By ERIN ROLL
The Montclair Board of Education is expected to vote on the district’s $128,320,769 million budget on Thursday, April 4.
At a Monday, April 1, meeting, officials announced that the district will get a substantial reduction in their health insurance premiums.
The school tax levy had been set to increase by 2.11 percent. The additional .11 percent would have been known as a cap waiver, which allows school districts to raise taxes just beyond the two percent limit due to health benefits costs.
With the revised numbers on health benefits, a .11 percent cap waiver is no longer necessary. The tax levy now stands at $118,260,105, which is a two percent increase from last year, Business Administrator Emidio D’Andrea said. The decrease equates to $122,000 from the previously expected tax levy for 2019-2020 of $118,382,105.
For a household in Montclair with the average assessed value of $626,135 the school tax bill will be $10,518, which is about an $11 difference from what the BOE first presented. The increase from last year will be a two percent increase or $206 for the average homeowner.
The budget season began with a $2.2 million hole in the budget that needed to be filled, which was later decreased to $2 million. With the $820,000 resulting from the premium reductions, that hole has been reduced to $1,180,000.
Some positions are being added back, including the director of content and supervision, with an expected cost of $130,000; teachers on assignment, with a total cost of $150,000, and the four part-time kindergarten paraprofessionals. The district is also adding $200,000 to its facilities budget.
A teacher on assignment is a teacher who is temporarily moved from their regular classroom duties in order to work at the district level. Their work may involve duties such as organizing professional development projects.
Montclair Education Association Chair Petal Robertson said she was disappointed that the district didn’t put its first priority on retaining teachers and paraprofessionals, and on other staffers who work directly with children.
The district still expects to eliminate nine full-time paraprofessional jobs. Those paraprofessionals work one-on-one with special needs children. The district is opting to move those children from a one-to-one model to a shared model, with the consent of the children’s families and the special education staff.
The number of full-time teacher jobs to be eliminated has now been scaled back from 10 to four, Superintendent Kendra Johnson said.
She noted that the district had just advertised for an additional kindergarten paraprofessional to help at one of the elementary schools.
Board member Jessica de Koninck reiterated that while the district plans to cut positions, the goal is to keep staffers on board and reassign them to other work. “We’re not talking about John Smith or any one individual, we’re talking about a job title,” she said.
James Harris, of the NAACP, also voiced his concerns about the paraprofessional jobs being cut, and the cuts’ affect on the overall diversity of the district staff.
The larger issue of Montclair’s affordability, or perceived lack thereof, to families came up. Harris urged the board to look at recent occupancy data to see how many families had moved into and out of Montclair in recent years.
Parent Debbie Villareal Hadley said that Montclair is becoming harder to afford. “I’m concerned we’ll lose the artists. We’ll lose the teachers. We’ll lose a lot of regular folks,” she said.