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.
Tonight, I would like to start with the administrative lapses around the Montclair High School football program resulting in the decision by the NJ State Interscholastic Athletic Association to end the season for our Football team. Needless to say, this is hugely upsetting and unacceptable. Football is core to the Montclair community and the team was having one of its best seasons. They worked hard and the results showed. Most importantly the upset and the disappointment of our young players was heart breaking to see. It was good to hear Dr. Ponds’ report. We strongly urge you to conduct a full investigation of this matter and put in place safeguards that this will never happen again for any sport. Montclair is known for its academics, but also for the amazing extra-curricular programs including high performing sports programs.
One of the big takeaways here is that – “when adults mess up – children suffer and pay for it”. In keeping with that, on November 8, we adults have an opportunity to not mess up for our children and our community. I cannot stress enough how consequential this Community Investment Bond Referendum is for our children, our staff, and our community as a whole. Living in a cool town with a crumbling school infrastructure is in a lot of ways jarring! We can spend time focusing on who to blame or firing the messenger or alternatively we can evaluate and support the plan and ensure that we turn this around to where the crumbling school infrastructure is fixed and brought to safety, compliance, and in keeping with 21st century needs of education.
We seem to have overwhelming support for the referendum in town – a harmonious consensus in an otherwise frequently testy environment. It seems that there now is a common understanding on the need to do this and do it now. One question that is being raised more recently is on project execution. In response, I would like to share that it is our understanding there are very specific compliance guidelines that have to be followed in procurement and project execution. We also know that you, the BOE made up of our fellow citizens have strong oversight over this process and will hold the district’s feet to the fire. And to highlight an important point – Montclair voted to switch to an elected BOE in November 2021 and this work has nothing to do with the Town Council and is also unrelated to the issues at or the track record of the Town Council.
The other question that is still raised is about the tax impact. Yes, the tax impact is about $732 per year average over 24 years for an average Montclair home assessed at $629K. Assessed value – not market value. So yes, this is a tax increase, but these repairs are not going away. We can pay for it in a planned and predictable manner or pay for it unpredictably without a choice. In a catastrophic situation, it is likely that the costs will be higher and lastly – we may have missed the 31% discount from the state. In fact, the situation doesn’t have to be catastrophic – it could be something as simple as a school not having heat in the winter and having to bus kids to different schools. The cost of such disruptions can climb rapidly. Nobody likes tax increases, but this plan clearly minimizes the tax increase and avoids cost increases or worse accidents that can cause irreparable damage.
There are 4 points at the heart of this effort –
- Reduce risks and liabilities posed by crumbling infrastructure
- Preserve and enhance property values – strong schools = strong community
- Minimize unpredictable tax hikes. Unplanned repairs cost more.
- Lock in $58M debt service support from New Jersey state.
These are our schools and they have an outsized impact on us as a community. We seem to have become comfortable in the notion that the quality of our schools has no impact on the town. That is not a sustainable thesis. The decision we make here will reflect on who we are as a community, what we value, and what is the culture of our town. It will also reflect on how we think in terms of dollars and cents. Our close evaluation of this plan from every angle has resulted in our strong support to vote yes on the referendum. We hope that you reach the same conclusion.
Finally, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge some of the recent news and updates related to the school system. I want to draw a distinction between these current issues and what the bond referendum represents. The Community Investment Bond referendum is a long-term investment in the Montclair Public Schools and the dollars stay in Montclair. You can see the physical outcomes in the form of new boilers, roofs, windows, and fixes to the infrastructure that will be here for decades. The referendum is not a personality contest and as you go into the voting booth let the noise drown out and remember the children. We have the future Buzz Aldrin, Joe Walsh, Christina Ricci, John C. Whitehead, Aubrey Lewis, Leonard Coleman and the many other high achievers in the Montclair schools right now. These are children who need to be sent into the world prepared for the 21st century. We, the adults, now have an opportunity to do right by the children.
Let’s go out and vote. Voter apathy is one of the major reasons that explains some of the unreasonable outcomes on election day. So please – Go out and VOTE and ask your Montclair friends and neighbors to do the same.