An information session Wednesday about the Montclair school district’s $187 million bond referendum measure on the Nov. 8 ballot provided additional details about how the referendum came to be, how projects were prioritized and why district officials want the work done sooner rather than later. 

The virtual session was hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area and the Montclair branch of the NAACP. Forty people registered for the event and half attended, Donna Ward, one of two League vice presidents, told Montclair Local on Thursday. A video of the event is posted on the League’s website

The League does not plan on taking a position on the bond issue. The NAACP announced earlier this week that its members had voted to support the approval of the referendum. 

Eric Scherzer, finance and facilities committee chair, shared a brief history of the referendum at the beginning of the session. Ventilation has long been an issue in Montclair’s aging school buildings, but the COVID pandemic brought it to the forefront, Scherzer said. 

Nine of Montclair’s 11 schools were built more than 90 years ago, and six of the schools are more than a century old, David Cantor, executive director of communications and community engagement, told Montclair Local. And before Bullock School was built in 2010, the last school built, Northeast School, was in 1936.

In summer 2021, the finance and facilities committee began to look into what could be done about ventilation, Scherzer said. Using federal money, the district installed ventilation into 66 classrooms across the district at a cost of $1.7 million. The work was completed in January 2022.  

The school board member also began presenting proposals to the Board of School Estimate, the body that under a Type I school district is responsible for approving school budgets, and reviewing and fixing costs for capital improvements before they go to the Township Council for bonding. 

But the Board of School Estimate did not act on the proposal before the November election, when Montclair voters approved changing the district from a Type I system with a mayor-appointed board of education to a Type II system with an elected one. The change also meant the Board of School Estimate would be dissolved, leaving the school board to put bonds directly to voters in general or special elections.

“That was a frustrating time because we saw that the work that we had wanted to begin, perhaps last summer, we couldn't begin because we had to start the process all over again to get approval from the state and put a proposal together for the voters,” Scherzer said. 

Schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds, building administrators, members of the buildings and grounds department and others did walkthroughs of all the buildings, coming up with a project list of everything that needed to and could be done. The proposals totalled more than $300 million, Scherzer said. 

“We obviously couldn't afford that,” Scherzer said. “We whittled that down to the proposals that we thought were the most important, both to improve the facilities and to improve the educational atmosphere for all our students.”


The finance and facilities committee met with the Montclair Education Association, the Special Education Parent Advisory Council, the Montclair branch of the NAACP, Montclair clergy associations and the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence to get their input as well, Scherzer said. 

Based on the average assessment of a home in Montclair of $628,952, “the average annual tax impact over the 24-year course of repaying the bonds is expected to be $732, beginning with an expected $258 increase in 2023,” according to a referendum Q&A posted to the district website

While some projects, like the ventilation, were essential — $105 million of the proposal is going to roofing, boilers and bettering the district’s energy efficiency — the committee also looked at how to move classrooms into the 21st century, said Priscilla Church, committee member and board vice president.

“We also have a very, very important obligation to look at the classrooms,” Church said. “Let's bring these classrooms up and give the students the 21st-century opportunity that they deserve, the 21st-century opportunity that's going to prepare them for their futures.”

Science, classroom and technology upgrades account for more than $34 million of the total proposal. These projects include science lab renovations, the creation of a maker space, installation of interactive display boards in classrooms, a new greenhouse and more. The full project list is available on the district website

“Montclair does have an excellent school system, but that is coming from the motivation and the dedication of our staff,” Church said. “We need to prepare every child for whatever footprint they want to leave in their future, which buildings with the way they are now, are not prepared to do that.”

But ultimately projects were assessed by need, Ponds said. The district’s oldest schools, like Hillside School and Glenfield Middle School, are set to receive the largest amounts of funding after Montclair High School. A full cost breakdown by school is available on the district website

“If the bond is not approved, it will simply cost us more later,” Ponds said. “The problems will still exist, a situation could happen.”

A situation such as the collapsed stairwell at Montclair High School in 2018.

“We are really at the table saying this is a dire need for us and our district,” Ponds said.

Board President Latifah Jannah said not much has changed in the buildings since she and her children attended Montclair schools. 

“I think it would be a missed opportunity, and I don't think we can afford to have a missed opportunity,” Jannah said. 

A granddaughter of Jannah’s attends Bloomfield High School and walking into the neighboring high school’s auditorium only makes it that much more obvious that Montclair is behind, Jannah said. 

“It is important to put this money into our schools,” Jannah said. “So that if nothing else, our schools look as good or better than other schools and our neighboring districts.” 

And while the upgrades to schools will benefit the whole community, the students are the most important, Jannah said. 

“This will help our students, and that is our priority,” she said.

At the end of the event, NAACP representative LaNa Jones-Jules encouraged everyone to collect as much information as possible about the referendum and to share it with those around them. 

“This is a very important topic,” Jones-Jules said. “We encourage people to get out and get the information you need so that you can make the right decisions and be able to make that vote.” 

Ward thanked the panelists and audience, sharing information about how to vote in the November election. For more information about how to vote in the upcoming election, visit the League’s website

“Please vote,” Ward said. “Please encourage your friends and neighbors in Montclair to vote on this very important referendum.”

The League will also be hosting a school board candidate forum Wednesday, Oct. 19, Ward said. More information about the event will be available on the League’s website. 

Four Montclair residents are running for three seats on the Board of Education. The individuals are Yvonne W. Bouknight, Brian Fleischer, Noah Gale and Monk Inyang. All four have previously vied for a seat on the board, and Inyang currently serves on the board. 

The school district and community groups will also be holding several information sessions about the referendum in the coming weeks