By: Richard L. Smith
Over 300 students at an Essex County high school walked out of class today to protest extensive budget cuts that will reportedly leave some extracurricular, sports and other activities cut for the 2023-2024 year.
Parents at Montclair High School joined students in the protest that began at 9 a.m. and held at the Montclair Board of Education building.
The Montclair High School PTA Executive Board released the following:
Dear Dr. Ponds and Members of the Montclair Board of Education,
The Montclair High School PTA is very concerned about the reported budget deficit of $5.5 million.
We appreciate the evaluation and cuts that reduced this number from an initial deficit of $7.5 million and, still, the proposal that the remaining deficit will be resolved by “finding efficiencies” at MHS, Glenfield, Hillside, Nishuane, and Renaissance raises many questions and eyebrows.
Given the initial cut of 83 staff members last year, when the budget deficit was “only” $3 million, we're afraid to see how many teachers and staff we will lose staff this year.
This is salt in a fresh wound at MHS where we have had several long-term vacancies even in core subjects critical to our students’ readiness for college and career.
Aside from the apparent impacts of such losses, we fear the development of a pattern where annual deficits, subsequent cuts, and potential re-hires are not only tolerated but expected.
During an unprecedented national teacher shortage, this is not a reputation we can afford to earn, nor does it inspire the confidence taxpayers need to continue investing millions in our schools.
There have been discussions of changing the MHS schedule to meet the needs of these budget cuts by offering one less class period per day.
Going from a 40-credit schedule to a 35-credit schedule will reduce our students’ maximum possible GPA, possibly affecting college admissions and is likely to have a negative impact on club activities if the common lunch period is taken away.
Changing the schedule, after all, MHS families have carefully considered, discussed with their teachers, and put in their scheduling preferences for next year, which would significantly impact our students’ ability to finish graduation requirements.
Such a change would also decimate our Small Learning Community, visual and performing arts, and 21st Century education elective enrollments.
At a time when student mental health concerns are at an all-time high, cutting the courses where students can pursue unique talents and build community seems drastic and short-sighted.
Even if schedule changes need to be considered in the future, families should be fully informed before the student has already chosen their schedule.
We implore the Superintendent, cabinet, and Board of Education to address the following questions as publicly and transparently as possible to help parents, your most reliable supporters, understand (i) how we got here, (ii) the plan to address the current situation, and (iii) just as importantly, what is being done to prevent this situation in the future.
- We support finding efficiencies to save money. But what led the district and/or BOE to look for efficiencies only at the five schools named?
- Why is the high school budget one you selected for finding efficiencies when it’s currently funded at the lowest per pupil rate in the district, even though state recommendations suggest that high school per pupil rates should be, on average, .16 higher than elementary school rates?
- Please share the downside case that you evaluated as you made the decision to proceed with cuts.
- Why was this budget deficit discovered and/or communicated so late in the school year?
- What structures have/will you put in place to highlight budget challenges early enough to allow a thorough, collaborative approach to resolving them?
As the largest school and the only high school in the district, our students have unique needs that may not be shared by other schools.
We believe our current administrators have put the high school on a very positive path and we strongly urge our district leaders to ensure this work can continue by being strategic, thoughtful, and just with regard to the allocation of resources, diligent budget management, and timely communication.
Thank you for the work you do on behalf of our district. We understand it is incredibly challenging, but we believe our district can, will, and must improve.
Montclair High School PTA Executive Board