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The Urgency Of Investing In Our Public Schools

Montclair –

This isn’t an easy email to write as I know it will rock the apple cart a bit. But this is too important. It’s also meaningless unless you take a few minutes to help. I’m concerned about what I recently read with regard to there supposedly not being enough time to act or that we shouldn’t act with regard to investing in school infrastructure before the ballot referendum on whether Montclair should have an elected or appointed school board this November. We must move forward on bonding critical work, up to $57.2M, now.

  • First, no one can predict the outcome of the ballot referendum and we should not nor can we afford to wait. The law empowers all of our various governing bodies with the power to call special sessions. The Board of Education can do this. The Board of School Estimates can do this. The Township Council can do this. If the current calendar of meetings from now through the end of the year doesn’t support the advancement of a bond ordinance or ordinances, then we should change the calendar, call special meetings of these bodies and address these challenges with the urgency that this time calls for.
  • Second, interest rates are at historic lows and many economists are suggesting that they will soon rise in the Federal Reserve’s effort to check inflation. Every .25% increase in the interest rate will mean millions of dollars in additional cost to finance long term infrastructure investments in our schools.
  • Third, there are scarcity issues with regard both to labor and materials due to a number of macro factors from COVID-19 to challenges at the ports. These challenges will become exacerbated when Congress (rightfully in my view) passes a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill in the coming weeks as is looking likely. Anyone who has tried to put in a pool, update a kitchen or order furniture is aware of our supply chain challenges. The longer we wait to sign contracts for projects, the further down the priority line we go.

There has been a tremendous amount of change in this town government with possibly more on the way. You have a relatively new Council (including myself) and Mayor. You have a new Superintendent of Schools. You have four new (out of seven) Board of Education Members. The District has a new Business Administrator. Many of us are still getting to know each other and build relationships, which has been very challenging with COVID-19. But what I do know is that everyone has a good heart and shares the same goal of, at a bare minimum: doing what we absolutely must do to get our 11 school buildings up to shape so that they are safe and healthy learning environments. My honest assessment is that the District needs to know the people of this town believe in this and want this and that we understand this is still just a start.

Over a long period of time mistakes have been made. Confidence has been rattled. But looking backwards is not going to help us move forward. I know Dr. Ponds is losing sleep over all of this as he recently said. I know many of our wonderful Board of Education members and my colleagues are as well. Frankly, I am too. I am of the mind that we need bold and aggressive action and we need to work with what we have, which is the current form of government. While I cannot speak for the Council, I am quite confident that if the Board of Education and subsequently the Board of School Estimate put up a bond ordinance, that a majority of us would meet as quickly as possible to contemplate it and likely pass it. Several months ago, the District presented a Long Range Facilities Plan from E.I. Associates. At the very least I believe we must tackle the HVAC and ventilation issues they laid out. But I’m hard pressed to suggest the entirely of the work of $57.2M is anything less than urgent. It all must get done. There’s nothing in there that’s a matter of if to me. It’s when. And the longer we wait, the harder and more expensive it gets and more and more kids have to go through their school years in these conditions. That’s not acceptable to me.

If you agree that urgent action is needed, please email: boardmembers@montclair.k12.nj.us conveying your thoughts.

Thank you

-Peter