League still backs Montclair having mayor-appointed school board
By TALIA WIENER
The League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area voted Wednesday to continue supporting Montclair’s system of having a mayor-appointed Board of Education.
This decision, at the League’s 100th annual meeting, comes five days after the Montclair township clerk deemed advocacy group Vote Montclair’s petition on the matter “sufficient.” Barring a successful legal challenge or another unforeseen event, voters will decide in a referendum on the Nov. 2 whether to continue with a mayor-appointed school board, or to instead elect board members, as most New Jersey communities do.
“We realize there is momentum in Montclair to move to an elected [Board of Education],” League communications director Carmel Loughman said. “Over the coming months, League members intend to educate voters on the reasons why we continue to support an appointed Board of Education.”
A “long and lively” discussion took place at the May 26 meeting, but only 30% of the membership voted to revisit the issue, Loughman said. That leaves in effect the position the board took in 2009, the last time it considered whether to support having a mayor-appointed or elected board.
Loughman said the League congratulated Vote Montclair on getting the issue to the ballot, so voters can choose what sort of system they’d like to have.
An appointed board can help avoid single-issue candidates, create a more representative board and saves money spent administering elections, the League said in a January letter to Montclair Local outlining its position. The cost to run a campaign could also keep some interested individuals from serving, it said.
“We will provide hard facts, verifiable figures, and a strong argument as to why an appointed BOE works best for our economically, racially and politically diverse town,” Loughman said. “We would encourage Montclarians to take a step back from the emotions of the moment and make an informed choice on this issue.”
The matter has gone to the ballot five times since the 1960s, and each time, Montclairians have opted to keep an appointed board. The most recent referendum question, in 2009, was defeated 57% to 43%.
Montclair is one of just 11 so-called “Type I” school districts in New Jersey, meaning the mayor appoints board members. The rest of the roughly 600 school districts in the state are “Type II,” with voters electing members.
Currently in Montclair, Mayor Sean Spiller appoints board members. Spiller is also the current vice president and incoming president of the New Jersey Education Association, the powerful union representing teachers and support staff. Spiller said he trusts voters to decide if an appointed or elected board is best for Montclair in an April 29 Facebook post.
If voters were to approve the ballot question, Montclair would also add two more members to its current seven-member board. It would do away with its Board of School Estimate, a separate body that reviews and votes on the district budget and sets the tax levy; voters would instead approve or reject any budgets that exceed a 2% cap on property tax levy growth.
Vote Montclair Founder Erik D’Amato told Montclair Local earlier this week his group would spend the next few months “on making the argument that Montclair’s voters can be trusted with the same rights as voters everywhere else in the state.”
He said that would “especially goes for the many longtime residents who opposed an elected BOE in the past, in many cases for good reasons. We need to meet them halfway, and lay out in a compelling way why things have changed enough in the past dozen years to try a different approach to school governance.”