Good evening. Congratulations, Phaedra Dunn and Melanie Deysher. We look forward to your added wisdom, counsel and contributions to our community. My name is Tessie Thomas and I am the President of the Montclair Council of PTAs (PTAC) an elected body that represents and supports the whole community.
The first topic I would like to highlight tonight are the in-person School Tours. Thank you to the district, the Board, and the principals for restarting this. As you know, we have made many requests to get parents and caregivers back in the buildings. There are many who have not seen the inside of their child’s school – for two years! School plays and concerts have been performed over Zoom or in empty auditoriums. We are thrilled to get back to some normalcy while the Covid numbers are down. Thank you for taking this on in short order. The tours started on March 24 and will go on through April 28 when the families have to start making decisions on their school choices – elementary and middle schools. In some ways the tours felt like a thing from the past, at the same time they have been exciting for all – the attendees and the organizers! Thank you to each PTA for putting these events together – some with short notice.
Continuing with the theme of alleviating anxiety for incoming students and families – PTAC’s Community Engagement Committee put together the “Transition to Middle School” event on Tuesday, March 29. This was setup as a panel discussion. The panel was made up of PTA leadership, students, and in some cases teachers where each school team got to talk about their beloved school. The session was then opened to Q&A. As you can imagine, a lot of ground was covered and it was great to see the young ones go up to the stage with their questions. Seeing the transition and the world through their eyes is a useful reminder of why we do this. The event was live streamed and recorded. To those who missed the event, please visit PTAC’s YouTube channel. I would like to give a special shout out to Colleen Dougherty, Chair of PTAC’s Community Engagement Committee, Marci Clark, MC for the night, and the many PTAC volunteers who worked behind the scenes to make this event happen. Thank you. The “Transition to Elementary Schools” is being planned for the first week of May.
Switching channels to some good news. Two of our Reflections submissions were chosen by the state for awards. As you may recall, this is a program that PTAC conducted for the very first time in Montclair with strong support and help from Dr. Ponds and Ms. Cathy Kondreck. Thank you. Ms. Kondreck also helped make selections on the 38 submissions that moved to the state level. For a first year run where we were all learning – not bad at all! We at PTAC think that this is a great way to showcase the incredible talent we have in our schools. We will be celebrating the effort students put in and the honors they earned on Thursday, May 5. We would love for you to join us. A special shout out to Natasha Cummins for leading the program for PTAC and navigating it in our very first year. Thank you.
Finally, I would like to talk about the Community Investment Plan ie. the Bond Referendum. Specifically, we would like to provide some comments on the question – Is it fiscally responsible?
We remain grateful to the BOE and specifically the Finance and Infrastructure Committee for putting in long hours to create the Community Investment Plan. It is important to remember that the group didn’t go into this with an objective to look for capital projects across the schools. They went in with an objective to understand – what’s not been done and what is the potential impact of the decades of underinvestment and neglect. The findings guided the next steps and the prioritized projects formed this Community Investment Plan. As it stands today it is focused on safety and health of our children. It is about basics. Continued underinvestment or doing nothing or doing it incrementally leaves us on borrowed time where things could drastically go wrong and costs related to unplanned breakdowns are typically much higher than planned work. Also, safety issues are liabilities. Liabilities can cost us a lot more than the current plan. Would it be fiscally responsible to wait for things to break and, as an example, boilers from the 1950s to continue to be used? So would waiting be fiscally responsible? Is it even an alternative? Would that not result in much higher, unplanned, and unpredictable tax burdens?
We also realize that, although it may not have been quantified as yet, transitioning to updated systems are likely to – lower ongoing maintenance, lower fuel consumption, better air quality, lower chances of mishaps, and lower carbon footprint. Students, teachers, and staff in a safer, healthier, and cleaner environment will do a lot better. It would be good to not be distracted by structural concerns or air quality concerns. So we feel, this is the fiscally responsible thing to do.
That said, we will continue to ask the Board to maintain the transparency that has been shown till date in the process and likewise we will continue to ask to bring in professional management for implementation of the Community Investment Plan.
The BOE, the Finance and Infrastructure Committee along with Dr. Ponds, has put in long hours to create the plan. Our continued constructive engagement has and will continue to make this Community Investment Plan even better. If there are shortcomings or if some things need to be done differently, let’s step up and address it.
This is about our community and this is our Community Investment Plan for our schools and for Montclair.