Montclair BOE president says budget cuts are necessary (Town Square)
By ALLISON SILVERSTEIN
In years past, during school budget season parents came to speak out in droves, upset that their voices were not heard or included in the process. This year, especially, that couldn’t be further from the mark.
In all, seven of Montclair’s nine school board members have children currently attending schools in the district. All four members of the board’s Finance Committee, which sat at meetings with the administration and stakeholders to review the budget, have children in Montclair public schools. All of them.
Our children attend four of the five schools facing staffing reductions; the other school is Nishuane, where two of us had children attend prior to moving on to Hillside and middle school.
My point is we know something about parents’ concerns because they are our concerns, too. We have spent many hours working to make sure parent voices are reflected at every turn in the effort to close the budget gap with as little impact on staff as possible. Fellow parents, you are heard and you are spoken for.
The sad reality, as many parents know, is that every year funds flowing into our schools cannot keep up with the increasing costs of running these schools. The district has an extremely limited ability to increase revenue to keep up with contractual pay increases, rising health care and transportation costs and an overall increase in the costs of goods and services due to inflation.
This is not a problem unique to Montclair. We have seen many other towns also cut staff, terminate courtesy busing and resort to other measures to help close significant budget deficits.
What many may not be aware of is, according to the recent audit, student enrollment in Montclair decreased by 611 between 2019 and 2022. No one ever wants to decrease staff, but it is not fiscally responsible to employ more staff in 2022 than in 2019 when we have 9 percent fewer students.
The board’s aim in this context has been to maintain school programs while unavoidably reducing staffing. And to do that through the lens of efficiency. Given that salaries make up 61 percent of the district budget and employee benefits are an additional 18 percent, it is unrealistic to believe there is any way to close a $7.5 million budget deficit without staffing reductions.
Along with other parents, we want to keep related arts programming and electives and we have made sure that will happen. Unfortunately, when facing a huge budget deficit, we do not have the luxury of supporting classes with, say, four students (nor do colleges and universities, for that matter). And so central office and school administrators have spent hours searching through class lists and schedules to find efficiencies that yield necessary reductions without sacrificing these programs loved by students.
You may disagree with some of the district’s budget choices, but please be assured that they were informed by public school parents working in the best interest of Montclair’s schools and students – our children and yours. I care about all of the babies – but we have to be smart and responsible as well.
Allison Silverstein is the president of the Montclair Board of Education.