Those still unsure how to vote in the referendum to change to an elected school board system should consider this. The status quo today, our appointed system with a Township Council-majority Board of School Estimate (BoSE), has just not worked very well. That's at least since I've been here, starting in 2001.

The last time we voted on this, I supported the appointed system and keeping the Council BoSE, which approves the school budgets — be it with concerns. Not today. There's too much spilled milk since.

In the early 2000s, we had an appointed school board who couldn't oversee their administrator, Superintendent Frank Alvarez. He blatantly lied multiple times about the taxpayer costs of building a new school here — in public. Then, he and the board couldn't shoot straight and bought and built the new Bullock school on land that was a graveyard — with a two-year delay and a $1 million dollar unplanned coffin move remediation — all from failing to do a standard construction title search and environmental audit before purchasing. At the same time, if they weren't so rigid and following the dictates of the then-mayor and Fourth Ward politics at the time, we could have possibly even bought back the Deron School during the process — for say $10 million all in — instead of spending $50 to 60 million over time with bonded interest.

One of our next boards then decides the best way to improve the schools here is to bring in an "over-testing" superintendent, yet without real town buy-in first. And she now gets parents, teachers and board members at each other's throats with wild accusations of spying and resulting lawsuits, disrupting the system for two more years.

Not too long after, we get an appointed board that sees a racist under every rock here in "The People's Republic of Montclair" as the sole cause of the achievement gap (not income and socioeconomic status differences from long-term U.S. racism to really be addressed),  and they do not even tell the mayor who appointed them of their philosophical intent to bring in a race-focused administrator, one who was administratively inexperienced having never run a district, let alone a complicated one like Montclair. She then appoints friends and staff cronies — some unqualified without even the required state certifications. So now, the town and school system implodes once again.

All this spinning around also within years of temporary superintendents from the appointed boards.

At the same time — on the flip side — our council BoSEs do not adequately review and consider the capital and maintenance spending needs of the school system for many years — of course to seemingly keep taxes down so they will be re-elected. Which itself today, blows up into a major fiscal and management crisis post-COVID.

In short — it's disfunction all around under the present setup. That's why something else has to be tried. We need to more easily see and be able to point to who is doing well and who is just blowing it. Either keep those good people around and celebrate their successes, or boot them right out the door in a year quickly if they drop the ball.

Sure, there are some political downsides to an all-elected setup. But the current system has way too much cover. A real lack of accountability and continuing obfuscations. It has to be shaken up.

That can not happen from within anymore, in my opinion. The baby now has to be thrown out with the status-quo bathwater.

Martin Schwartz


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