same wallets in the end. It’s a little more convoluted, but I have to talk to them at a level they can understand.

    Am I being harsh. No more venomous than the words and statements used this week in protest for not supporting our schools. The least they could do is grow some thicker skin if they are going to dish it.

  6. Frank, I’m all for a referendum to bypass the 2% cap and thus increase the school budget. It’s ridiculous that health-insurance costs, transportation costs, etc., go up well over 2% when the budget can’t follow that trajectory. And, yes, educators have gotten raises that are (slightly) more than 2% a year, but they deserve them — and those raises don’t keep pace with inflation.

    As for what you said about parents “exploiting” their children to speak at Tuesday’s Township Council meeting, I think the students — including the elementary-school ones — very much WANTED to speak. For most of them, it was probably their idea, not their parents’ idea. Those students are on “the front lines” seeing their beloved teachers and paras laid off.

  7. Thank you Dave. I value the perspective of all on the front lines, those in the trenches, those that seize the day. Who are we to judge those testing and those being tested. I was impressed by the children. The parents should stick to putting a roof over their heads, food on the table and drive them to & fro.

  8. I was also impressed with how the students spoke, Frank. The Montclair school system has many impressive students!

  9. Oh, and let’s really think outside our Tupperware containers and outsource Calculus instruction. I know it is kinda obvious, but, c’mon, there is plenty of low-hanging fruit. What does our calculus instructor cost? Or, how about those science teachers. I’m just shocked some of the more talented teachers haven’t formed their own private company and sell their services back to districts like ours with a teeny, tiny student population to service.

    It is sad when a secretary from Central Office has to lecture parents in creative revenue sourcing. That was scene was worth the price of admission.

    Are parents now that programmed they can’t muster imagination and creativity? Maybe they never had it. I think they did & many might still have it. In the meantime, the kids will man the ramparts to repel ignorance and conformity while the parents regroup.

  10. It is disheartening and disgusting how Mayor Spiller, who is also the NJEA president, remains unbothered by the problems faced by our schools, teachers, and students. He offered no solutions to BOE cutting 55 teachers and paras. His only response was: well, schools decided to go in the direction of self-governance so now it’s their problem.

    What about calling his buddy Governor Murphy and asking him to reinstate the state funding to schools? One or two residents at the last council meeting suggested that.

    Most teachers are dedicated to the education of our students and are passionate about their success. They work tirelessly with limited resources and in challenging working conditions. And yes, with low salaries too. Most of our teachers can’t afford to live in Montclair. The value of teachers living in the same community as their students is undeniable. Yet our local leaders are washing their hands off this problem.

    Starting salary for a teacher in Montclair is in the low 50s. With Spiller’s beloved Governor Murphy hiking the health care costs by 20% this year, teachers are taking home even less. Don’t tell me about the proportionally high amount of union dues teachers pay for what they are getting from NJEA. Sean Spiller gets paid about $750,000/year for schmoozing with Governor Murphy. What is this schmoozing getting for the teachers? Answer: NOTHING. What it’s getting is Spiller’s own personal advancement. In a state like New Jersey where education is highly supported, many teachers don’t even make $60k.

    We all know that most teachers take work home. And we also know that since the schools don’t provide enough resources, teachers often end up buying supplies with their own money. Sean Spiller is the worst advocate for teachers and students. He claims to be an ‘educator’ himself. Mr. Spiller: When was the last time you taught a class or observed what happens in a real classroom? Where were you when MHS students walked out of schools in support of their teachers? You ducked out, nowhere to be seen.

    It is also amazing that while the teaching profession is dominated by women, NJEA leaders are predominantly male. You see one or two female leaders, but when you look at the entire executive board, it is dominated by men and it has been that way for years.

    NJEA union leaders’ priorities are misdirected. Instead of spending all their energies on supporting their buddy politicians, they ought to consider focusing on grassroots problems.

  11. What I am waiting for is the gosh darn amazing PTA to OPRA a Financial Agreement for a recent Redevelopment project. These parents want to take the 2% capped increases (another cap! Jeez!) of PILOT revenue. And let’s remember your district costs are going up faster than 2%. OK, I’ll wait while the parents take out a calculator or call their accountant.

    OK, slowly it has dawned over the parents…then we’ll raise taxes via referendum to fund our spending. Oh, and those living in the redevelopment projects will have to pay the additional tax. It’s ok. It’s ok to say you dunno.

