Adult School of Montclair
The Montclair Public Library. ADAM ANIK/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Montclair residents will now have to pay tuition to take classes at the Adult School of Montclair as part of the school’s new policy.

But that tuition comes with a 50 percent discount.

In the past, Adult School enrollment was free for Montclair residents, if the class was held on-site at the library, while non-residents were charged tuition.

The new tuition policy came about because of increased demand for the classes, combined with class expenses, Library Director Peter Coyl said.

The Library Board of Trustees and the administration began discussions on how to meet growing expenses last year. In June, the board voted to charge Montclair residents for classes, at a discount. The new tuition takes effect this month.

If a class has a listed price of $40, Montclair residents will only pay $20.

“While we would like to have continued the pricing structure of the past few years, the school was on an unsustainable path. Our goal has always been to cover our costs, meaning our instructor honorariums and administration. These changes will allow the school to be here for the next generation that comes seeking new knowledge, broader horizons, or assistance with a career or life change,” the Adult School staff said in the email for residents sent in December.

The Adult School has been affiliated with the library since January 2015. Prior to that time, the Adult School was an independent organization.

In 2017, the cost for space rentals and teacher honorariums were $168,278 and staff salaries were around $200,000. Other overhead such as printing, registration software, computers, etc. are estimated at least $25,000, adding up to about $400,000 in total costs, Coyl said. However, the program only brought in $261,264 in 2017, he said, which equates to a $131,736 loss. The Adult School staff salaries are covered by the library’s General Operating fund. The numbers have not been compiled for 2018.But Coyl estimates the annual cost for the Adult School has been running about $400,000 for years.

The Adult School is not meant to be a revenue-generating organization. But supporting all of the overhead costs with the existing tuition model has become difficult, he said.

“Without the support of Library General Operating fund shouldering the cost of Adult School staff salaries, the Adult School fees would either be significantly higher or the offerings significantly reduced. Just like any other program the library offers, we budget for staffing and programming. In this case, because the Adult School model is a fee-based model we are able to offer more programs, but assume the cost of the staff as the course of business,” he said.

The class offerings for the Adult School include a class on Venetian-style Italian cooking for $99, and a class on making mozzarella and ricotta costs $39, with a materials fee of $20.

At the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School, a class on food and wine of the eastern Mediterranean region costs $85, and a class on tasting craft chocolate costs $45. The Kearny Adult School offers at least two food related classes: one on making fondant roses and one on cupcakes. Both courses are one-night-only courses at $30 each. And the Chatham Adult School is offering a wine and chocolate tasting course and an artisan cheese tasting course for $45 each. None of those towns offer free or reduced tuition for residents.

In Montclair, the library determines the cost of each individual class.

The tuition policy includes another change: The Adult School will no longer require registration fees and membership fees, which students would have to pay before signing up for a class at the start of a semester. Instead, students will only pay the cost of the class.
“It was just confusing,” Coyl said of the registration fees.

Registration for the Adult School’s new semester started on Monday. So far, Coyl said, the response from the public had been generally positive, and he said students and teachers had been generally understanding about the need to charge tuition.

“People understand the value of the Adult School, and they’re getting a really great deal,” Coyl said. Other institutions in the area that offer similar classes may charge two or three times as much, he said.

Carolyn Lack said, in her own opinion, the new tuition policy was a good idea. The Adult School provides a valuable service, and the new tuition made it more fair to residents outside Montclair, she said.

Coyl said the lecture series and the trips that the school offers have been consistently popular in the past. He also expected that the Adult School’s upcoming Black History Month lectures would be a popular draw.

Clarification: This version of the article mentioned that tuition for the Adult School of Montclair was free for Montclair residents only if the class was being held on-site at the Montclair Public Library.