process
Interim Superintendent Ron Bolandi, center, speaks to the audience during Monday night’s Board of Education meeting. HEETEN CHOXI/STAFF

by ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

The Montclair School District is bracing itself for a complicated budget season.
Montclair got a first look at its 2017-2018 school budget on Monday evening. And Interim Superintendent Ronald Bolandi cautioned the board and the audience that the budget process was going to be a challenging one.
During a presentation during the last half of the meeting, Board Secretary Steve DiGeronimo laid out some of the preliminary budget numbers. The first draft of the budget includes a $112,270,030 tax levy, which is subject to the state-mandated 2 percent tax increase cap. It has yet to be determined what the proposed levy will mean for the average assessed household.
“It’s a big budget, and our first run-through was a budget shortfall of $6 million,” DiGeronimo said. “With a budget this big, the devil is always in the details.”
The budget currently has also a $1.8 million shortfall. “Certainly better than $6.4 million, but no matter how you slice it, it’s difficult,” DiGeronimo said.
Over the next few weeks, DiGeronimo said, the district is going to have to make decisions on issues such as insurance plans, and whether the district will have to eliminate certain positions.
The district will hold several additional meetings over the next few weeks to fine-tune the budget. The next meeting will be held on March 6, when the board expects to approve the preliminary budget, after which it will be sent to the Essex County executive superintendent for review.
“It’s a big budget, and our first run-through was a budget shortfall of $6 million,” DiGeronimo said. “With a budget this big, the devil is always in the details.”
The first draft of the budget includes a $112,270,030 tax levy, which is subject to the state-mandated 2 percent tax increase cap. It has yet to be determined what the proposed levy will mean for the average assessed household.
The budget currently has also a $1.8 million shortfall. “Certainly better than $6.4 million, but no matter how you slice it, it’s difficult,” DiGeronimo said.
Over the next few weeks, DiGeronimo said, the district is going to have to make decisions on issues such as insurance plans, and whether the district will have to eliminate certain positions.
The district will hold several additional meetings over the next few weeks to fine-tune the budget. The next meeting will be held on March 6, when the board expects to approve the preliminary budget, after which it will be sent to the Essex County executive superintendent for review.
The board hopes to have the budget settled before Bolandi steps down as interim superintendent in mid-March.
Bolandi’s replacement, Barbara Pinsak, was present at the meeting to introduce herself; she will be serving as interim superintendent to the end of the school year.
“She’s just here to say hello; we’ll be hearing from her more in the future,” Board President Jessica de Koninck said as she introduced Pinsak at the start of the meeting.
“I’d like to thank the board for giving me this awesome opportunity to be the interim superintendent for the Montclair public schools,” Pinsak said during a brief address at the microphone.
“I need to say that Mr. Bolandi has just been awesome and, this very busy time — it’s never a downtime for a superintendent — but he’s been great in helping with an excellent and smooth transition,” she said.
At the start of the budget presentation, de Koninck told the audience that the budget being presented that evening was a preliminary one. As she turned the microphone over to Bolandi, she said, “You’ve got the hot seat.”

process
A chart presented at Monday evening’s board of education meeting shows some early numbers for the 2017-2018 school budget. HEETEN CHOXI/STAFF

Bolandi began by thanking the public for the feedback it had given him on the budget process. “Yeah, it’s going to be a tough three weeks. Unfortunately, it’s my last three,” Bolandi said.
He told the audience that the district was going to have to make hard decisions because of its limited funding situation. “I think that everybody that’s sitting in the room tonight has to recognize one thing. We have limited funding. There’s no place to go — we have a 2 percent cap. Something’s going to have to move.”
He acknowledged that there were programs in the district that were popular with families. “But I’m going to ask you, for the first time in a long time, to think about the total picture, and to think about what’s good for all children, not just certain groups.”
He went on, “We have a lot of electives in Montclair with four students in them. Three students in them. Ten students in them. That’s great when you have money. Terrific when you have money.” But he said it was doubtful that having all those electives was fiscally responsible, adding that Montclair has exceptionally high property taxes.
“My job is a simple one. But it’s also a complex one,” Bolandi said of his role in the district budget process. “The simple one is, when I’m involved in budget dilemmas, and I’ve been involved in 40 years of this … the way I approach it is a simple way, but it’s also a complex way.”
His first responsibility was to protect the core: to make sure that students were working on reading and writing in the classroom. His second was to maintain as many programs as possible. “Because we have a magnet system, and my responsibility is to maintain the magnet.”
Another issue is making sure that the schools are equally staffed and equipped in proportion to their enrollment and other needs. “My job is also to equalize the schools. Because one of the things we don’t do in Montclair for a long time is to equalize the schools.”
As an example, he pointed to two of the middle schools. “Why does Buzz Aldrin have less staff, far less staff than Glenfield, and Buzz Aldrin and Glenfield’s [student population] numbers are identical?”
Other budget challenges include special education and the district’s world language program, which came up for discussion at the board’s workshop meeting in late February.
“It’s a limited pot of gold in Montclair. It’s not endless. And I think we’ve come to the end of the pot of gold in Montclair,” Bolandi said.