The Montclair Board of Education, in partnership with state and township elected officials, conducted a panel talk on the school budget process at Trinity Presbyterian Church Monday night.

The panelists included State Sen. Nia Gill, Mayor Robert Jackson, former school business administrator Steve DiGeronimo, and Board Member Joe Kavesh.

The panel was held at Trinity - a venue in past years for many community discussions, the panel noted - in response to concerns from the community. One was due to parents' concerns about being unable to attend BOE meetings at the George Inness Annex, and there had also been concerns about the schools needing to publicize the school budget process sooner.

"The idea is to get the opportunity to have more dialogue sooner rather than later," said Board President Laura Hertzog.

The rest of the BOE was in attendance, as were Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak; Petal Robertson and Tom Manos, chair and vice chair of the Montclair Education Association; and current business administrator Emidio D'Andrea.

"People complain about taxes in Montclair - and I do - but people are passionate about schools," said Kavesh.

He called Gill "a warrior in the state legislature," adding, "She is a fierce advocate for women's rights, and fights for Montclair in Trenton, which isn't exactly the friendliest of waters."

DiGeronimo gave some background on the breakdown of Montclair's budget, including what proportion of revenue - 91 percent - comes from the tax levy, while Jackson gave some background on the township's efforts to improve its debt situation.

Gill announced that the state was going to be looking at three significant issues in the coming year: full funding for the state's educational funding formula; expanded funding for vocational schools; and whether to eliminate the PARCC test as a graduation requirement in New Jersey. All of these announcements were met with applause from the audience.

Some of the questions from the audience included questions on how to manage the district's food service; higher deductibles on teachers' health insurance; and concerns that lower-income families were being priced out of Montclair.

Gill also noted that Montclair's voice was being heeded by the state.

"When Montclair stands, the state listens," Gill said.

See more in the next edition of the Montclair Local.