school budget
A screenshot of the revised budget presentation, assembled after the district learned of its state aid numbers.
PHOTO BY ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Montclair school district’s preliminary $127 million budget will result in the elimination of 14 part-time paraprofessional jobs. Cuts to 10 full-time teachers has been decreased to six.

The Board of Education approved the preliminary budget, 6-1, during a special meeting Monday, March 11.

The meeting took place a few days after the state released aid numbers of $7,605,632 for the 2019-2020 school year. The amount is $177,106, or 2.38 percent, more than received for 2018-2019, but not enough to fill the district’s $2.2 million budget gap.

The revised budget is now $127,948,769 with the state aid. And with the aid, the district’s budget deficit dropped to $2,050,435, which requires the district to make cuts in order to fill it.

Superintendent Kendra Johnson said that while the district was still not being funded to its full formula amount, they were still grateful that they did not receive flat funding.

According to the funding formula, Montclair is entitled to $9 million in state aid if the formula were being fully funded.

The district made several adjustments to the budget after learning its state aid allocation, including scaling back the purchases for technology and for new textbooks.

But the district still plans to let go a total of 14 paraprofessionals: four who work exclusively with special-needs kindergarteners, and 10 who work with other grades. Four kindergarten paraprofessional jobs, all part-time, are to be replaced with two full-time positions, with an anticipated savings of $20,000.

Johnson said that the 10 children who work one-on-one with a paraprofessional will be moved to a shared-model by mutual agreement between the schools and the children’s families. The decisions had been made prior to the budget process, she said.

Six full-time teacher positions will also be eliminated.

Elaine Buttimore and Michele Castelli, part-time paraprofessionals at Charles H. Bullock School, are faced with having their jobs cut.

“It just saddens me that I’ve given 19 years, and they can just say, ‘good-bye,’” Buttimore said after the meeting. Buttimore and Castelli, who has 13 years’ experience, are a team of sorts, with Buttimore working with children in the morning and Castelli working with them in the afternoon.

The district has not yet informed specific staff members that their jobs will be cut.

“But we know who we are, because there’s only four of us,” Buttimore said.

Part-time paraprofessionals do not get health benefits, Castelli said, and she questioned how the district came up with the $20,000 savings.

“It really doesn’t make sense to me how they can save money by hiring two full-time paras with benefits. I did ask that question, but I never got an answer,” said Castelli.

school budget
Beth Albert, of the Montclair Education Association, speaks during the March 11 budget meeting.
PHOTO BY ERIN ROLL/STAFF

Beth Albert, a secretary and the Montclair Education Association (MEA) communications officer, said that paraprofessionals are the first line of defense in working with vulnerable children. Albert, who was also a paraprofessional, had her job eliminated in the past, along with her health benefits, only to be re-hired in September.

The MEA released a data sheet questioning several of the budget’s proposed savings. For example, the MEA questioned the cost savings related to eliminating the paraprofessional jobs. “What is the total cost savings when calculating two full-time salaries and benefits versus four part-time paraprofessional salaries, with no benefits?”

The sheet also noted the elimination of student assistance counselor positions and asked if they would replenished in this year’s budget, and questioned the data analysis used by the district in deciding jobs cut and the resulting savings. Other items of concern include stipends for central office staff, ranging from $1,000 to $8,000, and how the district reviewed and approved spending on outside consultants. “In 2016-17 the district spent under $10,000 for consulting fees for the Department of Instruction. In three years it increased to $75,000.”

Board Member Latifah Jannah was the sole “no” vote on the preliminary budget. When reached for comment after the meeting, Jannah declined to comment.

The preliminary budget had to be submitted to the executive county superintendent by Tuesday, March 12.

The BOE will hold a series of budget hearings starting on March 25 and continuing through the month of April. The final version of the budget is expected to come up for a vote on April 18.

Montclair’s neighboring districts received the following in state aid: Glen Ridge $1,230,738, an increase of 11.38 percent; Bloomfield $30,345,478, an increase of 9.66 percent; East Orange $175,087,372, the same amount as last year; Verona $1,442,837, an increase of 12.04 percent; South Orange-Maplewood $5,600,317, an increase of 11.25 percent; and Orange $81,122,049, an increase of 3.20 percent.