Good evening. 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.
On September 30, 2021, almost a year back, PTAC made a strong plea to the then Board of School Estimate to approve the capital plan. Here is what we said then –
“I think we can all agree that our children deserve safe, attractive, environmentally and educationally sound learning environments. Unfortunately, sub-par conditions are found in many of our school buildings. The facilities have, for too long, failed to receive the level of investment required in preventative and remedial maintenance, in capital improvements and in educational enhancements. These deficiencies in facilities have impacted our children’s education over the past several years. One doesn’t need studies to reach this conclusion. You know it when you sit on broken chairs in school auditoriums, when you walk around and see make-shift solutions at work, or when stairwells collapse and our children are out in trailers in the parking lots…the list is long. Any further delay in addressing the pressing capital needs of our schools is simply unacceptable. Deferring maintenance and upkeep as a short-term strategy to manage budgets has led to permanent problems costing us more in dollars, in educational impacts and is detrimental to Montclair’s reputation.”
Everything we said then is still true today. We made a second point that night and I quote – “All of us – the Board of Education, district administration, district employees and their unions, and the district’s families are on the same page — a rare moment of harmonic convergence in a contentious age.”
Tonight, as we heard, we add the State to the list of those who are also on the same page. The State also agrees with investing in education and bringing the facilities up to par – to an acceptable safe and healthy standard. Today the State has put it’s money where it’s mouth is – on the importance of education and the need for investment in it. Today they walked their talk.
We are not there and we still have to go through multiple steps to get the bond passed, for the capital investment plan to be implemented and for our school infrastructure to achieve a standard that our children deserve and that Montclair can be proud of. We realize that we have ways to go, but it is important to acknowledge the significant amount of hard work that went into getting us to this point. To those that have concerns about – can the district and the Board handle this, can they get it done – I would like to highlight some of my observations of what went on in the background to get us to this point. Hard work sounds like long hours – which is true in this case, but what is often lost is the complexity of the work, the interrelation of projects, and the lack of documentation from the past that made these tasks fraught with uncertainty and stress. That’s the environment that greeted the current team after years of neglect and maintenance deferrals. They worked on the projects, prioritization, estimation, strategic thinking, compliance filings and communications – all at the same time and did what gets done over years in about 5 months. I would like to give a shout out to the Finance and Infrastructure Committee – Eric Scherzer, Priscilla Church, and Monk Inyang, and Dr. Ponds and his team. Their leadership has been invaluable – they had to make many difficult decisions and I am glad to say that they were guided by the singular principle of “what is the right thing to do?” The Architect Will Ross and the Bond Counsel Andrea Kahn were instrumental in preparing the documentation and getting us through the state process. Finally, I am proud to highlight the role PTAC and it’s Finance and Infrastructure committee played in helping this process. Specifically, I would like to thank Brian Fleischer, Evan Mandery, and David Jones.
So let’s take a moment to celebrate getting up to here.
And now, as they say – the hard work begins.
Where do we go from here? I urge all of us, as citizens of Montclair to support this Community Investment Plan. This is not only the right thing to do for our students and schools, but it is the wise thing to do for real estate values and the long-term well-being of Montclair. The pandemic has shown us that we as a community are in this together. Status Quo is no longer an option.
We at PTAC support this Community Investment Plan.
On behalf of PTAC, I would also like to welcome everyone to the new school year. We are thrilled with this promising and exciting start.