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Who is responsible for Montclair Schools? Person (On the other hand

I won’t. I’m not going to write another pessimistic column about the Montclair Township School Board. Enough with the negativity.

This month’s edition will be devoted to heartwarming and positive topics that will lift your spirits in these gloomy times. Like cherry blossoms, it’s pretty! Those in Branch Brook Park were very pink this year. Have you been able to see them? Nope? Shame. Well, you can still catch irises at Presby Gardens. They should be in bloom right now. This should make you forget the total chaos within the Board of Education.

What? You haven’t read about it? What were you, looking at cherry blossoms? School Superintendent Jonathan Ponds announced that 83 staff, including 35 teachers, received notices of non-renewal – meaning they officially had no job offers for next year. It was a shock to people who follow these things, like, you know, the Board of Education.

Only a week earlier, Ponds had told the board that only 26 teachers would be non-renewed. Eric Scherzer, board member and chair of the finance and facilities committee, which appears to have something to do with finance, said Ponds reassured him that there would be no budget issues. This year.

Many of the non-renewed are community members with families who are now dealing with additional anxiety and uncertainty on top of two years of teaching in COVID hell. Some might be rehired, but there’s a severe shortage of good teachers and staff due to, you know, two years of COVID hell, so there’s no guarantee they’ll be available.

Ponds bypassed the regular review process by presenting the budget to the board and the public well after the state-imposed March 28 deadline for submitting it to the county superintendent of schools. Instead of the usual weeks of public hearings, the council was forced to rush to get his approval, only to find out the true extent of the cuts after the fact. And thanks to the new system of elected school boards, there is no longer any guesswork from the school board, which in the past would have had to approve the budget after holding its own public hearings. This council included the mayor and two members of the municipal council.

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But wait, under this new system, the public can vote on the budget in November, right? Bad! We can only vote if the board votes to increase the budget beyond the 2% cap on annual property tax growth established by state law. (By the way, this cap pretty much guarantees there will have to be reductions every year, due to something you may have heard of called inflation, but let’s not get into that now!)

You might think this confusion over staffing is just a case of miscommunication, but it feels uncomfortably like a PG episode of “Succession,” with the superintendent telling the board, “forget you.” . Except, like Ceelo Green, he didn’t mean “forget.”

In theory, board members (elected or otherwise) are supposed to oversee the superintendent, but in practice they seem unable or unwilling to do so. Can’t someone else step in? And the mayor? Ah, but you forget (uh, don’t you remember?) that the mayor has absolutely no control over the school board – not officially. This is even more true now that he is elected and not appointed. Oh, Board of School Estimate, how we miss you. And most of us didn’t even know you existed.

It is true that the mayor might be able to work behind the scenes, pour oil on the waters or use some other peace metaphor to avoid a reversal at the next council meeting. On the other hand, the position of mayor is barely a part-time job, with a stipend of $10,000 a year. It is the appointed township manager who manages things on a day-to-day basis. And neither has authority over the school board.

Which might make you ask the question, “Who ‘forgets’ is in charge around here? Fortunately, I have the answer. The answer is nobody. Nobody is in charge.

I said I had the answer, I didn’t say you would like it.

The only ones who can do something about this sad situation (I hear you moaning) is us. Wisely or not, we (well, you) have chosen to have the power to elect the board of directors. It’s time to use that power.

Literally, it’s time — petitions for the next school board election are due July 25. We need to find candidates who can give us more than the bland platitudes offered in the last election, people with a clear vision of what the district needs and who are ready to provide leadership.

What else are you gonna do? It’s too late for the cherry blossoms.

Richie Chevat

Richie Chevat

Richie Chevat has been a writer, activist and resident of Montclair for over 30 years. He is the author of the comic science fiction novel “rate me red,” the game “Who needs men?» and the young reader version of «A queer history of the United States”, among other works. He can often be seen running errands around town on his bike.

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