Are you voting against Mayor Spiller? Or against your best interests? (Town Square)
By DAVID CUMMINGS
Special to Montclair Local
I write this communication as a lifelong Montclair resident who is passionate about our present and future. I am a product of the school system, the parent of three graduates of Montclair High School, a former appointed Board of Education member and now elected Township Council member.
Next week, Montclair residents will decide whether to remain with the appointed board of education under a Type 1 system, or switch to an elected board under a Type II system. The decision is a no-brainer for me. I support an appointed board.
I've paid attention to the discourse around this choice. One of the main consistent concerns is Mayor Sean Spiller's job as New Jersey Education Association president and his authority to appoint board members. Don't be fooled by this ruse about democracy and the right to vote. Look at the people behind the push to an elected board. You will see many of the same names who pushed for education reform and bringing a charter school philosophy to our school system. Some took their kids out of the district. The push for Type II has nothing to do with education. It's about dictating the education policy of the school district.
Just look at Vote Montclair supporters' enthusiasm for the board members appointed by Mayor Spiller. You want to call him out for being a state leader of the teachers' union, but don't want to praise him for finding individuals who check all the boxes we publicly claim we wish for the people on the board. Diverse in background, thought and ability. Can anyone from Vote Montclair tell me that’s not true? You can't have it both ways. Mayor Spiller has done an excellent job.
The Vote Montclair supporters talk about not having the precious right of democracy, the ability to vote for our school board members like our neighboring towns. Let's look at Clifton, where the elected board led to a $168 million school referendum passed by a 2-to-1 margin. That sounds impressive — until you look at the numerical facts that show of the 54,000 registered voters in Clifton, roughly 4,500 exercised their right to vote in that election. Less than 8% of registered voters determined what 100% of the residents paid in taxes.
Another point of contention from Vote Montclair seems to be the process of having a Board of School Estimate. Let's look at its impact. Remember, in August, the Board of Education passed a resolution asking for $60 million to fix our schools. If that were approved by the Board of School Estimate and passed by the Township Council, our debt would climb from a little more than $60 million to over $220 million, resulting in a $400 increase in yearly tax payments. How do you think that would affect senior homeowners on a fixed income? What about renters and those in the township who do not have the economic means to own a home? Renters will be hit with higher rents because landlords and property owners will have to find a way to pay for the increased property tax.
Montclair's board recently provided the BoSE with a $147 million funding plan that extends to 2030. With an elected board, such a request would go to a referendum. Remember the Clifton vote numbers? With an appointed board, the members of the BoSE collaborate on a spending plan that provides the necessary funding over time. The goal is to protect taxpayers and provide our schools with the funding they need pragmatically and fiscally prudently.
Another dangerous impact of this potential change is the chaos it will create for the next three years. Switching to an elected board will require multiple elections to get the board constituted adequately. We will face board elections every year moving forward. That means constant campaigning to fill seats and virtually eliminating any continuity and institutional knowledge on the board. It will not ensure what we currently have in place.
Look at the current makeup: Priscilla Church has over 40 years as an educator with experience as a teacher, principal and instructional leader. Dr. Alfred Davis runs his medical practice and has had a child in the district. Crystal Hopkins is a Montclair High School graduate with two kids in the district and has a background in human resources. Eric Scherzer is a longtime resident who had two kids go through Montclair Public Schools. He's got extensive experience in labor relations. Allison Silverstein is a lawyer who has volunteered in many school leadership organizations, most prominently the Special Education Advisory Council. Kathryn Weller-Demming is a Montclair High graduate, former council member, veteran local community organizer and activist with a child in the district. And Board President Latifah Jannah is a product of the school system, the parent of children who attended the school system, the grandmother of students currently in the system and a retired educator of the Montclair Public School system. Please find me a grandmother who will be willing to run for a board seat.
Bottom line. We know an appointed board results in placing individuals with diverse experiences and backgrounds — individuals who volunteer to do the work. We do not know what an elected board will deliver.
Former Mayor Ed Remsen summed it up best when he said: “You go down this road, and you may not like where it ends."
David Cummings is a township councilman serving the Fourth Ward, a member of the Board of School Estimate and a former Board of Education member
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