A poor learning environment (Letter to the Editor)
The state of school infrastructure in the United States is dismal by any measure. Across the country we have watched as teachers and students have protested conditions in buildings. School districts, like Detroit and Chicago, make the news but not too long ago our own schools were closed for a year and half due largely to poor HVAC systems amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We cannot fix the bigger issues around how schools are funded overnight, but here in Montclair, we have a chance to radically improve things for the roughly 7,500 students, teachers and staff who make up our Montclair Public School District. Hot classrooms are only one factor harming the health and learning potential of our students but it is the factor I most often hear teachers and children complain about.
When asked about the temperature in her classroom one Nishuane teacher responded with “In the 22 years that I have been at Nishuane, my main complaint has been the extreme heat all year long.” She went on to explain how there is no escaping it when the sun is beating down and the heater is on full blast. Even before COVID shut down our schools, a teacher sought me out when I was elected PTA treasurer to tell me that if there was one thing the PTA could help with, please let it be A/C because her classroom was so miserable. My own children have begged to wear shorts in January because their rooms are just too hot and they are not the only ones. According to schools.forhealth.org, an online publication from the Harvard School of Public Health, for every increase of 1 degree Fahrenheit, test scores fell by 0.2% (Building Health Report, p.21.) How much are our children losing due to simply being too hot to learn?
As funding gaps continued to grow in public education nationwide, Montclair failed to close the gap and invest in our school buildings. Eighty percent of Montclair’s school budget goes to salaries and benefits. That leaves only 20% for everything else from building maintenance costs to pencils. I believe a majority of people in Montclair understand that our schools are in poor condition and only disagree on where we go from here. From my perspective, we can all sit around and argue about how and why we got to the point we did or can vote to fix it. We in Montclair have the opportunity to say “yes” to giving our children and teachers the schools they deserve. We have the chance to literally put our money where our mouths are when it comes to how important we think public education is. We can vote yes to improve the health and safety of our children and their teachers. We can vote yes to providing students a learning environment where they aren’t freezing or sweating all year long. If ever there was an issue to be in agreement on, it should be this one. Vote yes and then together we must hold our district administration accountable to properly execute the promised capital projects. Our kids, our teachers and our community are worth this and so much more.