  12. “…think outside our Tupperware containers” — great phrase, Frank! 😂 If there are any morsels left over from the obscene $1,000 dessert at that Church Street place, a Tupperware container would be the perfect repository… 🙂

    I think there are many imaginative and creative parents in Montclair.

    Also, it occurred to me that if Montclair officials hadn’t allowed Glen Ridge to severely underpay when the fire-services deal was renewed, our municipal government would have more money — making it less painful to give some PILOT dollars to the school district.

  13. Thank you for the comment, AKnightly!

    I agree that the mayor could make more use of his (supposed) close friendship with the governor to ask for more state aid for Montclair schools — and for the 2% cap to be eliminated at a time when costs are going up much higher than 2%. Perhaps the mayor is doing some asking privately, but I suspect not.

    And, yes, Montclair’s terrific teachers are definitely underpaid for the great work they do and also underpaid when the cost of living in expensive Montclair and expensive New Jersey is factored in. It WOULD be nice if more educators could afford to live in the town they teach in.

  14. OK, this is getting to be just one hoot after another. The BoE President and parents, representing all that is good and swell about Montclair, want to tap into the muni PILOT money revenue stream. That is The Right Hand (school operating expenses) at work.

    While the shiny balls are floating above, all sparkly and all so fine, The Left Hand (school capital management) is being advised by David Placek of BDP Holdings.

    Now the Mayor (and the aforementioned NJEA President) and his Council plans enter into a Financial Agreement with…David Placek of BDP Holdings. Not possibly one, but twice and I don’t rule out thrice.

    And this Council might decide to earmark PILOT funds in 2024 to our schools to what exactly?

    I won’t say what this is walks like a duck. Nor that it talks like a duck. Or, even that it looks like a duck. I’ll simply say, with climate change and all, we should create a 2nd rainy day fund for legal expenses. It couldn’t hurt.

  15. Frank Rubacky: Why can’t the Fire Department muster imagination and creativity for once? I love our firefighters but I can’t dispute that they have plenty of time for brainstorming about alternative source of revenues or reductions in their costs. My understanding is that Montclair firefighters work only 8 days a month.

    Any savings effectuated by MFD could be used towards retaining the teachers. That said, the elected BOE should take responsibility to run the schools in a fiscally prudent way as they promised, instead of asking the taxpayers to pay more.

  16. Thanks, Frank, for your “oh what a tangled web we weave” comment at 4:33 pm yesterday. I don’t think any developer with interests in Montclair should be advising on our school district’s capital budget.

  17. “ (…) we should create a 2nd rainy day fund for legal expenses. It couldn’t hurt.” – Frank Rubacky

    I agree. It also couldn’t hurt to hire a REAL town attorney who knows a thing or two about local and state law. The interim one we currently have (Paul Burr) is an abject failure and it has shown time and time again. I’m told he had ZERO (0!) years of experience as town attorney when he got hired! That’s why the law department’s budget went through the roof last year – he keeps giving contract increases to outside law firms because they end up doing all the work instead of it being handled in house, as was the case previously. My neighbor said that she looked at the numbers and law department’s budget doubled last year. I am not happy about that.

    I actually reached out to Mr. Burr last week asking him for information about PILOTs in the context of school funding. He mumbled something incomprehensible, misused a few words, and said he would have to research and get back to me. Naturally, I never heard back. He is just as bad as the muni-clerk. What a waste of taxpayer money. I’ll admit she is better spoken than he, but what does that do for residents?

    Council members, here’s an idea: Why don’t you hire one COMPETENT town attorney instead of two amateurs and give the surplus to the schools. A competent, experienced attorney will handle most matters in house thus saving a fortune on outside counsel. How’s that for creativity/imagination in finding funding?

  18. Aknightly,
    Like the teachers, not their job.
    Here are the Township labor contracts:

    The FMBA, pg 9, will help further inform your understanding.

    The parents can have whatever increase they vote for. I’m just saying lose the moral superiority look. Some just can’t pull it off.

    It is a significant issue across our public entities. I don’t want to get sued, so I will simply say there needs to be annual training by outside attorneys & attendees need to sign off they have been trained and understand their responsibilities. Basically, signal we are very serious.

  19. Thank you for the comment, Thomas! I’m also not impressed with the current township attorney, and it’s a shame about all the extra money being spent on legal expenses.

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