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Montclair Public Schools District has a $5.5 million deficit so on Monday the Board of Education approved cutting 31 teachers and 34 teaching assistants. The Montclair Education Association says the cuts are “Draconian.”
According to the New Jersey Department of Education’s database, enrollment in the district has dropped by over 600 students since 2020, when some parents transferred their children to private schools or left town due to what they saw as overly-long school closures from COVID-19. In a letter to the community, Board president Allison Silverstein wrote,
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 DOE calculates that Montclair spends $18,558 per student per year, which puts it at $24 million above what the state considers “adequacy.” Due to community wealth and how the state calculates “Local Fair Share,” Montclair taxpayers are responsible for 90% of total costs, with state and federal contributions minimal. A state law restricts districts from tax increases of more than 2% per year, although annual costs—payroll, health insurance—increase by more than that annually. A petition started by parents, which has 1,700 signatures, blames the Montclair Town Council for signing off on PILOT programs (payments in lieu of taxes)) for “luxury apartment” developers, including the controversial Lackawanna Plaza. PILOT’ed developments contribute nothing to school district coffers.
From the petition:
Not sharing PILOTs breaks our social contract: everyone in the community supports public schools at a level proportional to their property value. The wealthiest property owners in our town are getting huge property tax discounts through sweetheart PILOT agreements. Thus, instead of sharing revenue with the schools, the Township gives tax breaks to wealthy developers.
The petition also denigrates the Council’s decision to hire more firefighters who, it says, have higher salaries than teachers and fire stations equipped with high-end kitchen appliances: “Our teachers earn less than our police officers and firefighters, and two of our firehouses have Viking stoves!”
Mayor Sean Spiller is head of Town Council. He is also president of the New Jersey Education Association, the state teachers union.