Montclair school leaders celebrate referendum win, look to future
(KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Montclair school district officials are celebrating their referendum victory and thanking the community for its overwhelming support, but they say they know the work has only just begun.
On Tuesday, voters backed the district's $187.7 million plan for repairs and upgrades to all 11 of the district school buildings. In unofficial results reported by the Essex County Clerk's office at 3 p.m. Wednesday, 11,153 voters backed the referendum question — 84.01% of the vote tallied to that point. Just 2,123 opted against the measure.
That count reflects 95.12% of Montclair districts, and includes early voting and mail-in ballots.
School district administrators, school board and PTA members gathered Wednesday in front of the district office for a press conference about the referendum. The sun shone down on the group, as they greeted and hugged one another, sharing congratulations and thanks for the efforts behind the success.
“Today is a new day,” schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said. “We move forward together. We move forward lockstep. I am so proud. What a great town. What a great place to live in, Montclair, New Jersey.”
Ponds thanked PTA Council President Tessie Thomas, who led the group in its referendum campaign, distributing fliers and lawn signs, hosting informational sessions and creating a website about the measure.
“There's an individual by the name of Tessie Thomas,” Ponds said. “She told me every time, ‘If you give Montclair the right information, Montclair will do the right thing.’ Today, Ms. Thomas, that rings true.”
The level of support for the measure is “tremendous,” Ponds said.
“We knew we had support, we just didn’t know how much,” he said.
The superintendent went on to thank the Montclair community for all it has done to support the vote.
“We're going to do the hard work now to make sure it comes true and everything happens to reality,” he said.
That hard work begins this week, as board members discuss next steps, Priscilla Church, board vice president and member of the finance and facilities committee, said. Eric Scherzer, chair of the committee, was unable to attend the event.
“I can assure you, we already have plans in place,” Church said at the event.
The district will first be developing and sending out a request for proposal to find a construction manager, Church said. Then, the construction manager and the district's architect will work together to lay out a timeline for what projects will be completed when.
“There will be many different projects going on at the same time,” Church said. “It is going to take between six to seven years for the amount and the scope of work that has to be done.”
The finance and facilities committee will remain deeply involved in the process moving forward, helping to facilitate the work, monitor the projects and assist with other decisions involved, Church said. Other stakeholders, including volunteer groups with relevant expertise, teachers, and building administrators, will also be involved in the process, she said.
Residents can learn of project updates at school board meetings, on the district website and in local news publications, Church said.
“Stay tuned,” she said.
Church also thanked the community for the support and trust given to the board.
“It's so rewarding after working months and months on projects such as this, with all your hopes and dreams and all the times you're holding your breath and you're making decisions, and then to have the community validate this project in such a way, there’s hardly any words,” Church said.
The vote is a sign that there is a united front in Montclair that puts the students first, Church said.
“The community has given us the opportunity not only to bring our vision into reality, but to ensure that our buildings are going to be safe for our children,” Church said. “And also just as important, we're going to be able now to put classrooms together that are going to prepare them for the future that they are going to be moving into.”
Latifah Jannah, Montclair Board of Education president, thanked the Montclair community for its support.
“We look forward to working with the community as we bring our ideas and bring our buildings up to 21st-century standards,” she said.