Fourth Ward Councilman David Cummings was voted onto the Montclair Board of School Estimate in September. The board, chaired by Deputy Mayor Bill Hurlock, will meet Thursday to consider the school district’s plan for about $60 million in facilities work. Cummings is seen here at an event in June. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FILE PHOTO)

By TALIA WIENER
wiener@montclairlocal.news

A plan to bond for $60 million dollars to update Montclair public school facilities will reach its next step on Thursday, when the body responsible for officially setting the amount to be raised meets.

On Aug. 16, the Montclair Board of Education approved a resolution to bond for $57 million in building upgrades — $60 million, taking into account costs associated with issuing the bond. The upgrades were identified this spring in a long-range facilities plan. They include work across district buildings, including on the aging and sometimes absent ventilation systems that played a key role in the drama over whether and when students and staff would return to the schools last school year, and that continue to be a point of concern for some parents and staff.

That started the process moving forward, to send the matter to Montclair’s Board of School Estimate to formally fix and determine the costs of the projects. After that, the Township Council would adopt a bond ordinance. 

The school board’s resolution represented a reversal for board members. It came weeks after board members said there wouldn’t be enough time to bond a smaller slate of facilities work, with an estimated price of $17 million, before voters would be asked to consider changing Montclair’s form of school district — and with it, the process for bonding. 

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Montclair currently has what’s known as a Type I school district — where the mayor appoints school board members, and the Board of School Estimate sets the tax rate and budget. The BoSE, composed of members of the school board, council and the superintendent, also approves funding for capital improvements before sending it to the council. 

In November, voters will decide if Montclair should immediately become a Type II district. That would establish an elected school board, dissolve the Board of School Estimate and put bonds for capital projects before voters through referendums.

But for now, the council remains responsible for fulfilling its duties despite the upcoming election that may eliminate the BoSE, Mayor Sean Spiller said at the Township Council meeting on Sept. 21.

“The second those votes are counted, if it remains as is, we’ve been doing our due diligence and [the BoSE] would continue,” Spiller said. “If it changes, it would change immediately. But until then, we have a charge, and we’re doing our job.”

If the BoSE votes Thursday to send the project along to the council, the council would have just over a month to authorize a bond ordinance before the referendum.

As of the council meeting, members said they were still awaiting a complete breakdown of the projects and associated costs. Council members have been asking the district “what do you need and how can we get it to you,” Deputy Mayor and BoSE Chairman Bill Hurlock said at the meeting.

But that information will come from the school board’s finance and facilities committee and Superintendent Jonathan Ponds before the BoSE’s Thursday meeting, Board of Education Vice President Priscilla Church told Montclair Local. 

According to the district’s website, the BoSE meeting will feature a presentation on long-range projects. As of Tuesday, an agenda was forthcoming, it said.

New BoSE member

Fourth Ward Councilman David Cummings was voted onto the BoSE at the council meeting Tuesday night, taking the place of Second Ward Councilwoman Robin Schlager, who is stepping down. Third Ward Councilwoman Lori Price Abrams also serves on the board. 

“I am hopeful that we may have an opportunity to meet soon to review what materials are to be presented so that we may evaluate what is put before us, and to take action if we deem that to be appropriate,” Price Abrams told Montclair Local on Sept. 22.

Yacobellis had recommended himself to fill the open BoSE position during the Tuesday meeting. As someone who did not attend Montclair schools or have children in the district, Yacobellis said, outside perspectives like his own are “important and can add value.”

With Hurlock representing the First Ward and Price Abrams the Third Ward, selecting Fourth Ward Councilman Cummings for the open position would leave Montclair’s Second Ward with no direct representation, Yacobellis said. As a councilman at large, he would be able to represent the Second and Fourth Wards, he argued.

Cummings, at the meeting, said he thinks “what’s most important is we have somebody who understands our school system.”

He served on the Board of Education from 2013 to 2016.

“We need to make sure that as we move forward with the business at hand, which may be short-lived, we can get to it,” Cummings said.

Yacobellis abstained from voting Cummings onto the BoSE. 

Actions of the BoSE go before the council before they go into effect, Spiller noted at the Tuesday meeting. 

“Every one of us gets a chance to vote on what the Board of School Estimate moves out of their work and brings to us,” Spiller said.