A step towards school renewal: the Montclair School Board hires a surety lawyer

The Montclair Board of Education approved a contract with bond law firm McManimon, Scotland and Baumann at its meeting on Wednesday, January 19. Eric Scherzer, the head of the board’s finance committee, said the committee would develop a capital funding proposal as soon as possible. He was seen here at the December 21 board meeting. (TALIA WIENER/STAFF)

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The Montclair Board of Education has a bond advisory contract with McManimon, Scotland and Baumann, another step towards bringing a capital improvement bond referendum to voters in November.

The contract, unanimously approved by the board at its meeting of January 19, retains the Roseland-based firm “to provide specialized legal services necessary in connection with the capital program and the authorization and issuance of school district bonds.”

Montclair voters approved a conversion of a “Type I” to “Type II” school district system in November – and with it, removed the mayor’s appointment of school board members as well as the Montclair Board of School Estimate, the body responsible for setting costs for capital improvement obligations under a Type I system before sending them to City Council for final approval.

Changing the type of school system means a $15.5 million bond plan for school district heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades – or any alternative to it – must be submitted to voters for approval. In view of the November referendum, the plan bounced between the BoSE and the BOE, with each other’s members sometimes saying they were waiting for the other body’s next steps. Members of both said they hoped to advance a bond before the referendum, but the the clock has run out.

Board members said they could aim for a bond referendum in November 2022, when the district will hold its first regular elections for council members. There was no time to prepare for a referendum on the bonds before a scheduled March election for two newly created school board seats, members said.

Preparing for a bond referendum usually takes about six months and includes required steps such as an application and review by the state Department of Education, and official notice to the County Board of Elections.

The Montclair Board of Education’s facilities and finance committee has discussed the capital improvement bond process and will meet more regularly to develop a capital funding proposal as soon as possible, committee chair Eric Scherzer said. , at the January 19 board meeting.

“I can’t give you an exact date,” Scherzer said during the meeting. “But hopefully with the addition of a bond lawyer, we can present a proposal that highlights the importance of improving our ventilation system and perhaps taking care of other critical infrastructure issues. which have been overlooked.”

The HVAC project is seen as the most urgent by school leaders, who are struggling to address issues such as coronavirus safety concerns in aging buildings. But that’s only part of the BOE’s request to BoSE and Township Council last year. On August 16, the the school board sent the BoSE a formal request for $60 million in bond. Then, when the BoSE met on September 30, the principals indicated about $150 million in bail requested, to be spread over years – with the $15.5 million for HVAC work first.

In addition to requiring steps that take months, bond referendums can legally only be scheduled at certain times of the year. A bond referendum can be put to voters on the second Tuesday in December, the fourth Tuesday in January, the second Tuesday in March, the last Tuesday in September or in a general council election on the first Tuesday in November, according to Charlene Peterson, County of ‘Essex representing the New Jersey School Boards Association. School districts that have their general elections in April can schedule referendums then, but not in November.

If the district is aiming for the bond referendum in the November 2022 election, the plans should be submitted to the state Department of Education in May, board chair Latifah Jannah said during an interview. a meeting of the board of directors on December 1st.

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