November is here — which means it’s officially Election Day and time to vote. Local residents will be casting votes on November 8th, and one item on the docket is the Montclair Public Schools’ Community Investment Bond Referendum Vote. Back in September, the Montclair School Board passed a resolution for a $187M proposal in order to improve local schools. While the State of New Jersey would be providing debt service for $58M, Montclair Township would be responsible for the remaining balance of $129.7M after issuing 20-year municipal bonds in three installments in the years 2023, 2025, and 2027. This would mean a tax increase in an area where taxes are already high — though many are saying these are essential improvements, as Montclair Public Schools are said to be in need of a significant upgrade. We covered what you need to know about the Montclair Bond Referendum so you’re prepared for the November 8th vote.
About the Bond Referendum
Montclair Local reported in September that the Montclair Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution that would add a bond proposal vote to the November 8th ballot. This resolution included $187,739,769 in projects to Montclair public schools — and it was pulled together just before the deadline to file with the county for this year’s election. According to the PTA, the school district is in need of repairs that well exceed the normal school budget.
The state awarded $58M, leaving the rest to Montclair Township. The plan is to have Montclair issue 20-year municipal bonds in three installments in the years 2023, 2025, and 2027.
Basically, this will be funded by steadily raising property taxes for Montclair residents. It’s estimated that the cost will be $258 in the first year for the average Montclair property assessed at $628,952.
Per the Montclair PTA, “Over the 24-year period of bond repayment, the average annual impact will be $732 for that same property.”
These funds would be put toward revitalizing all Montclair Public Schools along with the Montclair Schools Admin Building + the Community Pre-K.
These improvements would include HVAC upgrades, roof upgrades, staircase improvements, other infrastructure repairs, and much more.
The Pros + Cons
It’s important to understand both the plusses and the drawbacks to this vote, as well as potential implications and consequences. The pros and cons to this vote are fairly simple from the outside: on the one hand, the community will improve + revitalize local schools — on the other hand, locals will have their already-high taxes increased even more.
Of course, upon a deeper dive, it’s a little more intricate.
The proposed improvements to these local schools aren’t just for aesthetic purposes. Many are saying they are for the health, safety, and well-being of the students.
It seems to be no secret that the schools are dated — and many can agree that they are objectively in need of improvements and repairs. One need only look at headlines from the last year to see the impact of the old buildings. Outlets like North Jersey reported last year that dated ventilation systems forced Montclair teachers to open windows in the winter to decrease the risk of Covid transmission — and the old boilers couldn’t be cranked any higher to compensate, meaning students were left to learn in freezing temperatures. In September of last year, Montclair Local reported that a staircase had to be cordoned off due to a broken step.
But — like many issues — it’s not necessarily about being for or against fixing the schools but rather a question about its affordability. Many locals aren’t thrilled with the increased taxes required to fund these repairs — especially given the fact that Montclair taxes are already comparatively high. Patch reported that Montclair homeowners had the 11th highest property taxes out of every town in the state of New Jersey. Plus, those without children in the public school system may not want to incur this additional expense.
One PTA volunteer, Jo LaMarca Mathisen, believes that improving schools will ultimately benefit everyone — even residents without children.
“Schools are the core of a community — any community — and when the schools suffer, the community and the students suffer,” Jo told MG. “When the community suffers, the property values and local businesses suffer, and Montclair is no longer the kind of town we all came here for.”
Another element to consider is that the 31% aid from the State of New Jersey may not be available in the future, per the Montclair PTA. In other words, if this doesn’t pass, any attempts to make repairs in the future could potentially result in greater expenses. Additionally, many are saying that failing to improve the schools is a liability and a lawsuit waiting to happen.
So there are many elements of this vote to consider. Ultimately, Montclair residents will decide the fate of this Bond Referendum by voting on November 8th.