An elected Montclair BOE is harder to influence with campaign cash (Letter)
Among the concerns expressed regarding a change to an elected Board of Education is that the doors will be opened to special interest money and, overall, lead to campaign money influencing education policy in Montclair.
Well, for one thing we’re already there. Mayor Sean Spiller opened a new chapter in Montclair election finance in 2016 with his run for a second council term, raising $30,000, an unprecedented amount, with less than a quarter coming from addresses with a Montclair zip code. In his 2020 mayoral race that figure jumped tenfold, again mostly from out-of-town sources related to his day job with the NJEA.
And in Montclair, the mayor has sole authority to appoint whomever she or he wants to the BOE.
For several reasons, an elected BOE will lead to money playing less of a role in deciding who gets to sit on the BOE, and thus the township’s education policy.
Nine smaller elections over three years will be harder to influence with money, especially with all the attention that will no doubt be focused on each race. The lessons from the other New Jersey towns with elected BOEs — pretty much all of them, by the way — is that candidates are by and large local residents who care about their town’s school system and providing the best education for their children.
Meanwhile, the playing field has been dramatically leveled by social media. Vote Montclair, of which I am treasurer, has made a meaningful impact spending less than a quarter of what then-Councilman Spiller burned through to win 678 votes in 2016. And we have raised it from local individuals rather than special interests, mostly in donations of $100 or less.
Opponents of an elected board shouldn't be afraid that school board elections will lead to a bigger role for money in politics. If anything, they should be afraid that maintaining the status quo keeps us vulnerable to large amounts of agenda-driven campaign contributions from outside of town having an outsize say in our schools.
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