Ray Reyes via Unsplash

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Montclair’s schools are slated to receive more than $6.6 million in COVID-19 relief funding under the American Rescue Plan. 

But what the relief funding could ultimately mean for Montclair’s schools and their budget is still to be determined.

The legislation allocates $2.6 billion to New Jersey schools overall, and $6,625,000 to the Montclair district. At this week’s Board of Education meeting, board members and attendees alike expressed hope it could mean staff being hired or retained, or funds being put toward supplemental educational programs for students struggling after a year of remote-only education during the coronavirus pandemic.

President Joe Biden, who has advocated for in-person learning and urged all states to get their teachers vaccinated as quickly as possible, signed the American Rescue Plan into law on March 12. 

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“We have to prove to the American people that their government can deliver for them, and do it without waste or fraud; that we can vaccinate the nation; that we can get our kids safely back in school; and we can get our economy back on track by helping hundreds of thousands of small businesses open and stay open; and that we can give people of this nation a fighting chance again with relief checks, lower child-care costs, lower health-care costs, and so much more,” Biden said in an address Tuesday, March 16. “That’s our job. That’s our responsibility.”

The school board recently adopted a preliminary $135.8 million budget — down slightly from 2020-21’s $136.3 million, with hearings before Montclair’s Board of School Estimate set to start Thursday, March 18. That plan shaved $3.7 million for salary spending from an earlier draft presented in February, though school officials haven’t said what impact that would have on staff levels or programs.

The budget still allocates $3.1 million more for salaries than the $81.8 million in the district’s 2020-2021 spending plan.

That budget also anticipates a $214 tax hike for the owner of a home assessed at the township average of t $627,995.

Board member Priscilla Church suggested the $6.6 million could mean the schools could offer extra educational programs, or summer school to help students recover from learning loss. It could mean benefits for special education programs and many general education programs as well, she said.

“Without that funding, it would be almost impossible to do,” Church said. 

The final version of the school budget is expected to be adopted on April 5. 

Also this week, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill allowing school districts to maintain surpluses of 4% from their general fund expenses from a prior year, for 2020-21 and 2021-22 — up from the 2% normally allowed by New Jersey law. The bill also allows a district to transfer surplus funds between line items and program categories without approval from the commissioner of education. Montclair school officials haven’t yet answered a message asking whether that would affect their budget plans.

Montclair schools are slated to get about $8 million in state aid under Gov. Phil Murphy’s own proposed budget, still subject to review by the state Legislature. The state aid award is about 4.37% larger than Montclair received in 2020-21.